I never wanted to requeen. I had visions of reaching the end of my beekeeping life saying I’d never requeened. My theory was that bee colonies were clever things that have managed to survive without human assistance for millions of years (TENS of MILLIONS of years, actually). In fact, it is humans that may be their demise. I hoped that when one queen was old or ill, the colony would realise this and create a new queen in what’s called supersedure.
So, why am I posting about requeening my swarm hive? 3 reasons:
1) The most significant influence in my decision to requeen now is that this might be the last chance for the year. You don’t requeen in winter and it’s well into autumn now. The beekeeping supply shop was getting in some queens and wouldn’t promise more until spring. (Later we were told this was nonsense, that queens will be available through winter. *sigh*)
2) The queen that went with the swarm was possibly old and feeble. We believe she was in Hive 2 when we bought it and we have absolutely no idea how old she was. The swarm was small (nowhere near half the hive we think it came from) and maybe bees weren’t keen to follow her because of her decrepitude.
3) The swarm hive was weak. We gave it honey robbed from the other hives to jump-start it – twice. Even though the other hives were still collecting nectar and storing honey the numbers of bees in the swarm didn’t increase significantly and they hadn’t drawn enough comb to fill a brood box. It’s been 2 1/2 months and in that time a strong queen should have been able to create a strong colony. We considered killing the queen and merging the colony into one of the other hives but would rather give the swarm a chance to make it on their own.
After much soul searching, the decision was made to order a new queen for the swarm.
Then the anxiety set in.
Is it “right” to kill a living creature (the old queen) for the sake of the super-organism (the colony)? I think so, but it feels kind of wrong. I bet I know what the old queen would say!
Anyway, that’s the reasoning, now the process:
1) Buy the new queen. She came in a little box on Saturday with her own attendants and their own food source, a sugar paste.
2) Open the hive, find and kill the old queen (waaaahhh).
3) Stick the queen cage into the wax on a brood frame (positioning it such that the sugar plug is slightly elevated which prevents the exit being blocked in case an attendant dies). This cage protects the queen from the existing colony. They’ll smell her foreignness and kill her otherwise. By the time the sugar plug is eaten out by the bees, they’ll have spread her scent around the colony and they’ll adore her.
4) Replace the frame (placing the frame with the queen cage in the centre of the box next to another brood frame to make sure there are plenty of nurse bees to care for the queen), close the lid and wait a few days.
5) Check the queen cage after a few days (between 2 & 7) to make sure the sugar has been eaten out and that the queen got out of the cage and is alive and well.
There are all kinds of risks to the new queen and the colony now, but I think this is the best chance this little hive has. I’m sure the queen will reign for 2 – 3 years (maybe 4?) with no problems.
Now we watch the swarm – now Hive 3 – and keep our fingers crossed it’ll make it through winter. Again I give thanks that the winters here are mild.
The queen is dead – LONG LIVE THE QUEEN!