In our first How To feature, we will look at how to introduce your queen into a hive.
1. How To Introduce Your Queen Into a Hive
A. What To Do With Your Queen Bee When She Arrives
When you order a queen bee from a queen rearer she will generally arrive in a wooden or plastic cage with attendant workers and some candy to eat. The candy is powdered sugar mixed with water.
Your queen will likely have been put in the cage 1-24 hours prior to mailing. She may be in the mail for one or more days, depending on how fast the post is. She should be OK in the cage for 5 or even 7 days. However, after 5 days there is the risk that she will die, and more than 7 days is not recommended.
To help the queen to survive, soon after arrival put a drop of water into the mesh of the cage so that the bees can take a drink. Keep the cage away from direct sunlight. Room temperature, approximately 20C, is fine. Check to see if the attendant worker bees are alive. If some attendants are dead, this is an indication that you need to get a move on and introduce your queen into a hive. If the existing attendants are dying, to give a few extra days you can introduce several new workers into the cage taken from one of your own hives.
Mated queens are more attractive to the attendant workers than virgin queens, and are looked after better. A mated queen would normally be the last bee in a cage to die if nothing was done. A virgin queen probably would not be.
B. Preparing a Queenless Hive To Accept Your Queen
The fundamental rule is that a new queen must always be introduced into a hive that has been queenless for between a few days and a week, ideally 4-6 days. It should have brood, bees, and food stores.
If you know that your queen will be delivered on Friday and that you will introduce her on Saturday, you could make up a queenless hive the previous Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. If you have not prepared a queenless hive, make one up as soon as possible and wait a few days before introducing your queen. If the hive has been queenless for several weeks, do not use it because it is unlikely that it will accept a queen.
You can introduce a queen into a queenless hive of any population, from just a few frames to several boxes of bees. It is likely that the success rate is higher with lower population hives. It is often convenient to make up a hive with just a few frames of bees and to introduce the queen to this hive. Once the queen is accepted and laying, you can them combine this small hive with the hive you want to requeen (which should, of course, have been queenless a few days before) using the newspaper method. It is good beekeeping practice to have one or a few small colonies with queens in them, available to combine with another hive as and when needed.
C. Introduction by the Direct Method
After the hive has been queenless for 4-6 days, thoroughly smoke the hive through the entrance and inner cover hole. Apply several times more smoke than you would use when making a normal hive inspection. You then uncork or remove the lid from the queen cage and allow the queen to walk into the hive entrance, making sure she does not fly off. It is not necessary to open the hive. This is the method I use. I find that it is easier, quicker and more successful than introducing the queen using a cage. It takes a bit of courage to dispense with the cage!
In a LASI experiment, we introduced virgin queens into 5-frame nucleus hives with 2-3 frames of worker bees and brood. Acceptance was: after 6 days queenlessness (100%), after 5 days (100%), 4 days (92%), 3 days (92%), 2 days (85%), 1 day (31%). We used 13 queens per period of queenlessness. Our research also showed that virgin queens are harder to get accepted than mated queens. Nevertheless, 5 or 6 days of queenlessness still resulted in 100% virgin acceptance.
D. Introduction Using a Mailing Cage
After the hive has been queenless for 2-6 days, open the hive and place the queen cage between two brood frames. It should be wedged in so that the mesh on the cage is exposed so that the bees in the hive can contact the bees in the cage. The cage should be oriented so that the candy is at the bottom. As a result, if the candy runs it will not run onto the caged queen and maybe kill her. Ideally, the cage is left in place for a few days and then the hive is opened to remove the cork from the queen cage. The bees in the hive can now eat out the candy and release the queen. In some cases the beekeeper will remove the cork when the cage is placed into the hive, so that a second visit to the hive is not needed. Some queen cages do not have a cork. In place of a cork you can use a small piece of tape or beeswax.
There are many variations on this method. In the USA, one of the commercial beekeepers that I learned from, Mr. Paul Cappy, recommended simply pushing the cage into the hive entrance, mesh side up, thereby eliminating the need to open the hive. I tried this and it worked fine. But the hive would need to be strong so that there would be plenty of bees on the bottom board. Some beekeepers may take extra precautions. For example, by checking the cage after a few days observe whether or not the worker bees in the hive are biting the cage. If so, then wait a few days more before releasing the queen or removing the cork.
I do not use the mailing cage method. Although it is the most common introduction method used by beekeepers and is described in all beekeeping books, it is not as good as direct introduction and is more work.
E. Other Points: Marking Queens
If you want to clip the wings of the queen, or to glue a number to her thorax, or to mark her with a dot of paint you can do it on a caged queen. Open the cage carefully and pick up the queen with her thorax between thumb and forefinger. This is the strongest part of her body. It is advisable to do this indoors as the queen may fly, especially if she is a virgin. Some of the attendants may also fly away. Make sure you have some left to look after the queen. It can be a bit tricky to get the queen out without losing the attendants.
F. Other Points: What To Do With a Hive That Has Been Queenless for Several Weeks
Beekeepers sometimes find they have a queenless hive, then decide to buy a queen to requeen this hive. It is unlikely that a hive that has been queenless for several weeks will accept a queen. The best thing to do with such a hive is to combine it with a queenright hive. That way you will not waste the bees. A week or more later you can divide the hive into two again, or remove some bees and brood from this hive to make up a small queenless hive. The queenless hive can be requeened 4-6 days later using the direct method.
© F. Ratnieks, July 2016