Sometimes democracy fails us. Sometimes you pick a good leader, and they have a strong start. Then, slowly, their own nature gets the better of them.
Unlike the human world, the bee world offers us a do-over.
Sure, it’s wrought with uncertainties, but everything can be undone in about a month without too much disruption to the citizens of Hivesville. If only it was that simple in our world (sigh).
The queen is extremely important because the colony cannot exist without her. If she’s not on her A-game, the super-organism dies.
Fortunately, the colony isn’t like the now extinct dodo bird. It doesn’t sit there and wait for the end to come. Once they notice that the queen is failing, they start to make arrangements for a replacement. That’s how supersedure cells come to be.
The problem is, sometimes the workers are optimists and it takes them a little too long to find out that her glory days are over.
Other times the problem isn’t a bee issue, it’s a human one. Similarly, your dog drinking from the toilet bowl isn’t really a dog issue because they don’t care. It’s a people issue because we think it’s gross.
Sometimes we don’t like something that the bees are doing so to change their behavior, we control the throne.
4 Circumstances Under Which to Requeen a Hive
Maintain Strong Populations
As you know, the queen only mates once in her life, but she does so with multiple drones. Sometimes it takes more than one mating flight to get her to the point where she feels she’s ready to settle down. These mating flights provide a lifetime supply of sperm.
When she runs out of sperm, she can’t fertilize her eggs. Unfertilized eggs hatch into drones, and drones do nothing for the hive, though they are important for the overall survival of the bee species. Without worker bees, the colony dies.
Commercial beekeepers need to keep the colonies strong. If you aim to provide pollinator services, the size of the colony is more important than the number of colonies you have.
If you are in the business of honey production, you definitely need more foragers.
Most commercial beekeepers will requeen annually. It’s probably scheduled because inspecting each hive looking for the existing queen and evaluating her performance would take up so much time.
A hobbyist who is simply fascinated by the six-legged visitors to the garden wouldn’t need to requeen that often.
A poor brood pattern could also be a symptom of a failing queen. When you have spotty brood scattered across a frame, rather than being confined to a compact area in the center of the comb, that could serve as a warning that the queen is not doing well.
Keep the Bees from Swarming
Although the queen is the channel that keeps the colony populated, swarming is what keeps the planet populated with bees. There are several factors that contribute to this phenomenon, one of which is the reduction of the queen pheromone in the hive.
The loyalty of the workers is earned by scent. The stronger the queen’s scent, the more influence she has on the hive. When some workers can’t detect her scent, then they work under the assumption that the queen is gone and they need a new queen. That’s where swarm cells come from.
A queen in her first and second year is at her fittest and her ability to secrete her pheromones can assist in keeping the colony from swarming.
Change the Temperament of the Colony
There’s that floating theory that redheads are really hot tempered. Well, I haven’t tested that theory, but genetics definitely affects the temperament of worker bees.
Carniolans are known to be the calm ones, while Africanized bees are known for their need for anger management.
It is a big concern in the southern states so you definitely need to keep an eye on your colonies if you are in the red zone.
How Africanization Occurs
There are two possibilities.
Either the queen carries the gene, or the drones she’s mating with are Africanized.
Since it takes a fertilized egg to make a worker, the aggression level of the hive will gradually rise as more workers emerge from their cells and take on their duties in and out of the hive.
Once the change happens, a reversal can only be done by taking out that gene, meaning you have to introduce a mated queen with the right mix of docile genes.
That said, take the time to be sure that the problem is actually genetic, not environmental. Bees can be moody if the environment calls for it.
Carrying out an inspection on a particularly hot and humid day will get you listed on their “destroy” list.
A few days later, you may find that the very same colony is much calmer and easier to work with. Perhaps they had a skunk scratching up the hive at night, and there you are the very next day, like an annoying neighbor bringing pie when you’re nursing a hangover.
Any other day, they would go about their business as you go about yours, but they were already agitated.
Requeening does carry an expense so it is important to do your due diligence to ensure that your intervention is required.
Resistance to Disease
Prevention is so much better than cure.
A genetic predisposition toward a stronger bee is the best prevention when it comes to disease and pest management, wouldn’t you say?
That’s why breeding programs come up with bee strains such as the Saskatraz bee.
Some bees are bred for their hygiene, which makes them very good at detecting and expelling mite infested brood.
One of the strains best known for this trait is the Russian honey bee. The Saskatraz bees are known for their resistance to chalkbrood.
They are originally from Saskatchewan which means they overwinter well and would explain why they could be resistant to chalkbrood.
This fungal disease affects brood exposed to very low temperatures.
Requeening a hive affects the brood cycle and that can cure the hive of some brood diseases such as chalkbrood. Getting a prolific queen also gives the colony a chance to build a workforce strong enough to keep the brood warm.
The Best Time to Requeen a Hive
The best time to requeen depends on a few factors.
First, where are you sourcing your queen from? If you are sourcing your queen from a breeder, then it is in your best interest to find out when they have queens available.
Most beekeepers prefer to requeen toward the end of summer or early winter. After September, it’s too late.
That’s because you are relying on the new queen to provide you with winter workers. If you get her too late, she doesn’t have enough time to build up the numbers for winter. If the colony is too small, they may not make it to spring.
Another concern is that she might not take.
Bees are nepotistic. They prefer to be genetically linked to the queen and there’s always the risk that the queen you attempt to install may be rejected. That’s why early August is a good time to requeen. That way, you still have time to find another queen if the first attempt fails.
If you are breeding your own queens, as many beekeepers do these days, then your timetable is a little more flexible in that you can requeen when the need arises.
You still need to worry about winter though, so even if you have a queen in your apiary, and you find one of your hives in need of a queen in October, you may be better off combining it with another for the winter, and then splitting it in the spring. Trying to requeen it so late in the year could spell disaster.
It’s also good to note that requeening works best when feed is available.
During a nectar flow, bees pass nectar to each other. That constant contact allows them to spread the queen’s pheromones a lot faster than in a dearth situation.
How to Requeen your Hive Step by Step
Here’s the short version. Find the old queen, kill her, and put in the new queen. It looks pretty simple, but let’s take a look at each step in a little more detail because it’s a little harder than it seems.
1. Find the Old Queen
This is like finding a slightly bigger needle in a stack of slightly smaller needs. Even experienced beekeepers find this task a little challenging.
If you have a marked queen, that makes it much easier because you’ll be looking for a color rather than a bee.
If she isn’t marked though, then you need to take out each frame, one by one and have a thorough look. She loves to stay in the shadows, like a Batman villain so she won’t make it easy for you to spot her.
Start with the frames with brood, especially eggs. Once you take out one frame and have inspected it thoroughly, do not place it back in the hive until you’ve checked all the others.
She can’t fly, but she can hop from one frame to the next so you could get lucky on your first frame, or she could elude you until the very last frame. If this is your first time, see if you can get someone experienced to help you find her.
Failing to find her will mean immediate rejection of the new queen that you try to introduce. As long as she’s still laying eggs, her pheromones still rule the nest. Any new queen will be executed.
The first time you do this may be difficult, but you will get better with time and experience.
2. Kill her
Well, that part is easy, at least physically. Go home and cry into a pillow after the deed is done if you need to.
3. Install the new queen
Once the old guard is retired, give the colony a day or two before you bring in a replacement. By then, the bees will detect the absence of the queen’s pheromones which goes a long way in getting them to accept the new queen.
If you have purchased a queen, the queen cage comes with a few additional accessories. You have a few workers to take care of the queen while she’s on transit and awaits complete colony acceptance. You have a candy plug and you have a cork.
The first thing you need to do is know where in the hive to place her.
She is the provider of brood, so she needs to be where the magic happens, in the center of the brood nest. Nurse bees are going to all over that area so they will help to spread her pheromones around as they go about their business.
It’s also great for emerging adults to have her pheromone as part of their emerging experience because it helps with her adoption.
You will keep her in place using a rubber band with the candy plug to the side, not above her nor below her.
Above her could be dangerous in the event it starts to melt and drip on her, and below her could cause a prisoner situation when one of her traveling subjects die and block the entrance with their now lifeless body. To the side allows her to crawl out when the time is right and the other workers eat the candy to release her.
Once you’ve placed her at the right spot, close up the hive and only come back after a week.
If all goes well, the ladies will accept her and they will eat away the candy plug to release her into the hive.
By the time you come back to check, you may find eggs already laid and you will know that the installation will have been successful, even if you do not see her.
The candy plug buys her some time. It takes about 2-3 days to eat through.
Meaning, they could start chewing it to get at her because they want to kill her, but by the time they are through, her pheromones have taken over and they accept her with open antennae.
How Often Should You Requeen a Hive?
All your beekeeping activities should be purposeful. We inspect when there’s a need. We requeen when there is a need.
If you’re a commercial beekeeper, you’ll probably requeen annually or every two years. Everyone else should do as a matter of necessity.
Each colony will behave differently so just because you requeen one, doesn’t mean all the others have to be subjected to the same treatment.
Requeening is a relatively simple activity for a beekeeper, but its success is where it gets more complicated.
As a result, the need to requeen should be correctly identified before embarking on this coup.