Bee Buzz Box – May 2020 Part II – The Two-queen and Doubled Hive Heather Flow

Alan Wade and Frank Derwent

In searching for the origins of the two-queen hive, we discovered something rather more important than trying to get a hive to take a second queen on board. We learnt a lot about the pivotal role the queen plays in the common-or-garden single-queen hive. Problems we all face about satisfactory queen maintenance suddenly found clear expression.

We all know that some hives don’t do nearly as well as others. The stronger hives produce a whole lot more honey and, in the provision of a pollination survive, more money.

In practice bees with saddled with queens that simply don’t cut it don’t do nearly so well as other hives. But it’s more subtle than that. Back-to-back hives sharing common honey supers (so-called doubled hives with queens in separate hives and hive entrances sharing common honey supers) will fail when one queen performs worse than the other, the bees abandoning the poorer queen and drifting to the stronger hive queen. In a two-queen hive set up (two queens under the same lid), one queen will suddenly disappear especially if a honey flow slows.

This tells us that bees can sense when their queen is not laying well enough to keep up with their intrinsic capacity to raise more bees. It also tells us that, whenever a colony departs from its normal steady state condition, it will either swarm – when bee numbers and resources exceed colony needs – or replace its queen, i.e be superseded – when the queen is not quite up to scratch. A young queen redresses most if not all of those problems.

So our searches to find the origin of the two-queen hive helped us gain a new perspective of the value of young and well raised queens, those that will reasonably guarantee that all hives perform well. Failing to requeen regularly belies our often mistaken belief that most of our hives are doing well. The reality is that some hives will suddenly fail and that bees would be doing a whole lot better had only we requeened.

With fifty years of experience between us we were unkindly reminded, yet again, that healthy well fed and well housed bees with young queens are far more productive and far easier to work. You can of course keep bees for the sake of keeping bees. However don’t expect disease resilience, infrequent swarming or tractable bees – things that make beekeeping a chore – to be on your side.

Having got that off our chests, join with us for the concluding sequel on the discovery of the two-queen hive. Such hives, as we have stated ad nauseam, put honey gathering on steroids. That finding comes, like most modern practical beekeeping discoveries, from the period of great awakening (1870-1930), the transition from skep to smart frame hive management. 

Those secrets are buried deep in the annals of magazines such as the former British Bee Journal and Gleanings in Bee Culture. For the really curious you can track down much of the origins of first class hive practices through the superlative on-line libraries at the Hathi Trust and at the Biodiversity Heritage Library. The link to our humble article is at:…

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