Beekeeping 101: Replacing Your Queen Bee

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Our new queen in her insertion cage. She’s the one with the blue dot.

There ain’t no drama like queen bee drama cause queen bee drama don’t stooooooppp.

When we went into our hive for the first time this spring to see how the bees were doing after the winter, we got a nasty surprise.  Our queen had gone rogue. Meaning, our original queen – the one we got with our nuc – had died, been killed, or swarmed and flew away.  Anyways, she wasn’t there anymore.  Instead, we had a new queen.

And not to sound a little Deliverance-y about it, but we didn’t know who this new queen had been mating with. *Cue banjo music.*

You see, in Texas, about 20% of the wild bees in the area are Africanized bees, aka “killer bees”.  And when our new rogue queen went out to mate (which is what all queens must do before they can start laying brood) there’s a good chance she may have mated with the Africanized bees, which are more aggressive, less mite-resistant, and not as good at producing honey as our specially-bred queens.

So…we had to kill her.

Except first, we needed a new queen.  So, we ordered one from our local apiary, Beeweaver Apiaries.  Unfortunately, since we were ordering late in the season, we couldn’t pick up our new queen until this week, meaning we’ve missed a good portion of the spring honey flow harvesting season.

But, as of today, we got our new queen and were ready to get in our hive to find (and then kill) the old queen. This, we found out, was easier said than done.  The control queens are easy to spot – they have a marker on their back that corresponds to the year (2015 is blue.) But as for our rogue queen…we had to spot her only by her slightly larger body, thicker back legs, and pointed butt.  And we needed to find her among about 50k other worker bees.

The whole process was slow going and resulted in more than a few stings for my hubby, our main beekeeper.  However, at the end of the day, we were able to insert our new queen (kept in her protective wood and sugar cage, which keeps the worker bees from killing her for a few days before her nubile queen pheromones intoxicate them) AND we were able to steal two frames of honey, resulting in about six pints of the good stuff!

We’ll give this gal about a week to settle in, then go in to check on her and see about harvesting a few more frames…we’ve got Christmas presents to fulfill, after all!

Anyone else replaced a queen this season?  Tell us about it in the comments!

Whitney