Two Queens – Too Cute
Featured image: Flloyd Moeller’s 1976 two-queen setup
It is often claimed that two-queen hives are difficult to establish and are virtually impossible to operate. These days, however, it is more reasonable to conclude that establishing a second queen is relatively straightforward and that most of the operational problems arising out of running two-queen colonies are simply those of having to manage overly large and powerful colonies. Instead of adding a honey super you add two or three and extract perhaps as three times as often.
Well managed two-queen colonies certainly out perform the common-or-garden single-queen hive. And they are also renowned for their low swarming propensity.
In the light of what is now known about honey bees operating with more than one queen, and from extensive experimentation, a more pertinent question to ask might be: ‘Why haven’t highly productive two-queen hives been adopted universally?’
There are, of course, myriad time-consuming matters, all requiring close attention for the successful operation of two-queen colonies. Then, because of their sometimes unwieldy setup, they have largely fallen out of favour for migratory beekeeping, at least for the purposes of honey production and for the provision of pollination services. Further the timing of operations is critical to, and is a key determinant, of their successful operation. Then to add to this litany of sins, and at the end of the main honey flow, two-queen colonies must either be split or returned to a single queen state, the latter achieved by simply removing the dividing queen excluder. The two-queen unit often persists long after removal of the excluder where the bees sort their gyne (aka queen) status in their own good time. By not actively intervening to do so, bees will anyway eventually return any two-queen colony to the single-queen condition even if the dividing queen excluder is not removed.
Advances in the art of running two-queen colonies
Clayton Leon Farrar – way back in 1936 – demonstrated that two-queen colonies could be routinely established by the simple expedient of placing a second, usually weak, colony on top of an existing colony. In Farrar’s plan, an inner cover or double screen was employed to physically separate the lower parent colony from the upper fledgling colony. The top colony benefited from the rising warmth from the brood cluster below and the air circulating through the screens conditioned them to accept each other making the process of uniting them as easy as falling off a log. That was achieved, in later iterations of the scheme (for example by Floyd Moeller), by simply replacing the bee-excluding double screen with a queen excluder. Nothing, it would seem, could be simpler.
So why do beekeepers experience problems setting up and operating two-queen hives? Even to the experienced beekeeper, there have always been lingering memories of disappointments associated with failing to establish queens in new honey bee colonies, a problem more likely to plague the novice beekeeper:
The main problem in establishing two queens in the [two-queen] hive is
acceptance of the queens by the bees, just as in single queen operation.
John Alexander Hogg
With a highly nuanced understanding of the role of both the queen and her workers, Hogg demonstrated that juxtaposed two-queen units, each with their own separate hive entrance, could be just as simply established. The colony now had a consolidated brood nest (CBN) with two queens separated only by an excluder.
Source: John Hogg 1981 (see Readings)
Historical two-queen systems
The two well-known two-queen systems, well established, look like this:
Schematic of two-queen colonies (OQ = old queen; NQ = new queen; x = excluder)
(a) traditional setup after Farrar (Farrar used covers or double screens but later versions such as those employed by Moller employed an excluder)
(b) consolidated brood nest [CBN] after Hogg – excluder above NQ brood box optional
A conceptual or technical problem of running two queen colonies?
Is the operation of such seemingly simple setups as easy as pie? Well no. There are many subtle and nuanced details attendant to both the set up and operation of two-queen colonies that we can elaborate on another time. We might also explore many important roles that two-queen hives can play in an apiary notably those of quickly establishing swarms, in avoiding breaks in the brood cycle associated with swarm control and most requeening practices, their facility in raising queens and in avoiding the need to find the old queen in a requeening practice that mimics supersedure.
Not least of the practical problems of operating two-queen colonies are those of establishing a second queen, of making sure the queens are always kept apart – difficult to say the least in managing a towering colony, timing of operations to span build up to and for the duration of honey flows and the periodic need for deft intervention when problems arise. Supering and removal of honey presents a special problem, mainly reflected in the difficulty of handling large numbers of quickly-filling honey supers. Nevertheless, well managed two-queen colonies way out perform their single-queen relatives, the literature clearly demonstrating routine 50-100% increases in crop yield reckoned on both bee gear and efficiency measured on a per bee basis.
We have managed a couple of two-queen hives at JWA both based on the CBN (consolidated brood nest) design principle:
(a) a tower arrangement with bottom double brood supers below separated by an excluder with honey supers on top; and
(b) a horizontal arrangement with brood in a jumbo 16-frame super divided by a vertical excluder and supered each way over separate queen excluders.
Some say a picture tells a thousand words. More certain is that, with the CBN setup, two-queen colonies can be managed in much the same way as single-queen colonies. With good queens they rarely swarm, they are a number one honey factory and they open up a whole new world to flexible management of honey bee queens.
In the 2018-2019 season we will extend the use of the two-queen hives to more quirky applications including automatic requeening and section comb and maybe flow hive honey production.
Bee populations and honey
Farrar, C. L. (1937) The influence of colony populations on honey production. Journal of Apicultural Research 54(12):945-954. Division of Bee Culture, Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, United States Department of Agriculture. https://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/IND43969007/PDF
Farrar, C.L. (1931). A measure of some factors affecting the development of the honeybee colony, PhD Thesis, Massachusetts State College, 139 pp. https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com.au/&httpsredir=1&article=1890&context=dissertations_1:
Farrar, C.L. (1936). Two-queen vs. single-queen colony management. Gleanings in Bee Culture 64(10):593-596.
Farrar, C.L. (May 1946). Two-queen colony management. United States Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Administration. Bureau of Entomology and Plant Quarantine, 14 pp. http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00026061/00001 and a text version at https://archive.org/stream/twoquyma00unit/twoquyma00unit_djvu.txt
Farrar, C.L. (1953). Two-queen colony management. Bee World 34 (10):189-194. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0005772X.1953.11094821?journalCode=tbee20
Farrar, C.L. (1958). Two-queen colony management for production of honey. August 1958 ARS-33-48, 9 pp., United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (text only) https://archive.org/stream/twoqueencolonyma48farr/twoqueencolonyma48farr_djvu.txt
Moeller, F.E. (April 1976). Two queen system of honeybee colony management. Production Research Report 161, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, 15 pp. Washington DC 20402.
http://naldc.nal.usda.gov/download/CAT87210713/PDF and http://mesindus.ee/files/52221134-2-queen-management.pdf
John Hogg’s insightful publications
Hogg, J.A. (1981). The consolidated two-queen brood nest and queen behavior. American Bee Journal 121(1):36-42. http://www.twilightmd.com/Samples/Hogg/Hogg_Halfcomb___Publications/ABJ_1981_January.pdf
Hogg, J.A. (1983). Methods for double queening the consolidated broodnest hive: the fundamentals of queen introduction, Part 1 of a two-part series. American Bee Journal 123:383-388. http://www.twilightmd.com/Samples/Hogg/Hogg_Halfcomb___Publications/ABJ_1983_1May.pdf
Hogg, J.A. (1983). Methods for double queening the consolidated broodnest hive: the fundamentals of queen introduction, Part 2 Conclusion. American Bee Journal 123(6):450-454. http://www.twilightmd.com/Samples/Hogg/Hogg_Halfcomb___Publications/ABJ_1983_2June.pdf
Hogg, J.A. (2005). The Juniper Hill plan for comb honey production, improved two-queen system. American Bee Journal 145(2):138-141. http://www.twilightmd.com/Samples/Hogg/Hogg_Halfcomb___Publications/ABJ_2005_February.pdf