Requeening with Russian Queens Can Be Tricky

I purchased four mated queens in August with the intention of splitting some of my older colonies to create four new colonies. The requeening didn’t work out so well, but eventually I think (I hope) I got one colony started up well from a split and another one requeened. The other two mated queens were killed outright and another replacement queen I picked up a week later isn’t dead, but it’s barely laid an egg and it’s currently living in a nuc box — and it looks like this:

A stubby, ragged looking queen. (Oct. 13, 2016.)

A stubby, ragged looking queen. (Oct. 13, 2016.)

It doesn’t look good. Her wings are cracked too.
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Supersedure Queen Cells

It’s always fun to spot a frame of these babies in one of my hives.

Supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 05, 2016.)

Supersedure queen cells. (Sept. 05, 2016.) Click image for better view.

I mentioned in my recent Beeyard Update how I wouldn’t be surprised if the bees in one of my hives decided to supersede the queen I recently installed. I’m still not surprised.

SEPT. 05, 2016: Read the exciting continuation in Part 2: Empty Supersedure Queen Cells!

An Inadvertent Walk-Away Split

I inadvertently created a walk-away split on July 18th when I removed some brood from an established colony to make a nuc. I would have much rathered that the mated queen I gave the bees hadn’t been killed by the bees, but that’s another story.

Dead center: a brand new queen. (August 5, 2015.)

Dead centre: a brand new naturally mated queen. (Click image to enlarge.) (August 5, 2015.)

If we return briefly to the beginning of this story, 18 days ago on July 18th (A Requeening Gone Bad), we learn that a mated queen was added to a split about 23 days ago and five days later, the mated queen was found dead in her cage along with several open and capped supersedure queen cells. I didn’t touch the hive until today when I noticed a few bees bringing in pollen. Foragers don’t usually collect pollen unless they have a reason to do so, and that reason is usually to feed a queen bee and her brood. So I decided to take a peek inside and low and behold, I found a new queen scooting around one of the frames looking for a place to lay.

First glimpse of the new naturally mated queen. (August 5, 2015.)

First glimpse of the new naturally mated queen. (August 5, 2015.)


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How To Install a Mated Queen Bee

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 least 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 need to remind myself that I shouldn’t go near the hive for at least a week.

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 come 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.


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A Requeening Gone Bad

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):

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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.

Pulling a Queen Cage

There’s not much to see here, but here’s the deal: I recently added three mated queens to some of my hives and splits. Here’s a quick video of me checking to see if a queen was released from her cage. The video ends with me looking at some foundationless frames in a honey super.

Here’s a semi-short story about the requeening. Part 1: The candy plug in one of my queen cages was rock solid and the bees hadn’t eaten through it five days later when I checked on it, not even close. Part 2: I’ve been told that the attendant bees should be removed from the queen cage before the cage is installed. Supposedly in the commotion of being introduced, the attendant bees can get over excited and inadvertently sting or harm the queen. I’ve also been told not to worry about the attendant bees and just leave them in the cage with the queen. So that’s what I did and everything turned out fine.

Inspecting The Hives

It’s November 2018 as I take a second look at this post from 2010 so I can tweak away any bits that could be misleading to new beekeepers. I’ll jump in with comments as we go. So… let’s go.

I decided to do a thorough inspection of my honey bee hives today. It was supposed to rain all day, but the sun came out in full force in the early afternoon, so I took advantage of the sunshine and put on my bee suit.

I rarely wear a full bee suit anymore, only when I’m digging into a massive hive full of bees that aren’t in a good mood. Today, to inspect a single-deep colony, I use a veil or maybe a bee jacket. Gloves would be optional. I play that by ear. Mist. No smoke.

I need to find an experienced beekeeper to help me identify exactly what I’m looking at. I know I saw plenty of honey and plenty of uncapped brood. At one point I could see the little white larva at the bottom of the cells filling one full side of a frame. It was impressive. I couldn’t find the queen in either hive, but both seem to be laying plenty of eggs.

I’ll fess up. I don’t think I was able to spot the queen in any of my hives for the first year. My bees weren’t marked with paint to make them easier to see, so that didn’t help. I don’t believe I spotted the queen until my second summer when Aubrey Goulding dropped by to help me requeen one of my colonies that had a nasty queen. He found the old queen in no time and after that I didn’t have much difficulty spotting queens. Once you see how big the queen really is and notice how she moves, how the other bees move around her, how her abdomen (most of the time) is so elongated that her wings only reach halfway down her body — she’s unique and stands out among the thousands of bees in the hive. But it helps to get the ball rolling on this by having someone point her out to you like I did in 2015.

I’ve decided that I don’t like smoking the bees. The Seldom Fools beekeepers in Ontario spray their bees, and now so do I. Whenever the bees were agitated (I could hear the difference in their buzzing immediately), I just misted them with a little sugar water and five seconds later they were back to normal. I probably could have used plain water mist, but a little sugar never hurt no one. The last time I used the smoker on the bees, they were buzzing like mad and flying around the hives in large numbers for at least an hour afterwards. It took them a while to recover. Today, using the water mist on them, they were totally cool. You’d never know I’d completely dismantled their houses and put it back together again. I can see maybe using the smoker next year when we harvest some of the honey and have to brush the bees off the frames, but I’m convinced for now that misting the bees with a little water is the way to go.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using a smoker on the bees if it’s done right. I use a sugary mist on my bees 95% of the the time. I don’t do it because it’s more natural. I do it because most of the time I get the same effect (easier to control bees) using mist instead smoke. In general, though, I don’t break out the smoker until the bees are well into filling a second deep. Then I keep it on standby just in case I need the little extra umph that smoke provides.
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