In certain situations, you will need to replace your old queen with a new one. This task, referred to as requeening, is one of many important jobs you’ll be required to do at some point in order for your hive or hives to remain healthy.
If you’re a new beekeeper who keeps bees for a hobby, then written below are five simple steps to guide you through requeening. I’d also suggest you ask for guidance from an experienced beekeeper who lives in your area if this is the first time you’re going to requeen.
One other important tip, make sure the weather forecast is mild on the days you wish to requeen.
Step 1 – buy a new mated queen
There is more than one way to acquire a new mated queen for your hive, but in this post, we’re going to concentrate on purchasing a new queen that is already mated. That’s because this way, you are more likely to obtain a positive outcome for your hive.
Online (or through your local beekeeping club) you can find commercial queen breeders in your area who will sell you a mated queen bee. You can find a current list of queen breeders in Australia and New Zealand in the Australian Beekeeper magazine.
Note here that mated queens aren’t available all year, because the drones they need to mate with are only present in sufficient numbers during the warmer months (early Spring to early Fall). It’s best to order ahead, before spring, to avoid possibly missing out.
Talk with the queen breeder about the characteristics of the bees he or she is selling. This is important because if you live in a built-up area, you want non-aggressive bees that aren’t likely to swarm and bother your neighbors.
The queen will be delivered to you via the post or you can pick her up personally. She will be in a small cage with several other attendants (worker bees) who will feed her from the candy plug wedged in at one end.
The breeder may have marked the queen with a colored dot on her thorax. The dot will be a specific color according to the year she was born. This is helpful for you because you know how old she is and it’s much easier to locate a marked queen in a hive with thousands of bees.
Step 2 – kill the old queen
Before you install a new queen, you have to remove the old one because there can only be one queen bee in the hive. If you don’t remove her, the queen bees will use their stingers to eliminate each other. One will be killed and the other may be injured in the process which is not a good outcome.
Finding the queen may present a challenge, especially if you’re new to beekeeping, so I suggest you invite another beekeeper to help you spot the queen. An extra pair of eyes is always helpful.
You can begin searching for the old queen by starting from one end and looking on both sides of each frame. However, she is unlikely to be on a frame that only has honey. She is most likely going to be on a brood frame because her job is to lay eggs, so these are the frames you must look at carefully.
Don’t take too long looking at each frame either because the queen will probably try to hide if the hive is open too long.
The queen is a different shape from other bees. She has a long, elongated abdomen, a bald, usually black thorax, and wings that are shorter than her abdomen.
Once located, you need to remove the queen and unfortunately, you have to kill her so that the strength of her pheromones is reduced when you come to introduce the new queen.
Step 3 – wait a day
Why do you need to wait a day before introducing a new mated queen? The short answer is to reduce the chances of the queen being rejected.
The queen of the hive emits a number of different pheromones (queen substances) that control the behavior of the colony. The queen can’t be everywhere at once, so worker bees carry her pheromones throughout the hive, indicating all is well.
The workers will reject the queen if you install her immediately after removing the old one because they will still identify the strong scent of the old queen.
If you wait a day, the pheromones of the old queen start to diminish and the workers begin to realize the queen is missing. Waiting only a day doesn’t give the workers enough time to raise a new queen.
Step 4 – Install the new queen
Once you have waited a day you can install the new queen. She will be in a cage with a few worker bees feeding her from the candy plug.
Gently smoke the hive at the entrance and under the lid as you normally would. Wait about 30 seconds, then remove the lid.
Locate the brood frames and move the frames a little so there is a space in the middle of the brood nest. The queen cage should be placed so the candy plug is facing upward.
This is done so any attendant bees that die won’t block the exit and prevent the queen from getting out. Place the queen cage in the space and maneuver the frames together to secure the cage.
The hive should be closed up again and left for one week. Then it should be inspected again.
Step 5 – check to see If The queen has been accepted
After waiting for a week, you can inspect the hive to see if the queen has been released and accepted by the colony.
During this week two things will happen. First of all, the worker bees within the hive will have eaten their way through the candy plug at the entrance of the queen cage. Secondly, the new queen’s pheromones will have permeated throughout the colony and she will most likely have been accepted.
To find out if she has been accepted, remove the queen cage and start by looking for the new queen on the brood frames that housed the queen cage. Look for eggs on the same frames if you can’t find her. The presence of eggs means the queen was there one or two days ago.
The calm hum of the hive will also indicate the queen has been accepted.
Requeening the hive is an important task you must undertake from time to time to keep your hive strong and healthy. If you’re a new beekeeper and suspect your hive might need requeening, ask an experienced local beekeeper to advise you. By learning how to requeen you’ll know steps to take if you suddenly realize your hive needs a new one.