Queenless

Could you please explain about the queen.  When is it too late in the season for her to mate?  If a colony is queenless do they always rear another one?  If you have a queenless colony at any time what is the best way to proceed.  What is the natural beekeeping view on queen rearing?

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3 Responses to Queenless

  1. simplebees says:

    Could you please explain about the queen. When is it too late in the season for her to mate?

    When there are no longer drones on the wing. The timing of this varies from area to area and season to season. This year, some of my hives have very few drones left and others are making it clear that they don’t want drones either: refusing them entry. So I would be nervous about getting a queen mated at this stage of this season. In other years, I have seen drones around until into September.

    If a colony is queenless do they always rear another one?

    If the colony realises that the queen is failing, it will create queen-cups and rear the eggs laid therein to produce a replacement queen. This process, called supercedure, is very similar to that involved in swarming – only without the swarm. However, sometimes the colony is caught unaware by a failing queen or by one that becomes a drone-layer and it ends up queenless.

    If you have a queenless colony at any time what is the best way to proceed.

    Once colonies are queenless for any length of time they generally develop laying workers and, in this state, are very difficult to ‘fix’. As a result, these days I almost always shake the bees from the queenless colony into the grass several yards in front of a strong colony on a day when the bees are flying well. The bees will then join that colony with little or no fuss.

    What is the natural beekeeping view on queen rearing?

    The queen is an integral part of the Bee (the Bee, or Bien, being the colony seen as a whole). Removing the queen to force the colony to create an emergency queen (or queens) is akin to removing the ovaries from a mammal and expecting the mammal to grow a new set; only mammals can’t do this. The Bee can, but it is an emergency reaction to extreme trauma. The constant moan that comes from a colony that has been deprived of its queen demonstrates how the entire colony is placed in a state of severe stress. I have come to the view that queen rearing by such methods is about as unnatural as it gets; natural queens are produced by the swarming impulse or by supercedure. Such queens start their lives with the bees that rear them and go on within the hive to become the mother of the next generation of bees. There is continuity and overlap between the generations of bee that make up the Bee.

    Gareth, Cotswolds

  2. johnmkubwa says:

    I agree with Gareth and would add a few more thoughts. Your question was: ‘ If you have a queen-less colony at any time what is the best way to proceed?’

    Firstly are you sure the colony is queen-less? Usually the lack of foraging activity and idle bees is a good indication but I see the same behaviour when good forage is scarce. During this period bees will reduce brood rearing and eat stores. The lack of brood is hard on varroa which will have fewer cells in which to rear their brood but the consumption of stores will result in lighter hives.. Some beekeepers feed syrup to their bees but that will stimulate brood rearing and the collection of pollen ; it will also support varroa…

    If you see wasps and zig-zagging robber bees being repelled by guard bees at the entrance, this indicates a weakness in the colony.
    I usually observe for a few more days and then inspect a brood comb. No eggs might mean no queen but ‘polished’ cells lined with a milky fluid royal jelly are awaiting a laying queen. In a failing colony, I have seen eggs and brood at all stages but not much of it and in a very sporadic pattern;

    If you are not sure about the queen and do not want to intrude, keep watching. In time the guards will be overwhelmed by wasps and robbers and frenetic robbing activity will occur. Queenless bees will join the robbers and find a new home. The hive larder can be emptied in a single day!.

    With a queenless colony I usually move the hive next to a strong colony , obfuscate the entrance and leave it for a few days. Bees will re-orientate to the new location, I then move the hive 30 metres away and brush/shake all the bees off the comb; they return to the re-orientated site, but find only the strong colony which they usually join. The 30 metre move usually loses a laying worker. Unoccupied combs usually contain honey which I harvest.

    I have on a number of occasions collected a late cast swarm with no chance of building up for winter and wondered why nature throws such casts. I once placed a fresh cast next to a queenless colony with a ready made comb structure complete with stores, The next day the cast had moved into the queenless hive.. Timing is important in this natural cast behaviour. If the old colony has developed a laying worker it will behave as though it has a queen and reject the cast.
    On its own, the cast will manage to build a partial comb structure and probably die in winter. Its comb will be available to,, and give a running start to, a new spring swarm.

    Bees are all different. I have known queens fail after a few weeks but also survive for up to 6 years. In the wider community of honeybees, queens and colonies will be subject to natural selection with the fittest surviving. Natural beekeepers often start with a swarm which is free or inexpensive. At least we haven’t paid over £200 pounds for a nucleus of questionable provenance and subsequently £40 for a replacement queen(s).as we struggle to work against nature. JohnH Stockbridge Hants

  3. jen3972 says:

    This is very interesting. I’ve had two swarms where the queen has vanished having been laying well but the bees have made no attempt to requeen. I will try and unite them with stronger colonies using the techniques outlined above so many thanks for the information.

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