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    Back to the Basics

    Welcome to the Back to Basics Blog where we go over some of the basic steps a beekeeper should take in getting the most out of their hives.

    Beekeepers rejoice when their hives make it through winter and are already preparing for the growth that is to come. They begin looking at ways to split, investigate ways to prevent swarming and assess their mite levels to properly manage these surviving colonies. However, this preparation is under the assumption that the colonies that made it through winter have a healthy productive queen. The reality is that the queen may need to be replaced in order to make these overwintered colonies as productive and healthy as possible.

    What are signs of a productive queen?

    Finding the queen is a difficult and timely task that is unnecessary. Always check for signs of eggs when inspecting your colony. Eggs indicate a Queen was present within the last 3 days. Eggs, larvae, and capped brood confirm a balanced expanding colony.

    • Healthy Larvae should appear white, plump, and glistening. Discolored and dried up larvae are signs of Chalkbrood or other diseases that should be identified and treated.


    • Brood frames should be full looking with brood of similar age. The queen works from the center to the outside; therefore, eggs and larvae of the same size should be found in different stages, moving from the center of the frame to the outside.


    • Assess the number of frames that contain brood. Populations will continue to increase with the abundance of resources in the area, will typically remain stagnant during the hot summer months, and begin to wane in the fall with the decline in nectar flow. Brood chamber(s) with 5 to 8 frames filled with brood is ideal.


    • Finding multiple eggs per cell is a sure sign of a laying worker. A laying worker will take the role of the queen if the colony is queenless for an extended period of time.


    • Full sections of drone cappings on a brood frame is a good signal that the queen was not properly mated.

    Do not be fooled! Some missing indicators of a healthy queen can be contributed to other events happening in the hive.

    When a hive is preparing to swarm the queen will slow her production, leaving a manageable brood nest for the remaining hive to care for. In addition, there will be an interruption in brood rearing as the virgin queen returns from her mating flight and settles into the hive.

    After new queens are introduced they may lay multiple eggs in the same cell and the occasional drone egg amongst the worker brood. After time she will settle down to a normal laying pattern.

    When to replace your queen.

    Replace the queen at the first signs of failing. A few weeks with a substandard queen in the spring can impact their health and strength going into winter. Some beekeepers will replace queens in colonies that are overly aggressive. Introducing a new queen with a gentle temperament will eradicate the defensive nature of the colony.

    How to replace the queen.

    DO NOT KILL THE CURRENT QUEEN UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR NEW QUEEN IN HAND. The colony will be aware of the queen removal within a few hours and begin building supercedure cells.

    New queens are typically received in a queen cage that is sealed with candy and possibly a cork. Locate the existing queen and permanently remove her from the hive. Wait 24 hours before introducing the new queen and remove any queen cells found in the hive. Secure the new queen cage between the frames at the top of the brood area with a rubber band or other device to prevent from falling. The candy end needs to be facing up to prevent dead attending bees blocking the entrance and the screened facing open to the colony so the queens pheromone is dispersed throughout hive and other attending bees can care for her.
    DO NOT REMOVE THE CANDY! Never directly release a new queen into a colony. The risk of her not being accepted is too high. It may take up to a week but allow the colony to become acclimated to her pheromone and release her. A colony will be more acceptant of a new queen if there is a strong nectar flow; therefore, apply a feed to your hive.

    A failing queen will not improve and needs to be replaced. A proactive measure is to replace her every one to two years.