Introducing a Mated Queen: Best Practices for Successful Introduction
For a successful queen introduction, it's essential to choose suitable conditions. Ideally, introduce your queen when the bees are actively foraging during a good honey flow, and it's not raining. Additionally, ensure there are many older bees foraging. It's important to note that introducing a queen to a hive without brood increases the risk of the colony developing the laying worker pheromone, making successful queen introduction challenging. Always keep the queen out of direct sunlight.
About Our Queens:
Our queens are marked according to the year and typically come with 4-6 escort worker bees to assist in feeding and grooming during transit. While we take every possible precaution to ensure the queens leave us marked, there are exceedingly rare instances where these marks are removed by the escort bees during transit or once introduced to the hive. Unfortunately, this is beyond our control, and we cannot be held responsible if it occurs. All our queens are supplied unclipped.
Cage Types and Candy:
We use cages in our operation that always contain some form of candy (usually in the form of clips or tape) sealed at one end. This clip (or clips) or tape can be removed before introduction or used as an option to delay the release for an additional day or two. When we pack the queens, the candy is soft, but we always recommend checking the consistency of the candy upon receipt, as it may harden depending on the time of year and weather conditions. If you're concerned that the candy is too hard, you can use a cocktail stick to create a small passageway to help the bees start consuming it.
The general introduction process is quite straightforward. Your queen can be introduced in the cage provided, ideally placed snugly between two frames (sideways) where the bees are most active. You can choose either to remove the candy clip(s) or tape immediately or delay this by 24-48 hours to allow the colony to adjust to her new pheromones. If you find the cage to be unstable and likely to drop, you can use a cocktail stick or matchstick to suspend the cage between the frames (in this situation, we recommend placing the candy face down). It's important not to remove the queen from the cage, as there is candy inside the cage that the bees will eat through, slowly releasing her over a period of 2-3 days. After the initial introduction, wait for 7 days before returning to check for acceptance. Look for the presence of the queen or the appearance of eggs in the cells (similar to very small individual grains of rice). It's crucial to avoid checking the hive during those 7 days, as checking earlier can result in accepted queens being "balled" (killed) prematurely.
Queen Introduction Timeframe:
Ideally, the colony must have been queenless for at least 24 hours, either by finding and removing the original queen or confirming with a test frame.
Test Frames and Confirming Queen State:
Before introducing any mated queen to a possibly queenless colony, it's highly recommended to thoroughly check for the presence of queen cells or unmated (virgin) queens within the hive. Virgin queens can be agile and fast, making them challenging to find, even for experienced beekeepers. If there is any uncertainty, consider introducing a "test frame." This is a frame with eggs or young larvae that bees can use to produce "Emergency Queen Cells." Ensure that this frame comes from another colony and remove all bees from it before introducing it to the queenless colony (which is why it's beneficial to have more than one hive). We recommend marking the frame for easy identification later. Afterward, return after 2-4 days to confirm whether the bees have started drawing queen cells. If they have, this confirms that the hive is queenless, and it's best to destroy these queen cells. If no queen cells are present, you may potentially have a virgin queen or a laying worker. A virgin queen will need to be found and removed before introduction. A laying worker colony is likely beyond recovery and is sometimes best resolved by shaking it out or combining it with another hive using the newspaper method.
Re-Queening Aggressive Colonies:
Re-queening aggressive colonies can be a challenging task, and sometimes it may seem near impossible. The risk involved should be carefully considered when attempting this. Ideally, it's best to identify aggressive colonies during the season and re-queen when the population is low in the spring. While autumn might have a lower population, any issues arising during this time of year can be difficult to rectify. Simply removing the original queen and introducing a new queen 24 hours later will not always be successful when dealing with a strong colony. We recommend the following methods for re-queening aggressive colonies:
Creating a Nuc from the aggressive colony: This involves isolating the existing queen, removing two frames of sealed brood, and including a frame of pollen/honey, along with an additional shake or two of bees. The Nuc can be placed either 3ft or 3 miles away from the parent colony. You can then introduce your new queen to the Nuc following our general introduction guidelines mentioned earlier. Only once this new queen has been accepted, has begun laying, and the Nuc is well-established (ideally with 5/6 frames covered with bees, brood, and food) should you consider removing the aggressive queen and uniting your Nuc with the original parent colony. Based on customer feedback and experience, this method has proven to be one of the most successful approaches to re-queening aggressive colonies.
Bleeding off the foraging older bees: This option involves moving the parent colony 3ft or more away from its original location and placing a temporary hive or Nuc box (with frames) where the flying bees will return to. After 24 hours of good flying weather, you should be left with young bees and brood within the parent colony. At this point, you can remove the original queen and introduce your newly mated queen 24 hours later, following our general introduction guidelines from page 1.
Creating Nucs for Swarm Control or Expansion:
For swarm control or expansion, it's advisable to first find and isolate the existing queen. Then, select two sealed brood frames and one frame of stores. Optionally, you can add more bees from other frames into the Nuc box. Move the Nuc either 3ft or 3 miles away and allow it to sit for 24 hours before introducing your queen, following the general introduction guidelines mentioned earlier.
Removing attendant bees: While it was once a common practice to remove the attendant bees, we found that time constraints often made it impractical. Consequently, we began introducing queens with their escorts, and this had no adverse effects. If you choose to remove the attendant bees, we recommend doing this in a closed room (such as a vehicle) inside a clear plastic bag (preferably wax bags). Some cage variants have a front cover that can slide off, while others require unclipping the cap and folding over the candy tube. We have had cases where customers attempted this in their apiaries, and the queen quickly flew away. We strongly advise against doing this within the apiary. Generally, the bees will exit the cage quickly, allowing you to isolate the queen alone. Shake out the attendant bees from the bag near a hive where they can fly into. This practice is not recommended for inexperienced beekeepers and is performed at your own risk.
Light sugar solution: This practice has been beneficial in the past but is not commonly used in our daily beekeeping activities. It involves lightly spraying the queen cage with a thin sugar water solution using a clean garden sprayer. This can aid in queen introduction, as the bees clean the queen and become familiar with her scent, which they then distribute throughout the colony.
Push-in cages: While standard introduction cages generally work well, some beekeepers prefer push-in cages, which allow the queen to be isolated on an emerging brood frame with young bees as they hatch. She will ideally lay fresh eggs in these hatched cells. Depending on the type of push-in cage, you can remove it at your convenience.
Cheap masking tape: If you're pressed for time and want to delay the bees from reaching the candy but don't have the time to return to remove the clip/tape, you can remove the clip and use a piece of inexpensive masking tape to temporarily cover the candy. Make a small pinhole in the tape to give the bees an entry point to start chewing. This method has been successful in most cases, but smaller hives or nucs may sometimes be slow to start, so we recommend using this option at your own risk.
Liquid feeding: Occasionally, feeding can divert the bees attention away from the queen. Ideally, provide just enough food to keep them occupied but not so much that it clogs the brood frames with stores, leaving no space for your new queen to lay eggs.
My Queen has arrived dead, what should I do? - Please take a picture as soon as possible and send an email to [email protected] for a replacement, which we provide free of charge. We replace queens that arrive dead once and only if evidence is supplied.
My Queen has not been accepted despite following your instructions, what should I do? - Unfortunately, there are many variables in nature that can result in queens not being accepted. This is something we encounter regularly as bee farmers, and while it can be frustrating, it's impossible to guarantee acceptance.
Do you offer discounts if my Queen is not accepted? - Unfortunately, we cannot offer discounts for the reasons mentioned above.
My Queen appears sluggish upon arrival, what should I do? - Sometimes, queens can arrive in a cool state, especially during autumn or early spring. Warming them up typically helps, and they should become more active. If she doesn't recover after warming, please notify us promptly.
My Queen has arrived, but the weather is poor. Can I keep her in her cage? - Queens can generally be kept caged for approximately 5 days in cool, dark conditions, provided they are watered twice a day using a garden misting spray or a few light drips from a tap. However, keeping queens caged for extended periods is not recommended, and we cannot be held responsible for queens that arrive alive but perish due to prolonged storage. Plan accordingly to avoid unexpected circumstances, as storing queens is done at your own risk.
My Queen has not started laying after 7 days, what should I do? - If your queen has not started laying after 7 days, please inform us via email. In some conditions, queens may take a bit longer to begin laying, and we recommend waiting for at least 14 days.
My Queen is only laying drones, what should I do? - Take a picture as soon as possible and send an email to [email protected] for a replacement, which we provide free of charge. Queens that lay only drones are replaced once and only if evidence is supplied.
Do you provide guarantees for your queens' performance or temperament? - While our queens typically exhibit placid and productive traits, we cannot guarantee their performance or temperament due to natural variables. Queen longevity generally ranges from 2-3 years, but there is no guarantee.
If you have concerns about the health or egg-laying capabilities of your new queens, please contact us within 14 days for a replacement. You can find more information on our online FAQ section, and for any other issues or inquiries, feel free to contact us at [email protected] or 01452645635. Additionally, visit youtube.com/bshoneybees for more information and videos on queen introduction.