Requeening A Hive: What Is It And When To Do It

Requeening is becoming more and more popular these days… but when should you do it? Or should you do it at all? This article takes you through everything you need to know about requeening.

What Is Requeening?

Requeening is the act of exchanging the existing queen in the hive with a younger one, either raised or purchased. The word requeen literally means to queen again. Requeening is not supplying a queenless colony with a new queen for example if she is dead or killed suddenly.

Beekeeper inserting a plastic queen bee cage into a beehive to requeen

Do you really need to requeen a hive?

Whether or not it’s necessary to requeen a hive is up to you as the beekeeper, and you may be unsure whether your hive needs to be requeened.

Many beekeepers with large commercial operations will requeen their hives to a schedule. That is, they will requeen all hives every one or two years because usually, a young mated queen will lay more eggs than an older one. Because they may have hundreds of hives to look after, it’s easier for the commercial beekeeper to requeen all at once, rather than to keep track of the needs of each individual hive.

If you have taken up beekeeping as a hobby, then I don’t believe it’s necessary for you to requeen to a schedule. You have the time to assess each hive and decide if it needs to be requeened or not.

If you have a three-year-old queen in a thriving colony, for example, there’s no need for you to requeen. You’d only be killing a queen unnecessarily.

When should you replace a queen bee?

In certain situations, I believe you should requeen to ensure the health of the hive is maintained. If your hive has an aggressive temperament, the colony is prone to disease, or is underperforming, then requeening with a mated queen is a good idea. Here’s why you should requeen your hive in these situations.

The hive is aggressive

If your colony happens to be very aggressive, then replacing the queen with a new, mated one will solve the problem. Once the queen is released from her cage and begins to lay, you should start to see a change in the behavior of the bees.

The colony will take approximately a month to completely calm down because it will take this long for the progeny of the old queen to completely die out. If you are a hobby beekeeper living in a town or city with close neighbors, it’s particularly important to requeen if your hive is aggressive.

The hive is prone to disease

Requeening a colony that is prone to disease, especially disease that affects brood, will help overcome the problem, because the new queen is genetically stronger and therefore her offspring are stronger too.

When a hive is requeened, there is a gap in the brood cycle between when the old queen’s last egg is laid by the new queen and the first egg. In this period, many diseases will perish because they have no brood to prey on.

The hive is underperforming

At times, you will need to requeen because the queen is underperforming. She may be old or injured, or just not performing well. If you notice she is not laying enough, is laying too many drones (unfertilized eggs), or has an uneven laying pattern, then requeening can solve this problem.

Best time of year to replace a queen bee

The best season of the year to requeen your hive is in the fall (autumn), otherwise, in spring. In these seasons, mated queens are usually readily available for purchase. However, if you want to requeen then it’s a good idea to order one in advance from a reputable breeder.

By requeening in the Fall, you will give the new queen enough time to become established in the hive before the onset of winter, as there will be nectar and pollen available as food. In addition, the bees will survive longer because during winter bees stay inside the hive and won’t be subjected to the cold weather. Once the weather becomes warmer, the established queen will start laying many more eggs and the bee population will increase rapidly.

Requeening in Spring with a mated queen has its benefits as well. Mated queens will become available for purchase, though they may be more expensive because of increased demand.

There are plenty of flowering plants in Spring to provide nectar and pollen for the new queen. The colony is more likely to accept her when food is in plentiful supply. However, remember at this time of year the old queen bee will be harder to find in the hive because the numbers have increased rapidly.

Requeening in winter is not an option because your hive should not be opened. In any case, queens are not available at this time.

How often should you replace a queen bee?

How often you replace a queen bee depends on your personal circumstances.

If you are a commercial beekeeper with hundreds, perhaps thousands of hives then you will requeen every year or every second year. Hives will be requeened all at once to ensure all the hives are performing well. A commercial beekeeper doesn’t have time to check hives individually and he or she wants their hives to perform as well as possible.

If you do beekeeping for a hobby, you have time to assess each hive and decide if they need to be required. In my opinion, it’s not necessary to replace a healthy, performing queen in a thriving hive every year or two. Regular, close observation of your hives allows you to discover early enough whether there is a problem and you need to take action.

Summing Up…

Requeening a hive is an important part of beekeeping and is done to keep the colony healthy, disease-resistant, and performing well. If you are a hobbyist beekeeper living in a built-up area you need to avoid bad-tempered bees bothering your neighbors.

Requeening with a mated queen purchased from a reputable queen breeder is best. Allowing a colony to requeen itself means the queen may mate with drones with unsuitable traits and the progeny may not be docile.

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