Sticking the Queen In

Over the past few days, I’ve written a little about identifying poor queens by examining brood patterns. Then we discussed  finding and pinching her failing heinousnesses.  The next step in your requeening saga is inserting the caged queen.

Here in Canada, people are paying about $40 for a single queen. That’s Canadian money, so it’s really only about fifty cents in American. But for us, that hits the pocketbook hard. You don’t want to dequeen a hive, pay a day’s wages for a replacement, and then later find her dead in the cage. Since that’s such a big risk, I’d rather not tell you how to do it. Instead, I’m going to tell you what a lot of other beekeepers say. You can get mad at them if something goes wrong.

Benton mailing cages, usually made from soft basswood, have been used for almost 150 years. This one is from an 1893 magazine, The American Bee-Keeper.

A lot of beekeepers say that the caged queen can last a week or two with her attendants if you can’t install her because of weather or because you didn’t plan things ahead. During this time, give the caged bees a droplet of honey and water a couple times a day, keep them at room temperature or slightly warmer, and in a dark/dim location. It’s not a good idea to keep her majesty waiting, but if necessary, it’s possible.

A lot of beekeepers say that you should remove all the attendants from the cage before inserting it into the new hive. I always do that. It probably increases acceptance by a third – instead of having maybe 12 in 100 queens rejected, perhaps you’ll have just 8 in 100 caged queens killed by the queenless bees. (12 in 100 is just an example, not an aspiration. Individual results will vary. Time of year, strength of queenless hive, period of queenlessness, and the alignment of the planets affect acceptance rate.)

A lot of beekeepers say that you should remove the non-candy cork from the trusty Benton cage and place a finger over the hole. Whenever a worker gets close to the hole and the queen moves away, remove your finger and release the attendant. It may take a few minutes to get them all out. It pays to free the workers while you are seated in a truck with the windows rolled up. Over time, you will likely accidentally release a queen of two. You should be able to recover her from the windshield and nudge her back into the cage again. When all the workers have escaped, recap the hole with the cork. (You saved it, right?)

A lot of beekeepers say that you should wait a few days between removing an old queen and adding one in a box. I’ve made 3- and 4-way splits and put the caged queen in immediately, even before loading the nucs and driving to their new yard. But you may want to be more cautious when requeening an in-place hive with an aging population of workers. If you do requeen immediately, follow this advice from the queen breeders at Weaver’s:

When you are re-queening, you may install the new queen immediately after killing the old one or you may wait as long as four or five days before installing the new queen.  We recommend installing a new queen right after killing the old one, though we don’t recommend poking a hole in the candy to accelerate release in this case.

A lot of beekeepers say that you should remove any queen cells in the queenless hive before inserting the cage. Their theory is that the bees will feel they’ve already taken care of the problem. I don’t know if bees have feelings so I won’t comment.

A lot of beekeepers say that you should place the cage near the top bars, between two frames of brood. Face the screen out so the queen can make friends with the bees in the queenless hive. They’ll probably pass a little honey to her.

A lot of beekeepers say that you should smear honey and wax from the queenless hive onto the cage to mask the cage’s imported odor. I think that it wouldn’t hurt and it only takes a few seconds, so why not?  Some use essential oils to neutralize the mixing of bee odors. We tend to think that we invented the idea of masking queen odors, but take a look at this cartoon from 100 years ago:

The caption to this January 1920 Gleanings in Bee Culture sketch says, “…the professor says you introduce a new queen by drowning her in a cup of honey.”

A lot of beekeepers say that the only safe way to introduce a new queen is to use a ‘push-in cage’, a wire mesh stuck into the comb that confines the new queen to a very small acreage yet lets her lay a few eggs. You may want to research this as it could save a queen or two from time to time.

I’ll leave off here. This stage – inserting the queen – is usually the simplest. You’ve made your decision based on brood and you’ve eliminated the failing queen. So put the cage in already.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Beekeeping, History, Queens, Tools and Gadgets and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sticking the Queen In

  1. Pingback: Sticking the Queen In | Raising Honey Bees

  2. Pingback: Long Live the (New) Queen | Bad Beekeeping Blog

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