As a beekeeper, it may not be our favourite job, but there comes a time in every hive when the queen must be replaced with a new one.
Queen bees do a lot of work in their short lives. A queen lays 175,000 to 200,000 eggs each year! In two to three years, the queen is usually at the end of her ability to lay enough eggs for a colony to succeed. Producing enough new bees for the colony is the queen's main job, and her ability to do this decreases over time. But there are also other things that can affect the queen's ability to fulfill her role. So, what is requeening and what are the five signs to look for?
What is requeening? It's exactly as it sounds. The old queen in a hive is removed and replaced with a new queen. As a queen bee ages, she will lay fewer eggs than a younger more productive queen. Queens also give off a pheromone, that plays a role in preventing swarms. As the queen ages her pheromone production also decreases.
5 Signs You May Need To Requeen:
Is your queen two to three years old? A queen’s production ability decreases as she ages. Most queens only live up to five years at the most. If your queen is two to three years old, you should assess how she is laying. If she is still laying well, keep an eye on her productivity and have a plan.
Do you have a good brood pattern? A good brood pattern is uniformly filled across a frame with few empty cells. Too many empty cells can indicate an old or failing queen or possibly disease. Brood capping should be uniform in colour (brown or tan) and convex in shape.
Are there a lot of drone cells? A queen should be laying mostly worker cells. If there are lots of drone cells this could mean the queen is having trouble with her laying ability.
Is your colony aggressive? If your hive is very aggressive, it may be time to replace your queen. Sometimes a new queen from a different stock can help change the temperament of a hive.
Does your hive have a disease? Sometimes when hives have diseases (like chalk brood), beekeepers will requeen their hive. Requeening causes a break in the brood cycle, which can help with remedying some diseases. Also, some queen breeds are more disease resistance than others.
If you answer YES to any of the above questions, you may need to requeen your hive. If you are not sure, make sure you connect with a mentor about the steps you should take (if any).
We won’t get into details on how to requeen in this blog, but we will touch on the two main ways to do it. To requeen, you need to remove the queen from the hive and pinch the old queen. The queen can be replaced with a new queen you purchase, or you can let the bees create their own queen. It is ideal to time requeening during the beekeeping season between July and September. However, despite your best efforts, sometimes you don't have a choice on the timing of requeening if your queen bee dies or the bees replace her on their own.
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If you are a beginner beekeeper, knowing if there are enough honey stores can be hard to figure out on your very first overwintered hive check. The simplest way to check if there are enough stores is to gently lift your hive from the bottom board (without disturbing the hive too much). If it is very light and easy to lift, you DO NOT have enough stores.