There are many reasons during the course of the season why you might need to replace a queen bee. She could have become a drone layer, you may have killed her by accident or it could be that the bees need to be improved by the addition of a new queen with better genes. Whatever the reason, you can’t just put her in because they will almost certainly kill her – although I have known cases where clipped queens have fallen to the ground in failed swarming attempts and have then made their way back up the stand legs and into the front door of a queenless neighbour!
But that’s rare. The reason you can’t just put a new queen into the hive is that all the bees of a particular colony have their own peculiar smell. A new queen will not smell right and the bees will almost certainly kill the intruder.
The Usual Method
The most common queen introduction method involves putting the queen into a small wire or plastic cage which is then plugged with candy or newspaper. The bees can communicate with her through the wire and eat their way through and release her. Hopefully they will feed her in the meantime. By the time the bees are in direct contact with the new queen, her smell will have permeated the hive and the bees have become accustomed to her.
In addition, the target hive is often left queenless for a period of 7 days or more beforehand to allow them to raise queen cells which are then removed leaving the hive hopelessly queenless. This is particularly necessary when introducing a queen from the post as these will be off-lay and not so readily accepted as ones straight from an apidea.
This method is mostly reliable although there are occasions when bees can be very difficult to requeen and serial attempts fail. Difficulties can arise in colonies where:
- Bees have been queenless for a while,
- Bees have laying workers;
- Very large and/or aggressive colonies.
To make matters more complicated – there are three categories of new queen and they each have different attributes to consider:
- Laying queens – straight from the parent hive/apidea;
- Queens that come in the post;
A laying queen will be exuding queen substance and as such will have strength and fertility written all over her – just what a queenless hive is looking for.
Sometimes, a very strong queen seems to be unable to turn off the stream of eggs and will continue to lay whilst in the cage!
A queen that came in the post was a laying queen when she went into the cage but she is no longer a laying queen when she gets to you. The smell of queen substance may be diminished and the bees may develop the opinion that she is in fact failing and raise queen cells to supersede her.
Virgins are the most difficult of all – they have ‘intruder’ written all over them and little scent of queen substance to calm the reception committee.
Snelgrove’s One Hour Matchbox Method
An ingenious method is described by L.E.Snelgrove in his wonderful book Introduction of Queen Bees. He calls it the ‘Snelgrove 1 hour method’ and it has the added advantage that you don’t have to leave your target hive queenless for 7 days while they raise queen cells. It is often successful where other methods fail.
I have tried it several times with difficult and aggressive colonies and it has only failed me once.
Here’s what you do:
- Dequeen your target hive in the late afternoon or early evening;
- At the same time put 20-30 of the worker bees into a matchbox;
- Put the matchbox into your pocket for 10 minutes so they can come to terms with their predicament;
- If your new queen has to be marked, now is the time – don’t clip her – it will reduce the chances of her acceptance and you can always clip her next spring;
- Remove the matchbox of bees from your pocket;
- Take gentle hold of your queen – do not to squeeze her abdomen;
- Carefully open the matchbox a little and thrust the queen into the box with the workers – there will be some scuttling and buzzing but they won’t harm her;
- Return the matchbox to your pocket for a further 30 minutes or so;
- By now your target hive should have been queenless for getting on for an hour – they will have become anxious;
- Gird your loins;
- Quietly remove the roof and open the feed hole a bit – about half an inch;
- Blow a little puff of smoke or spray some water, just enough to send the bees away;
- Place the matchbox over the hole and slide it open enough to allow bees and queen to run down;
- Leave strictly alone for 7 days.
It is important that this is done in the late afternoon or evening or on a rainy day otherwise there may be armies of workers coming in to find a new queen when they didn’t even realise they were queenless.
Requeening of vicious hives
As usual, a vile tempered colony of bees turned up mid-season. I had split it with a Snelgrove board but then the new queen failed and the resultant bees got angrier and angrier. I tried to requeen it in the usual way – with a laying queen in a cage stopped with candy – but the bees were just too angry and too strong. They killed her and spat her out. Then I took their honey and they got worse – the sort of bees that harpoon you and ping off the smoker and the wax bucket!
Last week, having a glut of laying queens in Apideas, I decided to try the one hour method with my angry hive figuring that if they killed another queen I would just split them up into two or three nucs and then requeen each one.
But yesterday, 7 days later, when I went to check them, you could almost tell they were queen-right by the smug way they were hanging out the entrance – taking the air and waxing their antenae. Close inspection revealed that yes, the marked queen was accepted – there she was striding about and laying like a train.
By the way, this method can also be used for Apideas – just put the matchbox in the space behind the ventilation grille. Click here for how to do that.
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