Re-Queening a Colony
Requeening a Colony
by Jeff Gabric
Requeening usually takes place during splits of existing colonies or if you are replacing a failing queen. But sometimes requeening is attempted with colonies that turn up queenless or swarms that lose a queen.
The first rule in requeening is to make sure your colony is truly queenless! Most of the time, and I mean 95% of the time, when you go into your colony and can not find the queen and maybe do not see any eggs, and you assume that the colony has no queen; you will be wrong! Colonies are most generally always “Queen Right”. Queen Right means that there is a queen or a queen in the making. In the case of a queen right colony the workers will not allow you to requeen the colony. You will fail if you try to requeen a queen right colony!
So how do we make sure we have a queenless colony? One way is to make a split and know exactly on which side of the split the queen is located. Then requeen the queenless side of the split. Another way is to physically remove the queen and then requeen the colony.
There is also a test you can perform to determine whether a hive is queenless. Find a frame of fresh eggs from another colony and place it in the center of the box. Mark the top of the frame to identify it. In a few days, return to the hive and see if they are starting to create queen cells on that frame. The colony should start making queen cells overnight if they are truly queenless and if there were day old larva present along with the eggs. It could take them a few days if the eggs you installed were just laid that day. If they start to draw out queen cells, then they are truly queenless; but if nothing happens then they are probably queen right and impossible to requeen.
One other strategy to insure a queenless colony that will accept a new queen is to combine the suspected queenless hive with a queenright hive. Then in a week or so, make a split. To make a split one must know where the queen is located and divide the colonies. Read about how to make a split before you try it.
Now that we have the colony that we want to requeen, and we know it is queenless, the process of requeening can begin. If you study requeening you will find recommendation for the time needed after you make a split (make queenless) until the time you introduce a caged queen. The time ranges from immediately put the caged queen in the hive, to waiting 24 hours before the caged queen is introduced. In my experience the time frame doesn’t seem to matter. I usually will either make the split and put the caged queen in at the time of the split or make the split and work the rest of my apiary for an hour and come back and place the queen. It usually takes 3 to 4 days for the queen to be accepted. In general, queens accepted more quickly in the spring than in the fall.
Placing the queen cage in the hive can be done in various ways. My favorite way is to add a one-inch shim to the top of the hive. This gives enough space for the cage to be placed on the top bars, face down, with a pair of top bars separated to allow a little more access to the cage (see photo). The reason I like this method is I have better access to the cage and can inspect it without digging into the colony and pulling frames and losing the queen cage to the bottom of the box. Other methods include suspending the cage between frames or embedding it in the wax between frames. Which ever way you choose, make sure screen on the cage is fully accessible to the worker bees.
Place the queen cage near the center of the box or next to the existing brood. Many instructions will tell you to pop the cork on the candy in the cage and poke a hole through the candy and put the cage in and walk away. Then come back a week later and see how things are going. I don’t recommend this but if you are going to do it this way, then at least do not poke a hole in the candy. With queens at $30, $40 and $50, I DO NOT recommend this method. Your success rate will be lower than if you take a little more time and pay closer attention to your bees.
To increase your success rate for queen introduction, try the following. As before, make sure your colony is queenless. Place the caged queen using any of the methods described but do not pop the cork on the candy. You are leaving the candy covered and depending on the type of cage sometimes that might mean placing a small piece of duct tape to keep the candy covered. Place the queen cage in the hive and close it up.
Come back in two days and open your hive slowly and place the queen cage on the top bars so you can inspect the cage through the screen. I don’t try to use smoke on this entry. Obviously, you will want to look to see if she is still alive. But what you really want to look at are the workers on the cage. If they are milling around, or fanning across their Nasonov Gland, (see bottom photo) and not acting aggressively, then your queen is ready to be released.
Another way to determine if the queen is ready to be released is the finger test: slide your finger over the screen to move the workers. If you feel a snapping of their grip, they are clinging to get a grip to sting through the cage. (see top photo). When the queen is ready to be released, the worker bees will not be holding tightly to the cage and move with the slightest touch of your finger. Another indication of aggressive behavior is that the workers will be gripping on the cage, with their abdomens curled trying to sting through the cage. (see top photo).
If the bees are acting aggressively to the queen and the cage, then she needs more time. You should put the queen cage back in the same location and come back in a day or so. If there is still aggressive behavior, then you might want to make a hive inspection and check for signs of another queen (like eggs). Also, if they are making emergency queen cells you would want to tear them down.
Once you feel comfortable that the queen has been accepted, you might poke a hole in the candy and replace her to allow them to release her on their own. Check back in a few days and make sure she is out. If you decide to direct release the queen by opening her cage, be aware that she may take flight and never return. If she does take flight, I would recommend standing very still for a few minutes while the queen is trying to orient herself to the area. I might step back a couple steps initially to give her room to find the hive. If she does not return in five minutes I would leave the hive open for 10-15 minutes while I worked in other hives in the yard preferably away from the open hive. Remember, she is mated and even though she has not been laying for awhile, she is not going to be much of a flyer in all likelihood return to the place she came from in a short period of time. There is a chance she will orient to the hive and return.
Good Luck. But if you do it right and you will be rewarded with high acceptance rates. It is never a sure thing to requeen.