The spring season for a beekeeper is always a hectic time. When the bees start coming out of cluster and all of those wildflowers and shrubs start blooming, it gets hard to keep up with the growth of a hive. Suddenly, the danger of swarming rears its ugly head. There are several ways to prevent this from happening including but not limited to requeening hives, or splitting mature hives to create nucleus hives.
New research has shown that a good quality queen bee will only perform well (laying lots of eggs in a good pattern) for six to eight months before they start to fall behind. Swarming is usually more prevalent in hives that have older queens, so by requeening hives every year, the beekeeper insures that his or her hives are in the best position to prevent swarming come spring.
We at Spiral Horn Apiary start requeening hives as soon as the early spring floral sources start to bloom (as long as the weather is warm enough). Currently we requeen one-third of our hives in spring, summer, and fall. With over 400 hives, requeening all of them at once without any mishaps is nigh impossible.
The first step is to order your queen bees. It is always good practice to order a few more queens than you need, just in case some of the queens don’t “take”. The next step is to open up the hives that you want to requeen and remove or kill the existing queen in that hive. Ideally, you want to time the ordering of queens so that they arrive after the hives have been queenless for three days. This allows time enough for the left over queen pheromone to fade from the hive and improves the rate of acceptance for the new queen.
There are several cages that a queen can be shipped in. Since we order in the 200+ range, ours arrive in California Mini Cages with a screen over one side or in plastic JZ-BZ cages in a “battery box”. A battery box contains queens isolated individually in cages with attendants outside the cages. Attendants feed and care for the queens en masse. This is not the type of shipment that you want to open INSIDE the post office.
Smaller, or individual queen shipments will include attendants inside of the cage with the queen. Wooden queen cages will include corks that plug the hole(s) to the cage. Some queen breeders will include “candy plugs” (plastic tubes filled with fondant), with the order. Verify that plugs are included, or not, when ordering your queens.
When installing a new queen in a California Mini Cage (no attendants), pull out the cork in one end and place your finger over it to keep the queen from escaping. Insert the candy plug into that hole. Place the queen cage with the candy plug facing the bottom of the hive, with the screened side also facing down. This insures that the queen will not drown in any honey or nectar that may drip into the cage while the worker bees eat away at the candy plug to release the queen.
Installing queens shipped with attendants, you have an option to remove the attendants first (recommended), or leave them in the cage with the queen. If you choose to leave the attendants in the cage with the queen, install the cage in the hive with the candy plug FACING UP. This allows any attendants that expire in the cage to fall to the bottom, without plugging or blocking the hole with the candy plug. The queen can emerge from the cage uninhibited.