The queen bee is at the center of all fundamental activities undertaken by the colony. Without a healthy and productive queen, the colony cannot survive.
But what happens when you need a new queen bee? And how should you go about buying one?
Often the bees in the hive decide when a new queen bee is needed. However, in other situations, it might be necessary for you to intervene.
Here are some questions you should ask yourself before you get a new queen for your colony.
1. Do I Really Need A New Queen?
There are certain indicators you can look for in the hive that help you decide if you really need a new queen bee:
There is little or no brood
A healthy laying queen will lay up to 3,000 eggs a day during spring, when the weather is warm and there’s plentiful nectar. On a healthy brood frame you will see almost every cell occupied with either an egg or a developing larva.
If you look at frames in the brood box during spring and see only a few cells with brood, or none at all, then your queen isn’t performing well and needs to be replaced.
Only replace her if you are sure that disease isn’t the cause for the lack of brood.
The bees in the hive are aggressive
The queen bee in your hive may be bad tempered. When this happens, her offspring are also likely to be aggressive.
This means the bees are difficult to deal with and will sting readily, even when you are just passing nearby. An aggressive colony is not fun to deal with and has no place in a suburban backyard when there are close neighbors who may also be affected. An aggressive colony needs a new queen.
The queen bee is more than two years old
Even if there appear to be no problems with your bees, you may replace your queen bee every two or three years to maintain the maximum health and productivity of the hive. By doing so, possible problems such as disease or pests affecting your hive are minimized.
2. How Much Does A Queen Bee Cost?
The cost of a queen bee varies from one country to another and from one breeder to another. Generally, the more queen bees you buy, the cheaper each one becomes.
In the U.S. for example, queen bees typically range in price from $25 to $40, depending upon the time of year and the quantity ordered.
In Australia, the price of queen bees are similar, and range from $25 to $35.
It’s better for the queen bee, and cheaper for you, to purchase a queen (or queens) from a breeder nearby. That way, you can either drive to collect her or, if she comes by mail, she doesn’t have so far to travel.
3. Should I Buy A Queen Online Or Not?
You can buy queen bees online as many breeders advertise there, but there are a few things you need to consider, such as cost, location of breeder and breed of queen you want to buy.
A list of queen breeders near you should be reasonably easy to find by searching online.
Another way to buy queen bees is to look in various beekeeping publications where beekeepers advertise queen bees for sale. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, you can find an up to date list of queen breeders in the Australasian Beekeeper magazine.
My advice is to ask an experienced apiarist or members of your local beekeeping club where they purchase their queen bees. I’ve done this and found it very helpful.
4. When Can I Buy A New Queen Bee?
You can usually buy queen bees from early spring through to early fall (autumn), though it depends upon where you live. In warmer climates for example, queen bees can be available all year round.
From late fall queen bees aren’t usually obtainable because there are not enough drones to mate with them, temperatures are too low, and there’s usually not enough good quality nectar and pollen available.
You may need to order your queen bee from the breeder one or two months before you need her, because at certain times of the year the demand for queen bees could be high.
5. Can I Get A Friendly Queen Bee?
Yes, you can get a friendly or well-tempered queen bee. Queen bees supplied by breeders are bred so their offspring will show certain traits. These traits include:
- Docile temperament
- Ability to gather honey
- Resistance to disease
- Reduced tendency to swarm
Primarily, European queen bees available for sale in Australia and the U.S. are Italian, Caucasian or Carniolan.
To decide which one is best for your hive, it’s a good idea to work out what characteristics are important to you and then talk with the queen breeder, or with an experienced beekeeper at your local club.
6. Should My Queen Bee Be Mated Or Not?
It’s preferable for you to buy a queen bee that’s already mated for the following reasons:
- The mated queen will have been bred so her offspring display favorable characteristics such as good temperament, ability to gather nectar, resistance to disease and a minimized likelihood of swarming. She will have been mated with good quality drones provided by the breeder.
- The queen doesn’t have to go on the perilous mating flight. During the flight there’s always the chance she could get injured or die.
- Once she has been released into the hive she is ready to begin laying eggs immediately.
As a beekeeper you are responsible for the wellbeing of your hive. A strong, productive queen is at the center of a healthy colony.
Part of your seasonal hive management will involve you making sure the queen remains fertile, healthy, and producing well-tempered offspring. It’s a great idea to undertake some research into buying a queen bee before you actually need one.