Queen Bee Replacement - Amazing Bees | Beekeeper Section

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Queen Bee Replacement
Queen bee replacement is a key factor in maintaining strong & healthy, quiet & workable and productive honeybee colonies.

The presence of a healthy, vigorous and productive queen bee is essential for efficient colony management.

Only strong & healthy colonies can resist pests and diseases.

When a queen bee becomes less productive, i.e. is laying less and less eggs, the number of bees declines and the colony weakens, making it vulnerable to pests and diseases.

Why replacing bee queens?
One of the most important reasons for beekeepers to replace bee queens is to promote favourable characteristics and qualities of bee colonies, like:

  • Docile bees - friendly bees, not attacking anything that moves, especially neighbours

  • Strong & healthy bees - happy bees, resistant to pests and diseases

  • Prolific bees - bees eager to maintain a strong colony and produce plenty of honey

  • Bee colonies with a low urge to swarm - to keep the neighbours happy

  • Bees with good grooming and housekeeping characteristics - keeping the hive clean

The Genetics of Honeybees
The Queen bee is the mother of all bees in the colony - therefore, for raising a new queen, selecting a mother queen from good stock is important for producing good new queens. Also important is the selection of drones from good stock - and that is the trickier part of the match. The queen mates with several (6-12) drones outside the hive, therefore hard to control.

Artificial insemination of bee queens is practised to achieve best results (from the breeders point of view).

Following traditional breeding techniques, the best queen breeders can do is keeping a sufficient number of hives with large quantities of drones of good stock nearby when raising new queens - increasing the chances that the mating queens fall for the best drones.

What makes the genetics of honeybees very interesting and fascinating is the fact that female bees, queen and worker bees, have 32 chromosomes, male bees, drones, only 16.

Detailed and extremely fascinating information on the Genetics of Honeybees can be found on the website of Glenn Apiaries

In essence - breeding bee queens is to help nature select those bees we like to have in our apiaries or neighbourhood.

Whatever you do when raising a new bee queen, at least make sure that the egg it hatches from is from a queen of a colony you want to have.
It is not desirable to raise a new queen from a colony with bees that have been chasing you and your neighbours through your backyards.

Queen replacement methods
Some of the most common methods for bee queen replacement are:

  1. Purchasing a queen from a queen breeder (most common method). See List of Queen Breeders
  2. By creating an artifcial swarm or Splitting a Hive - suitable for raising queens in small numbers (1-6 per season, per hive)
  3. By grafting queen cells - suitable for raising queens in large numbers

Note: Please be aware that there is no guarantee that all queens reared by queen breeders produce friendly bees!
We re-queened a number of "unfriendly" hives with queens from a queen breeder and discovered that 2 out of 10 of the new queens produced even more aggressive bees than we had before. We had to re-queen these hives again.

Need assistance?
When you need to replace the queen in your hive you can purchase a queen and have it sent to you via Express Mail.

When you need assistance replacing your bee queen you might consider our One-on-One Coaching  - after mutual agreement we come to your place and replace the queen or show you how to do it.

Questions and Answers

Q1 - Do I have to re-queen my colony every year?
Answer: As a hobby beekeeper - absolutely not!
Common practice for commercial beekeepers is to re-queen their hives every year; some do it every two years. In most cases this is done late summer, i.e. February, so that the new queen reaches peak performance during the next honey season. Maintaining strong colonies and maximising the honey yield is the idea behind it.

What does not get considered is the fact that bee queens are all different, some perform better than others or at a different age. Commercial operators handling 2000 hives cannot possibly know the performance of each individual queen and cannot deal with them on a case by case basis; the broad brush approach is a compromise to optimise the overall result.

Unfortunately, the message "requeen every year" gets around from the big operators to the small hobby beekeepers - the big ones must know what is right, isn't it? Please keep in mind that sometimes, what you hear from the big ones is "right for them" but not necessarily right for you or the bees. When you are dealing with a big number of hives the focus shifts from the individual hive to truck loads of hives and mass production.

When you have a strong, healthy and productive colony of friendly bees, why replacing the queen? Because a year is up?  How cruel.

As a hobby beekeeper you can afford spending the time to know the condition of each of your hives, their health, performance and characteristics. Here in Victoria, on average, a queen bee reaches the age of four years - why kill the queen and replace her with a new one every year? A few drops of honey less in the third year?

Among our best performing colonies where those where the bees themselves superseeded the queen, usually in the fourth year.
As a hobby beekeeper you should only replace a bee queen when there is a valid reason for this particular queen to be replaced.

Q2 - I just got a swarm, should I re-queen the swarm immediately?
Answer: The queen of a swarm is like any other queen bee. The only difference is that you don't know her history.
Imagine the swarm came from a fellow beekeeper who had just re-queened his/her hive end of last season - why would you want to re-queen again? After all, bees are wild animals - there are no "domesticated" bees. Let the swarm build up to a colony in your hive and monitor its characteristics. Replace the bee queen only when there is a valid reason for this particular queen to be replaced.

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