Introducing a queen

My queens are supplied in cages which have a candy plug and a break-off tab. Within the cage are a few attendants which are there to look after the queen. Some say that the attendants should be removed for more reliable introduction. Some say that it doesn’t matter. However If the queen and her attendants have been in the cage for a long time it may be advantageous to remove the attendants to minimise the risk of passing disease. (Stress in the cage may exacerbate Nosema for example).

My queens will have been laying for at least 3 weeks in mini-nucs or larger hives so we know that the brood pattern is good, the bees haven’t tried to supercede her and the queen is not a drone layer. They are usually marked with the colour code for the year and may have had a wing clipped depending on request.

First things

When the queen arrives the package should be opened and a drop of water from your finger placed on the cage. This will give the bees something to drink. They will already have received food and some moisture from the candy which they have access to during their journey. Keep them out of bright sunlight and somewhere warm - just indoors is fine.

Placing in the hive

The cage has a loop to attach a piece of string or some means of holding it between the combs of the hive. String, a paperclip or whatever you chose should be attached before the recipient hive is opened.

The recipient hive must be queenless and with no laying workers and no queencells. Open the hive in the usual way using the minimal amount of smoke. Remove the outer frame to allow easy access and slide the frames across to locate one near the centre. The queen in her cage with the plastic tab intact is hung between two brood combs, a few centimetres down from the top bars. You may need to squash some comb to get the cage in. It is not advisable to rely on squashing the comb to keep the cage in place as it may fall down and then the queen will be ignored, however once the cage is in place, the frames can be slid together and the outer frame put back in place.

The hive is closed up and left for 2 or 3 days. Within the hive the bees will get used to the pheromone of the new queen and will look after her – feeding through the cage. If they take a dislike to her, she is safe inside.

Recommendation: If there is no income, a gentle feed will make the bees calmer and keep them busy processing the syrup and may make acceptance more reliable. (Ensure the feeder can't drip on the queen!).

Release her

After 3 days the hive can be opened and the plastic tab can be broken off. The hive is closed up again. (However if the cage is surrounded by bees trying to get her, the hive should be closed up and left for another 3 days). Bees will start to eat their way into the cage and so release the queen whilst we are not there annoying them. The colony should be unopened for a week to allow the queen to settle in and start to lay.

First Inspection

Upon the first inspection the cage can be removed – check the queen is not inside. A quick inspection to ensure that she is laying is all that’s required. Hopefully you will see eggs and small larvae. If the candy plug has not been eaten through, a nail or similar can be pushed through the candy and the cage put back in for another 3 days.

It is said that a queen is not fully accepted until she is surrounded by her own offspring so extra-gentle handling of the colony is desirable until some of her own brood has emerged. Varroa treatment should not be started until the queen has been in the hive for at least 2 weeks.

If the queen has been put in to replace the queen due to there being stroppy bees, it will take a couple of months before those bees have died in which case you may find that the temperament of the colony doesn't improve much until then. Other times it improves within a week or so, once her pheromones are transferred through the colony.

The least reliable time to re-queen is in late May and June/July. If queen replacement is being envisaged at this time of the year, placing the queen in a nuc with young bees first is a safer approach; the nuc can be united to the hive by the newspaper method at a later date. Even then, safe uniting cannot be guaranteed. If there is a dearth of nectar, feeding both colonies for a couple of days before uniting and then continuing the feeding for a few days afterwards may help the process along in order to reach a favourable outcome.

Most re-queening is successful but "you can never be sure with bees"!