Re-queening A Hive

Believe it or not honey bees are capable of raising a new queen for their hive. They choose a young bee larvae that is less than 4 days old. They feed her more royal jelly and food to make a queen. There are multiple reasons why a hive would want to requeen itself or create a new queen. A hive will raise a new queen if they are going to swarm, if they are going to supersede the current queen, and in emergencies. On top of this, you may want to requeen a hive for some various reasons including old age, bad laying patterns, poor hive demeanor (defensive/aggressive/hot hive), or better genetics.  It is thought among some experts that pheromones are the reason that bees are driven to create new queens. When a hive makes an emergency queen it is because the previous queen died and her pheromone has disappeared from the hive.

For supercedures it is thought that the queen’s pheromone weakens with age or as her fertility dwindles as it does the bees will supersede her with a new young queen. For swarms some think one of the driving factors of swarms is the queens pheromones are diluted by the sheer volumes of bees in the hive. Let’s say for whatever reason you aren’t happy with what the queen is doing in your hive and you want to re-queen a hive, and let me tell you, if you keep bees long enough you will eventually need to depose your queen and provide new royalty to the hive. I have re-queened multiple hives and documented what I did through the process to share here with you. I will tell you what I did and some other alternatives to what I did.

Let’s say for whatever reason you aren’t happy with what the queen is doing in your hive and you want to re-queen a hive, and let me tell you, if you keep bees long enough you will eventually need to depose your queen and provide new royalty to the hive. I have re-queened multiple hives and you have two main options: buy a queen, or raise a queen.

Buy A Queen

So, one queen had developed a poor laying pattern, she had never had a beautiful laying pattern but she had led the hive through a successful winter. Even though we were having a decent nectar flow the hive was not picking up strength, just maintaining, and the brood pattern was extremely spotty. Considering that the queen was not honey locked or out of space I considered it to be in my hive’s best interest to find a new leader. Also, due to the fact that this hive was not very strong, and I was a new beekeeper with only one hive (typical newbee mistake)I went to my state beekeepers association website and looked for purveyors of queens. I noticed that one of the apiaries was also mentioned at VP Queen Bees breed VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygienic bees). VSH bees were developed by the USDA, you can do some reading about them online, but basically they are bred to combat varroa mites by pulling affected brood out of their cells. Anyways, we can talk about VSH at a later time. I called the apiary and asked if he had any of his VSH queens available. He happened to have some queens available so I ordered a queen and waited for her arrival.

When your queen arrives she should be in a small cage with some attendant bees in there to feed and care for her. The cage should have a screen on one of the long sides and a cork on each end. Behind one cork should be some fondant candy that the bees will eat through during their introductory phase in the hive. Be sure to place your new queen in a place that is free from drafts, preferably a dark quiet spot somewhere in your house. First things first, when I got home I put a drop of honey on the queen cage for the attendant bees to eat and feed the queen. The day my new queen arrived I suited up to go find my current queen in the hive. In order to help ensure acceptance of the new queen you have to knock off the old queen. I found the queen on the 3rd frame I pulled out of the hive. I had her on my hive tool and pinched the queen’s head. The now deceased queen needs to be placed back into the hive so that the hive knows that their beloved queen is now deceased. Common practice for requeening a hive is to allow them to be queen-less for 24 hours.

So after the 24 hour wait period it is time to start the introduction of the new queen. The first thing we are going to do is remove the cork from the candy side of the queen cage. This is going to give access to the fondant from inside the cage and to bees on the outside of the queen cage. You want to remove a frame and make some space between two frames at the brood comb and place the queen cage between two frames. I suggest you place the candy side up on the queen cage in the event that the attendant bees die before the queen is released and block the way for the queen to exit the queen cage. Be sure that you leave the screen of the queen cage exposed so that the queen doesn’t suffocate. After placing the queen cage in between the frames see if you can reinsert the frame you took out. If you can’t it will be okay, just do not forget to replace that frame in there after the queen is released into the hive. Otherwise, there will not be proper bee space and the bees will fill that open space with burr comb which is not something that we want.

Now comes the hard part. Okay I need you to get out a pen and paper and take notes, because this part is a challenge even to the most seasoned beekeepers. You have got to wait and let nature take its course. If you are extremely impatient you can check up on your girls after 3 days. When you open up the hive you just want to do a quick check to see if the queen has been released from the queen cage. If she hasn’t been released just close the hive back up and give it a few more days. During this time I avoided smoking the hive because our goal is to let the new queens pheromone permeate throughout the hive, so we do not want to do anything to interfere with this. You may notice at 3 days that the bees are being aggressive towards the queen, this is typically exhibited by biting on the queen cage with their mandibles. In 7 days, you should check on your new queen again. If she has been released, remove the queen cage and replace the frame that you removed if you were not able to fit it back into the hive when you originally placed the queen cage. If the queen hasn’t been released give them about 3 more days to do so.

After the queen is released you want to leave them alone for at least a week. During this early time that the queen is released it is a fragile system if the hive feels that it is receiving undue stress they will supersede the new queen. So we want to give her a chance to get established. It takes 21 days for eggs to hatch out into workers. So after 1 week I did a quick inspection of the hive and found fresh larvae, then closed the hive back up. I chose not to smoke them at this point in time so that the hive so that the new queens pheromone would continue to fill the hive. 21 days after the queen lays her first eggs, these will be daughters of the new queen and the hive should be reaching homeostasis after the tumultuous process of replacing their royalty.

There are many alternatives to research when introducing a queen to a hive that I suggest you look into and research before introducing your queen. Will you release the attendant bees shipped with your queen, will you use a push in cages or Bermuda queen cages (Queen introduction frames).  A push in the cage as the name implies pushes into the frame of wax. You want to put this push over the top of some capped brood and empty cells. The push in cage gives a much higher success rate when introducing a queen. It allows a greater surface area for the queen to move around spreading her queen pheromone. The queen pheromone is stronger due to the fact that she will begin laying eggs in the cells. The Bermuda queen cage or the Queen introduction frames are harder to find. They are similar to the queen cage that the queen was shipped in, but the size of a medium frame. This allows the queen to spread her pheromones much easier since she is given so much room to move around. These queen introduction frames are much harder to find. Both the push in cage and the queen introduction cage have much higher success rate when introducing an outside queen into your hive. In the future when I have to do more requeening of my hives, I will most likely go the route of using the push in cage. One reason is price, they can be made with some simple mesh if you want to go the DIY route and the other reason is that I want the queen to be laying eggs as soon as possible since it takes 21 days for a mature worker to emerge after its egg is laid.

Raise a queen

The cheapest and easiest way to requeen a hive is to pinch the old queen and let the hive raise a new queen. There is only one requirement to get a hive to raise a new queen. If there are eggs that are 3 days old or younger the hive will build emergency queen cells. Ideally, you want a strong hive to be raising a new queen so that she will be well fed. The issue here is that it may be 24- 30 days before you have a queen laying in the hive again. It takes 16 days for a queen to emerge from her queen cell. It then takes about 5 more days for her ovaries to develop. After her ovaries are mature she has a 5 day mating window. This presents another challenge, during the queen’s mating flights she may encounter 2 things that would interfere with her mating: poor weather, and predators like birds. Either of these issues could derail your hive, if your queen does not make it back from her mating flight, then you will need to start this process again or buy a queen. If she is poorly mated she may soon be superseded, or you may decide she isn’t laying that well. I had a really strong hive that was mean!!! As I watched throughout the spring though I kept noticing more and more drone brood popping up in the worker comb, and every time I opened the hive the bees would be boiling out. She  had to go. So I suited up, dug in and pinched the queen. 7 days later, I popped in to check and sure enough I had a capped queen cell. After I know I have a queen cell I like to leave them alone until about 30 days later, virgin queens can be flighty.

The further you get into the beekeeping hobby, the more likely you will want to learn about queen rearing which is a topic left for another day, but one of the more popular alternatives with more experienced beekeepers.

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