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I need a Queen Bee! (maybe)

Author - Laura Urban, Urban Honey Bee

As an inspector, I saw this issue time and time again last year and I’m seeing it again this year, so much that I thought I’d write about it - the queen less hive.

We are told as beginners to check our hives typically once every other week, or at the very least once a month checking for mites, other diseases, make sure you have room and make sure you have a queen by looking for eggs. However, life gets in the way. The kids are in baseball, you had a family reunion, or it’s just been so stinking hot and you’ve convinced yourself that your bees have lived for hundreds of years without your help, why would I disturb them now? They are better off if I leave them alone. Maybe I’m actually doing the beekeeping community a favor by letting only the strong survive!

Then one day, you decide you should probably check on them and lo and behold there is no evidence of a queen! You can’t find her royal highness and you can’t find eggs! Your immediate reaction is to call for a queen. But wait! Do you really need a queen?

Here’s where some analytics come in. Look at the age of your brood. For reference the Bush Bees website, has a wonderful grid he put together so you can tell how old your brood is. We know that queen takes 16 days to emerge, and another 5 days or so to mature enough to go on her nuptial flights. Her nuptial flights can take an additional 10 days or more. All in all it can take up to a month to make a fully mated egg laying queen. At this point you could have no capped brood, and if you attempt to requeen at any point during this process, the bees will murder your newly purchased queen!

Michael Bush also has a good suggestion on how to test if you have a queen. If you have two hives, take a frame of eggs out of your queen right hive and install it in your queen less hive. If the bees start to build out a queen cell, you know you are queen less and you have a higher likelihood of those bees accepting a purchased queen.

But what if you have only one hive? If you suspect you are queen less after a long absence from inspecting your hives, and you have capped brood, the schedule indicates the worker brood is at least 9 days old, but still less than the 21 days it takes for workers to emerge.

This means your old queen was in your hive between 9 and 21 days ago. Since it can take a month to raise a queen it is possible you have a virgin in your hive. In this case why not wait a week and check for eggs? If after a week you don’t find eggs install a queen. If the same is true but you have LARVAE, you have even more time. Why not wait TWO weeks before checking if you need a queen? This is probably one instance where patience is a virtue simply because either a queen cell or a new queen will be destroyed by your virgin if she exists.

There is one tricky part in waiting. Don’t wait too long! Brood lets off pheromones which tell your worker bees to not lay unfertilized eggs. When brood levels drop to very low levels, your hive goes into panic mode and can start laying workers. If your queen goes off on her nuptial flights and gets eaten by a bird, her extended absence can cause laying workers can take over and that hive is virtually impossible to requeen. Adding brood frames during this process if available is a good insurance policy.

One final note on the tricky virgin – many times she looks almost like a regular bee. It’s after she is mated that her abdomen becomes more pronounced and really stands out as a queen. In general, the virgin can be difficult to spot, so just because you don’t see her it doesn’t mean she isn’t there.

Ultimately I hope you don’t encounter the queen less hive, since it’s a tricky time period for the beekeeper. However if you do, it’s best not to impulsively react. Instead, relax, sit back and give it some thought. Do you really need a queen?

Give us a call, we would be happy to bee of assistance 330.608.3778

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