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About Queen Bees

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The rundown on royalty

Beekeepers decide to buy a mated queen for several reasons.  If there is an older queen that is not performing well, requeening may be needed.  If a hive gets large and is threatening to swarm, it is best to split the hive into two hives, and the second hive will need a queen.  Furthermore, sometimes hives become queenless.  Read on for signs of of a queenless hive, and how to correct the unfortunate situation. Scroll to the bottom of the page for detailed instructions about how to install a new queen. 

The beehive is a magnificent system that produces one of nature's sweetest products. However, sometimes the perfectly oiled hive machine comes to a screeching halt.  Oftentimes, you, as the caring beekeeper, will have no idea why your lovely hive goes queenless.  Several scenarios can lead to a queenless situation.  Perhaps the hive swarmed? Maybe the queen became injured or lost her production capability and her workers rejected her? Maybe she died?  Maybe they raised a virgin queen and she never came home from her mating flight? Maybe she succumbed to disease?  Sometimes you just don't know why your hive is queenless, but is a very serious state.

What to do about a queenless hive? 

Queens can lay up to 2000 eggs per day, and without the constant colony re-population during heavy honey flow times, the hive will quickly deteriorate. A worker bee bringing in honey will only live for about 6 weeks, so it is important to raise new brood continually, especially during the honey flow.  The hive can raise a new queen on their own, but there are a few risk factors:

- The hive may fail to raise a queen, and remain queenless
- A virgin may not come home from her mating flight
- She may not be mated and hence lay drones. 
- She may be rejected by the hive
- Your hive will be queenless for at least 3-4 weeks while the workers raise a new queen and wait for her to be mated.  Then, if mating fails, your hive begins the process all over again. 

You can certainly choose to have your hive raise their own queen.  You will need to keep an eye on it and see how they are doing.  It is VERY important to be extremely careful removing frames if your hive is trying to raise a queen. It is very easy to damage queen cells when pulling out frames, and even the most careful beekeeper can damage a queen cell. A damaged cell is unlikely to produce a viable queen. 

Signs that your hive is queenless include: 

- No young brood or larvae
- Your bees are more hostile than normal
- You don't see the queen
- You have a laying worker situation (multiple eggs in cups)
- Queen cells or partial queen cells
- A distinctive "hum" 

What do you do now? 

First, the best way to calm down a queenless hive and suppress laying workers is to give that hive a frame of brood from another hive.  This will help with new queen acceptance, and will help bolster the population of the hive.  In order to do this, take a frame of brood from a queen-right hive, and replace a fairly empty frame with this frame.  The safest way to know the queen is not on this frame is to shake the bees off the frame and inspect it before inserting the frame into the queenless hive. However, if you are confident in your queen location skills, you can very carefully inspect the frame for the queen and insert the bees and the brood.  Be thorough - you don't want to end up with two queenless hives! 

Once you have determined that you have a queenless hive and set a course of action, you can begin to plan.  If you want to let nature take its course and see if the hive will raise a queen, you will need to watch for emerged queen cells and young larvae and eggs.  Sometimes, it takes a hive several attempts before it raises a mated and productive queen.  If you choose to buy a mated queen, read on! 

What to do with a purchased queen:

You can purchase a queen in our online store.  She will arrive in a orange shipping box made specially for shipping queen bees. She will come in a plastic JZ-BZ queen cage with five workers as her attendants.  There will be a candy tube in the cage.  When you install her, the worker bees from the hive will eat out the candy tube over a number of days, slowly letting her out. This give the hive time to get used to her queen pheromones, and increases the likelihood of queen acceptance.  

It is important that when your queen arrives she is never placed in direct sunlight.  Install her in your hive as soon as possible.  If you are requeening, you need to let your hive be queenless for at least an hour before you install a new queen. If you are able, leave the hive queenless for 24 hours. 

Pick two frames with a cluster of bees to wedge the cage between. These are usually brood frames if the hive has not been queenless for an extended amount of time. Wedge the cage between the frames with the candy tube facing down.  Close the lid and wait two days. After waiting a few days, check and make sure that the queen was released from the cage.  You can remove the cage at this time. 

Wait about a week to 10 days to reopen your hive. By this time, you should be able to see eggs and some larvae. You may even see capped brood by now if she got straight to work! From the time an egg is laid to when the larvae is capped, the unborn bee will be visited about 15,000 times by nurse bees to check on the brood, feed it, and eventually cap it around day 6. Keep in mind that eggs are very small, and sometimes very difficult to see, so check your hive carefully before determining that a queen was not accepted. A magnifying glass or magnifying glasses and head lamp can be useful for this task.  Every queen is a little different. Some will begin laying right away, and some take a little while to get going. 

Once you have determined that your queen is accepted, you can sit back, enjoy your bees, and watch the honey come in! 

Please let us know if you have any questions! You can email Andria at andria@eberthoney.com or call her at 319-430-3800. Thank you!