Long Live the (New) Queen

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.

Complete hives, $6; Queens $11/dozen (in 1908)

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.

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.
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5 Responses to Long Live the (New) Queen

  1. Anonymous says:

    Taking on your challenge, I will say I am solidly in your dad’s and Mr Taylor’s camp regarding buying queens. Most of the folks reading this blog are not commercial keepers or anything near it. I have 37 colonies at the moment, some of them client colonies I have kept the past 7 years since I became a beek using only feral survivor stock from cutouts or swarms. Buying things is the modern way of “consumers” ( a term I detest, as it brings to mind a macrophage) but for most of human history the relationship with A. mellifera was not a capitalistic one. Beeks caught swarms available locally in the Spring and hived them. The most fit, resilient bees were casting the swarms and as we find in LA, these bees have survivor stock genetics that carries them through varroa, the vectored diseases, dearths, and other pressures. They raise good queens that often live 2 or more years while producing good crops of honey on foundationless systems with no queen excluders. There are multiple remedies for addressing failing queens or laying worker hives with queen right colonies or frames of eggs —which don’t involve the risk of buying, shipping, and getting outright rejection of a foreign queen. The breeders are very often NOT posting the culture regimen of the queens/packages they are selling—hiding the fact the genetics is supported with treatment regimens which will need to be continued. If they were raising TF queens, they would brag of it on their websites, but I have had to directly call or email to find out the truth, in most cases. So, while I found the last 3 posts interesting reading, I am not of the opinion that this “modern” purchase economy is the best for building genetic diversity and resilience in honey bees.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Long Live the (New) Queen | Raising Honey Bees

  3. Pingback: Long Live the (New) Queen | How To Raise Bees

  4. BeeNuts says:

    I’ve enjoyed this mini-series on queens very much. Keep them coming!


  5. Erik says:

    Nice series, Ron, thank you for putting it together. I know a number of local beekeepers who raise their own queens and follow your practices. They don’t purchase queens; they just do grafting or other methods to requeen and maintain local stock. I’m lucky enough to have a Russian breeder a few miles from me, so the one time I felt I had to buy a queen I was able to get a local one.

    I assume you’ve seen Randy Oliver’s series in ABJ about queens and mite resistance. Be interesting to see how queen rearing and beekeeping in general evolves over the next few years given the various factors involved.

    Keep up the award-winning work!


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