Bee Buzz Box August 2021 – A Requeening Guide

Alan Wade

Preamble

There are some things you should never inflict on bees. You certainly shouldn’t try to run a hive without a queen [ostensibly to get more honey as the bees won’t be raising brood], you shouldn’t let them starve and, unless you are a wizard, you shouldn’t try to introduce an extra queen to a hive without first dequeening and expect her to replace the old queen. To say that bees can survive myriad mistaken, if well-intentioned, practices is an understatement. Bees are remarkably resilient and may appear indestructible. However there are limits.

The worst practices associated with requeening and swarm control arise from folklore theories about how bees operate, those that ignore the plight of colonies with high pathogen loads or headed by queens that are patently failing. Often as not a brand new queen will resolve most problems.

The virtues of successful requeening are no more obvious than in positive suppression of chalkbrood and swarming. John Holzberlein went so far as to intimate that crowding was probably not the prime initiator of swarming demonstrating that requeening was a very effective means of stopping bees buzzing off. Like Winston Dunham, John Holzberlein had collared the swarming instinct and knew more about the value of prolific queens than most competent beekeepers do today.

If you were to think that requeening as a flick of the switch solution to hive ailments, like as not you will immediately run into a practical problem. Bees in a parlous state or already making preparations to swarm are often in that state long before queen breeders can supply new queens. You can get around this difficulty by trying to order queens from Queensland – so to speak – or by sensibly requeening in autumn.

The objective is to get queens to put their many eggs into the one basket, sorry into individual comb cells, and to make sure there are an abundance of them. Young queens can lay out almost a full box of combs in the one brood cycle while an ailing queen will have trouble replacing routine worker bee losses.

And while we are at it join in the September club meeting question and answer requeening forum. Maybe it will help you decide on which method of queen introduction you feel most comfortable with.

A requeening guide

Requeening at Wetland November 2016

There are a surprising number of ways to successfully requeen honey bees. This month August is the harbinger of spring so it is time to spell out the obvious ways beekeepers have gone about the task of turning over their queen stock. Getting new queens established is the best way I know to rejuvenate hives and to prevent swarming.

(a) Direct requeening

Queens, forty of them for various pals, were ordered in June and should be settled in and laying by late September. Look up the pages of The Australasian Beekeeper and order now so that you don’t have to wait till early summer.

Never stint when it comes to replacing queens in underperforming hives. You can keep an extra queen or two in spare boxes and transfer out brood now and then to keep them in check and to boost your other bees.

Most beekeepers settle for the easy option, ditching the old queen and dropping a caged queen in between a couple of frames of emerging brood (Figure 1). This technique is probably the least assured method of successfully grafting in new queens. That is not to say it doesn’t work or that it’s not the simplest means of requeening a paddock-full of hives. A colony made queenless will almost immediately start building emergency queen cells so there is no need to leave a hive queenless to condition it to accept a new queen.

Figure 1 Standard requeening practice: e = entrance; OQ = old queen; No Q = no queen; NQ = new queen:
(a) find and remove the old queen;
(b) colony is made queenless for less than 1-2 days; and
(c) new queen (cell or caged queen) is introduced.

Indeed you can improve the chances of new queen acceptance by getting her into the hive promptly and by feeding light sugar water if there is not already a good flush of ground flora, say cape weed and false dandelion, flowering.

A nice way to requeen is to remove the mailed queen (inside a butterfly net) and introduce her on emerging brood under a push-in wire cage. You return a few days later and release her very carefully checking to make sure she is already laying.

Requeening at Jerrabomberra Wetlands Apiary 11.45 am 8 December 2018

(b) The offset nuc method of queen introduction

A much better approach to requeening is to introduce a new queen to a mini colony – we call it a nuc – made up from and offset from the parent hive. To do this you raid the colony to be requeened – or make up several nucs by breaking up a hive – removing a few frames of sealed and emerging brood and a couple of frames of stores and putting these into a 3-to-6 frame box along with adhering young bees. You then drop the caged queen into this baby colony but leave it strictly alone for ten days but never less than a week. The only reason you might choose to disturb it is shorty after setup to check that it has enough bees to chug along.

This scheme (Figure 2) is infinitely superior to direct requeening, where killing the old queen and inserting the queen cage risks the colony becoming queenless.

Figure 2 Offset nucleus requeening: e = entrance; x = excluder; OQ = old queen; NQ = new queen:
(a) colony needing requeening is identified;
(b) offset nucleus with brood, stores and bees is established;
(c) queen is introduced and is established over a period of 3-4 weeks; and
(d) old queen is removed and nucleus with new queen is united with parent hive, using a new super to paper in nuc.

The nucleus method confers a number of benefits over and above those of direct requeening:

  • the new queen is more likely to be accepted;
  • the old queen will continues to lay till the new queen is accepted and has her first workers emerging. There is no interruption to the brood cycle;
  • you remove the inherent risk of losing both the old and the new queens; and
  • you can safely unite the colonies after removing the old queen as needed or just prior to the honey flow.

This technique does put the parent colony back a week or two by removing bees and resources, but is quickly made up for by the presence of a new laying queen. She lays far more eggs than had the colony with the old queen not swarmed and allowed to continue to lay uninterrupted.

(c) Hive splitting to control swarming and opportunistic requeening

There is a simple alternative to establishing nucs, one that only employs standard gear. Dannielle Harden has limited space in her backyard so she does not have room or the luxury of having nucs kicking around the back door and her kids kicking the hives. The solution is simple and is a variant of the nucleus method of requeening.

She simply splits a strong hive (Figure 3a) and uses one (or both) of the splits to establish new queens. Here the split is timed to coincide with the arrival of new queens. For the crowded hive situation, instead of offsetting one of the splits to a separate stand (Figure 3b) as you might do in the paddock, you can simply stack the splits one on top of the other dividing the colonies with a split board or double screen (Figure 3b’), providing the top colony with a new entrance.

Figure 3 Colony split to arrest swarming and to facilitate requeening: e = entrance; x = excluder; ds = double screen; OQ = old queen; Q = queen:
(a) a strong colony at risk of swarming is identified;
(b) the colony is split to separate stands and supered; or
(b’) the colony is split on parent stand and separated by double screen or split board, each colony is supered;
(c) a new queen is introduced to the queenless split or two new queens are introduced, one to each split or the old queen is retained. Alternatively the queenless split is allowed to raise its own queen; and once established
(d) the colony is reorganised so that the new queen replaces the old queen at the bottom of the stack and the super with the old queen is offset to facilitate finding of queen or the second new queen is offset to nuc.

The other option – necessary if the colony is preparing to swarm, is to allow the queenless split to raise its own new queen, allowing the other split to retain the old queen. Unless the bees are strong and there is at least a light honey flow, the chances are that an inferior emergency queen will be raised.

In a surprising example of being faced with an urgent need to control swarming I came across a double brood chamber club hive in late spring chockers with queen cells. From all appearances that hive would have swarmed a day or two later. We were rushed so we simply split the hive, supered each unit, stacked the hives and walked away (Figure 4).

Figure 4 Case study of opportunistic swarm control with self requeening: e = entrance; ds = double screen; NQ = new queen:
(a) a colony is found in an advanced stage of preparation to swarm;
(b) the colony is split on the vertical pattern and supered to arrest swarming;
(c) the new queens emerge and are mated; and
(d) the top colony is offset and both hives are supered for the honey flow.

Magically not only did the hive give up swarming, but we also found two new queens laying well when the piggybacked hives were inspected a month later. The old queen had been superseded and the queenless split had a new queen. The swarm cells that had threatened to result in swarming were repurposed in supplying exceptionally well raised queens.

(d) Demaree swarm control and accidental requeening

Requeening occasionally occurs as a result of a simple procedure designed to thwart swarming discovered one hundred and thirty years ago. George Demaree (1832-1915) came up with the novel idea of separating the queen from her broodi – something that happens when the colony queen departs with the bulk of the bees when a colony swarms – but all conducted under the one hive roof. The bees are kept together so there is no hive-weakening while, at the same time, the queen and the colony is forced into building a new brood nest. The bees are kept busy and the colony abandons – at least for several weeks – any attempt to swarm.

In Demaree’s plan the split is performed under the one lid (Figure 5). The queen is left with a single frame of brood to hold her there and to start a new brood nest. Meanwhile all other brood is moved upstairs where bees emerge and the vacated cells are filled with honey. Now and again the simple act of isolating most of the brood results in bees attending any young brood present raising a few supersedure queens.

If the top of the hive is given a flight entrance, a second queen may be established (Figure 5d). We Demareed a few strong hives as part of a swarm control workshop conducted at the club apiary in October 2020. From these hives we harvested a handful of well raised queens that we transferred a week later into nucleus hives for mating as a demonstration of a simple way to raise queens for a small apiary.

Figure 5 Demaree plan for swarm control with supersedure queens raised: e = entrance; x = excluder; OQ = old queen:
(a) strong colony at risk of swarming is identified;
(b) colony is reorganised with brood transferred to the top super and an additional super is sandwiched between and over a queen excluder. The old queen is left with one frame of brood and some stores in the original brood nest;
(c) supersedure queen cells are raised in top broodnest; and
(d) the cells are transferred to mating nuclei and the Demaree is repeated if needed while the hive is returned to a strong colony for the honey flow.

(e) The Ohio State University method of queen introduction

While it might be said that The offset nuc method of queen introduction has proved to be best plan ever devised for swapping out monarchs, John Holzberlein and Winston Dunham had other ideas. Until fairly recently we have been promoting the offset nuc method (or the equivalent hive split technique) as the most assured method for introducing new queens.

In the 1940s and 1950s Dunham and Holzberlein pioneered a plan to requeen hives, one that no one had ever thought of. Instead of introducing queens to offset nucs, they moved brood to a new super placed on top of a hive above a double screen (or split board) and introduced a new queen to this nucleus (Figure 6). While in most respects the queening is identical to that of the offset nuc method of queen introduction, there were some subtle differences. I now think it is a superior method of queen introduction not least because it was purposed to be flexible and because it facilitates wholesale requeening of an entire apiary.

Figure 6 The Ohio system of queen replacement: e = entrance; x = excluder; ds = double screen; OQ = old queen; NQ = new queen:
(a) a strong colony is selected and the queen is isolated below a double screen;
(b) a nucleus is established above a double screen on top of the hive;
(c) a caged queen is introduced and is established as a top nucleus colony;
(d) the colony is reorganised so that the new queen supersedes the old queen; and
(e) the reestablished colony with one queen is operated for the honey flow.

It is a scheme that has been finessed to the point where the old queen does not need to be found and where the new queen established in the small colony perched on top of the hive can be simply united and allowed to supersede the old queen below.

As Holzberlein also explained it not only achieved hive requeening but it also prevented swarmingii:

The kind of dividing I am going to tell you about has no part in making increase. The divide is made all under one cover. The split or divide is set up over a solid or screened inner cover with an entrance of its own, and given a young queen. It is the beginning of the two-queen system, but right now it is a divide and the best little swarm preventer that you ever tried.

We’ve come across Holzberlein and Dunham before and if you want to know more check out their wonderful publicationsiii and settle to good end of winter entertainment. They managed bees for many years, mostly keeping their bees in tip-top shape, spending their time requeening and harvesting honey and not chasing swarms or spending an inordinate amount of time propping up and recovering hives that were way below par. They, particularly Dunham, ran temporary two-queen hives to requeen colonies that were not up to scratch.

I still keep spare queens in stand alone nucleus colonies or in colony splits. For the summer ahead I hope not to be caught out by bees beset by swarming and to be prepared to harvest and process nectar from trees dripping with honey.

Readings

iDemaree, G. (1892). How to prevent swarming. American Bee Journal 29(17):545-546.
https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1892-04-21_29_17/page/544/mode/2up

iiHolzberlein, J.W. (May 1952) loc. cit.

iiiDunham, W.E. (January 1939). Modified two-queen system: Especially adapted to regions where white Dutch, Alsike, sweet clover and alfalfa are prevalent. Gleanings in Bee Culture 67(1):211-212. https://archive.org/details/sim_gleanings-in-bee-culture_1939-01_67_1/page/10/mode/2up
Dunham, W.E. (May 1943). Versatility of the modified two-queen system. Gleanings in Bee Culture71(5):264-268. 
https://archive.org/details/sim_gleanings-in-bee-culture_1943-05_71_5/page/264/mode/2up
Dunham, W.E. (May 1943). The modified two-queen system.  American Bee Journal 83(5):192-194. https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1943-05_83_5/page/192/mode/2up
Dunham, W.E. (1944). Bees: Maintenance of colonies, control of colony population for honey production and pollination. Ohio State University Extension Bulletin 254:2-32. Cited by Eckert, J.E. and Shaw, F.R. (1960) loc. cit.
Dunham, W.E. (March 1947). Modified two-queen system for honey production. Bulletin of the Agricultural Extension Service, the Ohio State University 281:1-16. https://scholar.google.com.au/scholar?hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&q=Dunham%2C+W.E.+%281948%29.++Modified+two-queen+system+for+honey+production.&btnG=
Dunham, W.E. (May 1948). Modified two-queen system for honey production. [Part of Bulletin No. 281, issued March 1947, by Agricultural Extension Service, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.] Gleanings in Bee Culture 76(5):277-281. https://archive.org/details/sim_gleanings-in-bee-culture_1948-05_76_5/page/276/mode/2up
Dunham, W.E. (April 1951). The Ohio modified two-queen system. Gleanings in Bee Culture 79(4):212-214. https://archive.org/details/sim_gleanings-in-bee-culture_1951-04_79_4/page/212/mode/2up
Dunham, W.E. (1953). The modified two-queen system for honey production. American Bee Journal 93(3):111-112. https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1953-03_93_3/page/110/mode/2up
Dunham, W.E. (April 1954). Dunham’s modified two-queen plan. American Bee Journal 94(4):130-.131. https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1954-04_94_4/page/130/mode/2up
Holzberlein, J.W. (May 1952). Swarm prevention—not swarm control. American Bee Journal 92(5):195–196. https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1952-05_92_5/page/194/mode/2up
Holzberlein, J.W. (March 1953). Getting started with two-queen management. American Bee Journal 93(3):114-115. https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1953-03_93_3/page/114/mode/2up
Holzberlein, J.W. (April 1954). Another way to start two-queen management. American Bee Journal 94(4):131-132. https://archive.org/details/sim_american-bee-journal_1954-04_94_4/page/130/mode/2up
Holzberlein, J.W. (1955). Some whys and hows of two-queen management. Gleanings in Bee Culture 83(6):344-347. https://archive.org/details/sim_gleanings-in-bee-culture_1955-06_83_6/page/344/mode/2up

https://actbeekeepers.asn.au/bee-buzz-box-august-2021-a-requeening-guide/

Last month’s link – if you had trouble finding it – is at