Effective Queen Introduction

by Mike Risk on June 12, 2012

Carniolan Breeder Queen

I was asked recently about the most effective way to introduce a valuable queen to a hive. I want to share a process with you I have always had success with.  I have found the most reliable way to introduce a new queen is to use a push in cage and introduce her in a nuc with two frames of young nurse bees.  This is the way I always introduce a valuable queen, I don’t want to lose.

Push in cage’s can be purchased from several bee supply companies,  here is one found at Brushy Mountain.   They can be home-made which is just as effective, using #8 hardware cloth.  Tom Glenn of Glenn Apiary’s has good instructions on the procedure, complete with drawings to show how you would make a introduction cage.

Push in cage made from number 8 hardware cloth.

I set up a four or five frame queenless nuc with two frames of young bees, with sealed and emerging brood.  I place another frame of honey on one of the sides and an empty frame for the excess bees to linger on and store nectar after the bees emerge next to the brood frames.

The brood frames should have a frame of emerging brood, with a few cells of honey, pollen and open cells for the queen to lay in, this is where you want to place the cage. Once the nuc is set up I let it set for a few hours, or overnight to allow them to realize they are queenless.

In the center of this picture you can see the young bees are chewing their way out of the cells to emerge. This is where you would want to place the push in cage.

I will place the queen where I want the cage to be and place the cage over her. Young bees will begin to emerge in the cage.  After feeding on the honey in the cells and sharing it with the queen, begin their first job in their life cycle of cleaning cells for the queen.  The mated queen will start laying her eggs which will stimulate the pheromone production in her body.  This will stabilize the hive and foster acceptance from the hive bees.

Feeding the nuc with a light syrup to simulate a honey flow will help with the introduction of a queen.  The bees in the hive get so involved in storing honey or syrup they pay little attention to what is happening in the brood nest.  Feeding not only helps with a push in cage, but when introducing a queen with a Benton or JZ BZ cage, or any other type of introduction cage.  Remember when starting a nuc you may have very few field bees and you will have to feed.

I have used this method for introducing queens to a different race of bees, and have always had success.  Normally a queen that is not of the same race is not well accepted.

Make sure you don’t accidently have a queen or queen cells in the nuc when making the introduction, or there will be failure.

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This spring with the high bee survival rate and the warm weather we are likely to see many swarms.  There was a time when I would split my hives to reduce the likelihood of this happening.  This technique often would weaken my hives and diminish my chances of making honey in the spring.  Since going to summer splits and re-queening I have found supering early and providing plenty of room for incoming nectar has helped me to reduce swarming, and has maximized honey production in my hives.  In my area there is generally a strong spring flow which tails off in late May producing some of the best honey of the year.  Then a moderate flow runs through the summer until mid August.  Sometimes we get a decent flow in the fall during Goldenrod bloom in Michigan.

It has been proven giving the bees extra room will stimulate bees to store more honey.  Research shows if you provide the super space the bees would work in earnest to try to fill these supers when there is a good honey flow,  they will not slow down until they are over 90% full.  Having this extra room will also significantly reduce the impulse to swarm if the room is given before the swarming process starts.

It is important to place the first super on a strong hive during the spring build up, sometime during fruit bloom and the dandelions have started to bloom.   It may take a couple of weeks before this first super is filled, but when it is about half full add a second super on top of the first super.  When the bees begin to add honey to the second super, add a third and so on.  Continue this until late in the honey flow; in my area this is late July.   This is called top supering, it is the technique  most beekeepers use and what I use when time is short.  Conceivably you could put on all the supers at one time and not check them again, but there are a few problems you could encounter if you did this.  One problem would be if you were in a hive beetle area the extra room would give the beetles a place to reproduce which the bees could not defend.  Secondly, if not checked the bees could fill up the supers and swarm.

Don’t wait until the bees have started to utilize all the frames for honey storage before adding another super, this will create swarming conditions.   During a strong nectar flow the ‘house’ bees store nectar in any available cells; often starting in the brood nest and then moving it up into the honey supers in the evening.  Moving the nectar relieves congestion in the brood nest.   Then the bees dry the nectar and turn it into honey in the upper supers.

When the frames are capped you can start to remove them when convenient, either as individual frames or in full supers.  I often exchange full frames from several of the supers to make sure I have a completely filled super to take off.

My favorite supering method is called bottom supering which works just the way it is sounds.  I add supers directly above the brood nest, which provides an easily accessible place for the bees to put nectar.  They may skip putting it in the brood nest all together as these supers are close – it gives them an easy place to store it.  This technique is a lot more work for the beekeeper and not all that commonly practiced, but if used provides a great opportunity for checking for mites while adding new supers.  This is how I keep track of the Varroa mites in the hive during the summer months.   This procedure also stimulates the bees hording response, and I feel I make more honey with this method.

This describes the bottom supering technique during the first four visits. Start with one super and move it up as you place empty supers above the brood nest to relieve congestion. On the forth visit example shown, to place a new super on the hive you would take the top super #5 which should be nearly empty and place it above the brood nest replacing #4 moving that one up one and then placing another empty on the very top.

After the bees have started to work filling the first super with honey add a second super just above the brood nest and place the partially filled first super above it.  After which I place a third empty super on top.  This third one I use as a safety valve so to speak, just in case I can’t get back when I should.  It provides additional room for honey storage.  When I do return in a week to ten days I can quickly check the top super by lifting the lid and checking the progress.  If there has been no work done on this super I move to the next hive.  If the bees have started to work on this third super  I will start the process all over removing all the honey supers down to the brood nest.   Often, the bees will have just started working this top super.  I will place it just above the brood nest at the bottom, replace the second super above that and place a forth new super at the top.  I then let the bees work on these for another week to ten days when I return, I repeat the process.  I usually continue this until I get about seven supers on the hive.  At that point I will place the full supers on the top with the empty below it and use a bee escape to remove the bees.  It  also works to remove the honey supers sooner to keep the stack shorter.  The bees will fill the middle frames quicker so you may also want to combine full frames from the middle with emptier frames from the outsides of several supers to make up a full super to remove.    You also could remove any individually filled frames by just shaking and brushing off the bees  and replace the frames with empty comb any time during the process.  Place new combs in the emptier supers.

I don’t like to use queen excluders initially and will often go the whole season not using them on a hive.  Honey bees will sometimes refuse to cross through the excluder and store the honey below it in the brood nest causing congestion.  It has been my experience that using excluders during swarming season frequently stimulates the hive to swarm.

As the honey flow progresses, the bees will normally create a ceiling of honey above their brood nest which the queen will not normally cross.  It acts like a natural Queen excluder.  Sometimes a good laying queen will still expand her brood nest so later on during the summer flow, after swarming season has passed I check and see if the queen is laying in the honey supers.  If I see she is, I place a queen excluder above the hive bodies.  If I did not find her, I make another inspection in four days to check for eggs and if found retrieve the queen and place her back in the brood boxes.  I wait until the brood hatches before removing the honey supers.  This step may be needed when using the bottom supering method.

It is amazing how much honey a strong hive with a good queen can produce. There are many management practices, don’t be afraid to experiment.  Remembering these basic swarm principals will help you decide on a process.  Don’t crowd the queen and give the bees enough room to store their honey.  In Michigan if you wish to do splits or re-queen try it in the summer with  locally produced queens.  I hope the methods I use can help you too.

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Solving the Mystery of Winter Losses

February 27, 2012

I often get questions from new beekeepers about why their bees have died over the winter.  There are generally up to four contributing reasons bees don’t survive.  To determine why a hive died the beekeeper must perform an autopsy.  Frequently the reason for a ‘dead out’ is starvation and quiet often bees will starve when […]

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