October 23, 2014

Queen Introduction

Reasons to Requeen:

Queen Introduction

Queen Introduction

Failing queen – poor brood pattern (skips), drone layer, queenless colony,Poor performance/behavior- low production, susceptible to disease and mites, excessive swarming, aggressive behavior, nervous festooning behavior.

Stock Improvement- hygienic and mite resistant strains,

Making Increase- nucs, splits

Ordering Queens:

Source- Order from reputable bee breeders who have certified beekeeping operations.

Race/strain- Choose a strain of bee that is suitable to your climate with respect to behavior, production potential and disease/mite resistance traits.

Arrival date- Assess the weather condition in your particular area and also at the point of origin.  The weather at the point of destination will impact upon the acceptance of the queen and the weather in the production area will impact upon the quality of the queen.  Good weather and ample bloom from plants such as dandelion, cherry and berries aid in queen acceptance.

Shipping method- The method of queen shipment may impact upon your expected arrival date (UPS vs. USPS).  Assess your past experiences regarding timely delivery and successful queen introduction via the Benton cage with attendants, usually shipped in an envelope or onion sack by the USPS.  When ordering a number of queens consider the battery box method of shipment with the queens shipped without attendants. UPS  overnight air is the way to go.

Upon Arrival:

Check the bees for signs of life- Examine the queen and attendants.  The queen’s abdomen should be swollen and she should have “good legs”.  The attendants should appear healthy with minimal – no mortality (1-2 dead attendants acceptable).  Bad signs include; many dead attendants, lethargic and or maimed queen, hard candy.

Water- After examination, the bees should be given a drop of clean water.  If a few caged queens are to be kept a couple days prior to use, water daily.  Put a drop of water on the screen away from the candy.  Do not over water.  Keep the queen cages at room temp (70-75 degrees preferably) out of direct sunlight.

Banking queens- Queens that will not be introduced to hives within a few days should be stored in a queen bank.  Queens banked without attendants are accepted and fed faster vs. queens caged with attendants.

Again, consider the style of cage and method of shipment Typically, the bees within the bank kill the attendant bees.  Queens can be banked under both queen- right and queenless conditions. (I prefer queenless).

The bank can be as simple as placing the queen cage screen side down in a standard hive above a queen excluder. A rim and/or inner cover is then placed above the queen cage(s) and telescoping cover on top. It is important for the brood and the cluster to be directly under the excluder so the queens are fed and are not chilled.

A queen bank that supports about 50 queens (California mini style cage) is easily made with a five-frame nuc box.  It consists of a frame or two of honey, two frames of brood (capped/emerging bees and  capped/ older larvae) with ample nurse bees (shook from frames of larvae) to cover the brood. A modified frame that supports the queen cages is placed between the frames of brood.  It is important that the candy within the queen cage (Benton) is made inaccessible to the bees in the bank.  Tape over the part of the screen covering the candy or construct the modified frame in a way that denies the bee’s access to the candy.

I’ve had best queen banking results when the frames of brood are taken from two different hives. The nurse bees will not fight but will have different hive odors. Perhaps, the use of brood and nurse bee from different hives aids in the overall confusion with respect to the pheromones associated with nest mate recognition. I’m not sure.  However, I do recommend this method based from personal experience.

Introduction and Queen Acceptance:

  • Young bees (nurse bees) are more accepting of foreign queens.
  • Smaller populations of bees more readily accept foreign queens.
  • Queen acceptance is greater in honey flow conditions or when feeding sugar syrup.
  • Queen acceptance is greater when requeening with the same stock.
  • Queen acceptance is greater when a laying queen is replaced with a queen in laying condition.
  • Queen acceptance is prone to fail if open queen cells are present and usually fails when capped cells are.
  • Queen acceptance usually fails if a laying queen or virgin queen(s) is present.
  • Hives exhibiting the “holding open” behavior usually have a virgin or newly mated queen.
  • Research suggests that queen acceptance is greater when introduced without attendants.
  • Queens introduced 1-2 days after a hive is dequeened have greater acceptance.
  • In general, the slower a queen is released the probability of acceptance is greater.

Direct Release- Historically, many variations of the “direct release” method of requeening colonies has been tried and documented.  Beekeepers tried immersion or “daubing” queens in water, honey and scented syrup and then poured the queen into the hive through the inner cover escape hole.  New queens were placed in paper bags containing flour or scented talcum powder, shook and sprinkled into hives.  The use of excessive smoke and tobacco smoke was used to “quiet the bees” prior to queen introduction.  One author proposed exhaling the vapors of whiskey into the hives prior to queen release.  Another drastic method required anesthesia using fumes from the poisonous puffball mushroom.   See American Bee Journal, 1994 articles by T.S.K. Johansson for an interesting and entertaining historical perspective on re-queening methods.

Re-queening Hives-

1. Best to remove the old queen 1-2 days prior to introduction;

2. Remove attendants from the queen cage;

3. Place the cage in the center of the brood nest between frames of larvae and/or eggs after making sure queen cells are destroyed;

4. Make sure the bees have access to the cage screen. The cage can be placed vertical (most experts recommend candy side up), or horizontal (screen down). Check the amount and condition of the candy before introduction.  If the candy has been consumed, action is needed to delay the queen’s release. Options include: introduction with the cork covering the candy in place and revisit several days later to remove the cork; stuff marshmallow or additional candy into the cage opening and/or place masking tape over the hole (cork removed) so the bees must chew through the tape first;

5. Do not disturb the hive for at least 5-7 days.  A 7-10 day period is preferable. After a period of 1-2 weeks from requeening, the new queen should have established a brood pattern.  If eggs and larvae are present, close the hive and leave it alone another week or more.

Double screen method- The double screen method of queen introduction is the method of queen introduction favored by many beekeepers and beekeeping experts such as the late Dr. Roger Morse.  The queen is introduced in a two-frame nuc made above the hive to be requeened or to be split, via an inner cover with 8 mesh screen stapled to either side of the escape hole.  Morse recommends 1 frame that is half full of mostly capped brood 1 frame 1/2- 2/3 full of honey. Four frames of nurse bees are shook into this upper unit.  Morse’s double screen inner cover has a 1-inch entrance on the side instead of the front that he stuffs with grass when making the upper unit.  Dr Morse does poke a small hole in the candy so the new queen is released in 24-36 hours.  He recommends a check 5-7 days later.  After the queen establishes a brood pattern, the upper unit can be “split off” to make increase or united with the lower unit after the queen residing below is killed or removed.

Push- in Cage Introduction- a 3x 3 1?2 inch wire cage is made from 8 mesh screen that is 5/8 inches deep.

Some designs have a folded slot for candy while others have a copper tube soldered to an opening of the cage for candy.  The queen is introduced by pushing the wire cage containing the queen into comb over a patch of emerging brood.  After several days the behavior of the worker bees outside of the cage is observed.  If the bees are gentle  (not biting the wire or acting aggressive toward the queen), communicating with their antennae and are feeding the queen and young workers, the queen is then either direct released or allowed release via the candy tube.

Tips for Finding Queens:

1. Marked queens are much easier to spot!

2. Use minimal smoke. Remove supers and stack on the inverted cover. Don’t smoke the bees down into the brood nest.

3. If queen excluder is present, the queen should be in one of the two brood chambers.

4. The brood chamber with the most brood, especially eggs, is where she is more likely to be found.

5. Some beekeepers start the search at the center of each brood chamber after removing a frame from the hive wall.  Quickly scan the comb next to the frame that you have removed prior to checking the frame in hand.

6. The queen’s retinue assists in locating the queen.

7. Hold frame over the hive during inspection in the event the queen falls off.

8. In general, during the spring the queen is likely to be in the upper brood chamber.

9. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in cool temperatures, the queen is likely to be found on the sunny side of the hive while she is away from the sun on hot days.

10. If the queen can’t be found, reassemble the colony with queen excluders between the boxes.  Return in four days and search for eggs.  The box with the eggs contains the queen.

11. Hard to find queens can be found by “straining “ the bees through a queen excluder.  Fasten a queen excluder to an empty hive body. Place the strainer above a hive body containing honey, comb or brood (no bees) and shake or brush the bees frame by frame into the strainer.  Gentle puffs of smoke will drive the worker bees below and the queen and drones are left above the excluder unable to squeeze through.

International Color Code for Marking Queens

Year Ending  Color

0-5                               blue

1-6                               white

2-7                               yellow

3- 8                              red

4-9                               green

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