So-called natural beekeepers like to think they can just “let the bees be bees” and they’ll reproduce by creating their own queen cells when they need them. I’ve had my bees reproduce naturally several times and it’s great. But as with most things in natural beekeeping, it’s an ideal that often doesn’t correspond with reality. 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 hives 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 reduction, 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.
In this particular case, I added a mated queen to a small split (two frames of brood with honey and pollen stolen from a larger colony), essentially creating a nuc.
Reminders for myself:
— Add the mated queen to the queenless hive within 24 hours and make sure the bees haven’t created a supersedure queen cell while they were queenless. If they have created a supersedure queen cell — and I learned this the hard way — they will kill the mated queen. Destroy all queen cups or any signs of queen cells before installing the mated queen.
— Install the queen cage (squeezed between two frames of brood) so the candy plug (the queen’s exit) is on top. If the queen’s exit is on the bottom, dead attendant bees might block the exit.
Other stuff: I don’t remove the attendants bees from the queen cage, but Michael Palmer demonstrates a quick and easy way to remove them (which takes practice, I’m sure.) Not everyone drills or pokes a hole in the sugar, but it’s what I was taught when I first installed a mated queen. I suppose the bees could get at the queen too soon if the sugar plug is soft like it is in this video, but I haven’t had any problems with it. I forgot to poke a hole in the sugar once and the queen was stuck in the cage for a week. I had to release her manually.
NOTE #1: This video is dated for July 23, 2015, the date the video was recorded, but I wasn’t able to post it until Dec. 27, 2015. NOTE #2: A more accurate title would be “How I Install a Queen,” but that’s not exactly a catchy title for Google. NOTE #3: This is the first section of a much longer video that records some disastrous requeening efforts on my part from this past summer. To be continued…