Here’s a short narrated video that explains how I use a swarm box to catch swarms that would normally get away. (A transcript of the narration can found below the video. And that’s the last time I read from a script. It sounds like the stilted narration from an instructional video by Troy McClure)
I freaked out a bit when I first saw a queen cup because I didn’t know what it was. I thought my bees were about swarm and that perhaps I should destroy the queen cups. But if a colony is about to swarm or replace its failing queen (two good reasons to create new queens), destroying the queen cups won’t make much difference. It could even make things worse.
A queen cup is the first stage of a queen cell, a big fat peanut-looking cell specifically designed for raising a new queen. The cell points down instead of sideways. Most honey bee colonies build queen cups just in case they need to create a new queen. But most of the time, at least if the beekeeper is paying attention, nothing happens. The cups are left unused.
I don’t destroy queen cups because they provide the easiest place to check for possible swarming. Here’s a quick video where I blab on about that.
The obvious clue is royal jelly or brood in the queen cups. But I’ve also noticed that the bees seem to clean and polish the insides of the queen cups in preparation for the current queen to lay in it, not unlike what they do with regular brood cells. Whenever I add a frame of drawn comb to a hive, the first thing the worker bees do is clean out every cell because the queen won’t lay in a dirty cell. Anyone who has ever observed a laying queen will have noticed that she sticks her head deep into every cell and inspects it carefully before she deposits the egg. If the surface of the cell isn’t shiny and clean, she moves on. I don’t know if anyone else has noticed the bees shining up the insides of the queen cups before a swarm, but I’ve seen it enough times to say, yup, that seems to be thing.
SHORT VERSION: I heard what I believe is the sound of a new queen piping, but I was unable to spot the queen because, most likely, she hasn’t been inseminated by drones yet, and thus probably looks like every other bee in the hive (she doesn’t get big until she mates and begins laying). If a queen bee doesn’t mate within about 20 days, then it’s game over. Tomorrow is Day 20 for this queen. Bloody great.
LONG VERSION: Well, here comes another learning experience.
Are these bees acting like they have a queen? I hope so. (August 03, 2015.)
I checked on a hive yesterday that was queenless and in the process of capping a supersedure queen cell a month ago. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I discovered no signs of brood and no queen that I could see — but I did hear a high pitched piping squeak from one frame that sounded similar to something I recorded back in 2011 (see Piping From Inside The Hive):
I followed the sound of the piping on the frame for five minutes but couldn’t spot the queen. It was maddening. So I carefully put the frame and everything else back the way I found it so I could ponder over what might be happening in that hive. So let us ponder… Continue reading →
April 2019 Introduction: This is how I’ve introduced mated queens since I began beekeeping in 2010. I’ve had no problems with this method. But here are a few extra tips not mentioned in the post:
1) If using a wooden queen cage, the cage can be placed horizontally between two frames of brood so that the screen portion of the cage is facing down. I’m not sure what difference that makes, but the University of Guelph‘s head beekeeper does that and I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s doing.
2) The hive should be left alone for a about a week after the queen has been installed. Any kind of disturbance in the hive can cause the bees to reject the queen, even if the queen has already been released from the cage. I’m guilty of looking into the hive too soon. I think it’s okay to take a quick peek after four or five days to see if the queen has been released. Then I can jam the frames back together and move on. I just need to remind myself that I should leave the hive alone for as long as possible after requeening.
As much as I would rather leave it to my honey bee colonies to make their own queens naturally when they need them, they don’t always succeed. I have requeened some colonies with swarms cells, but most of the time I just order a mated queen. Here are some things I’ve learned the hard way by letting the bees make their own queens whenever they feel like it:
1) Unless the virgin queen can mate with drones from another bee yard, it’s likely she will mate with her own siblings and produce inbred and ill-tempered bees. My queens mated well only when there were about a dozen other colonies in the area.
2) Swarms that happen later in the summer can result in two weakened colonies instead of one strong colony (assuming the swarm is caught and re-hived). While swarm colonies typically expand quickly after a swarm, they can only grow so much once the weather turns cold and are often too weak to survive the oncoming winter.
3) Whether through supersedure or swarming, the natural process of requeening usually results in a 2-4 week period of reduced or even zero brood production, which again weakens the colony no matter when it happens. A weakened colony can be propped up with brood from a stronger colony, but not all hobbyist beekeepers, especially starting out, have that luxury. That being said…
The following video demonstrates my method of installing a mated queen and checking on her to make sure she’s been released from her cage and then checking on her again to make sure she’s laying. I don’t have years and years of experience installing mated queens, but I’ve followed this exact method about a dozen times since 2010 for myself and friends, requeening and starting up new colonies from splits, and it works.
June 2019 Introduction: I’ve deleted some bits from this 2015 post, but instead of rewriting the whole thing, I’ll just tell you what happened in the end.
I purchased some mated queens from a local breeder who has virtually bred out what some would describe as “blonde bees,” or lightly coloured bees, usually honey bees of Italian stock. His bees are what some refer to as “black bees,” or honey bees of mostly Russian stock. And here’s the deal with Russian honey bees (to quote from a PDF article published by North Carolina State University):
“Requeening Italian hives with Russian queens can be difficult, and many beekeepers lose their newly introduced Russian queens. Russian queens have a different ‘odor’ than Italians, and parent colonies must become acclimated to this odor before they will accept the newcomers.”
And that’s exactly what happened with this requeening gone bad. My Italian colonies simply did not accept the Russian queens. All but one of the queens were killed outright and the colonies went on to make a new queens and were broodless that whole time and it was a headache I could have done without because it basically left me with a bunch of weak colonies. I wrote more about this in my post, A Stubby Ragged Queen. The moral of the story is, be cautious when installing a dark queen in a colony that previously had a light queen. If I do it again, I’ll cage the queen for a week and manually release instead of allowing the bees to chew through the candy plug to let her out. See How To Install a Mated Queen for more info.
I added a caged mated queen to three splits last weekend. I checked on them today and found supersedure cells in all three hives. Here’s a sample (and if you click the image to enlarge it, you can easily see the larvae swimming in royal jelly):
Here’s what I found in…
Split #1: The new queen DEAD inside her opened cage and several capped supersedure cells.
Split #2: The new queen alive and one supersedure cell full of royal jelly.
Split #3: The new queen M.I.A. (possibly dead) and several capped supersedure cells.
I say supersedure cell, but I suppose the more accurate term is “emergency queen cell.” Supersedure cells are created when the queen is failing but not yet dead, whereas emergency queen cells are created when the queen is suddenly dead. I think. Maybe. The difference seems so minimal to me, I always say supersedure. To make it more confusing, the presence of swarm cells usually means the bees are going to fly away with their old queen, but presence of supersedure cells means they’re simply replacing a failing or dead queen. That’s how I sort it all out anyway.