During the past week, we looked at how to requeen a hive. On Monday, we considered the reality of queen troubles and how our hives differ from feral colonies. Tuesday was about identifying a queen’s quality from her brood pattern, then on Wednesday, we murdered the queen. Yesterday, a new queen was inserted into our failing hive. Today, we’ll consider what happens to a requeened colony and we’ll ask ourselves if all this was really necessary.
I’d like to say that the princess becomes a queen and lives happily ever after. That’s usually true. However, after you’ve done everything as correctly as you can, you may still find that some of your hives rejected replacement queens.
I’ve seen wildly different results requeening. Once, with a batch of a hundred queens, one-third rejected immediately or didn’t make the summer. Weather or some beekeeping mistake might have been the problem. But I suspect that the issue began back at the queen breeder’s ranch. Other times almost every queen in the batch does well. Again, it might have been our own brilliance, but more likely it was a good set of properly raised and fully mature queens that we received. As with most of our beekeeping, our best efforts may improve our success a notch or two, but even a small mistake can lead to an epic fail. (That goes for raising kids, too.)
If you’ve done everything right, you probably have a new egg-laying machine in your hive. Was it worth it? You’ll have to answer that for yourself. When I learned beekeeping from my father, we had about 300 hives. (He had once had 800 but when I was old enough to help, was cutting back to run other businesses.) My father was similar in age and life experience as Richard Taylor (whom I’ll paraphrase: when in doubt, let the bees sort it out). They used similar beekeeping tactics. Particularly, both Richard Taylor (1919-2003) and my father (1919-2002) learned about life during the Great American Depression. My father didn’t spend much money. He never requeened. Failing hives were doubled up with better ones. In the spring, he’d get numbers up again by splitting the good hives – sometimes he’d splurge on purchased queens for the divides, but often he’d just split the hive at the end of the spring flow, let the queenless units raise their own queens, and he’d usually have reasonable hives for Pennsylvania’s autumn goldenrod and aster flows. I’m not advocating this system – it wouldn’t work too well if you have an intense July/August flow, as we do here on the great plains. But that’s one way of managing the poor queen issue if you have a lot of hives and can accept some losses.
Generally, you should requeen failing hives with new queens. The value of three pounds of bees and a queen (over CA$200 in western Canada) or 5-frame nucs (US$130 in the States) tells us that a $20-$40 queen invested in a colony at the right time saves a huge amount of money. I won’t go into the value of the honey crop and the difference a good new queen can make to a hive’s production compared with a failing one. In the end – despite some occasions when bees will sort it out – responsible beekeeping usually means requeening a colony when it’s in a death spiral. With a healthy, well-mated, new queen, most hives can recover.
Obviously, I didn’t cover everything you need to know about requeening a hive. That’s partly because I don’t know everything there is to know about beekeeping. But I hope that this review gives you some things to consider. If you are new to beekeeping, do some research, read some good magazines, and (especially) find a mentor – you’ll learn much faster and you’ll be a better beekeeper. If you are an experienced beekeeper, feel free to disagree with everything I’ve written. Let me know how wrong I am. Either way, I’ll be back tomorrow with a short piece on scouting bee yards from 6,000 feet.