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Queen destruction

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New Bee

Joined: 27 Aug 2015
Posts: 4
Location: Northumberland, UK

PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 3:52 pm    Post subject: Queen destruction Reply with quote

I use conventional National hives but I try to keep my bees with limited intervention. I have been trained and mentored by very conventional keepers who do lots of inspecting and "management" so I am stuck for advice now I have decided that a more natural approach seems to be the better approach.

I have a couple of questions -

The conventional advice for uniting colonies, or re-uniting swarmed (artificial or natural) colonies is to destroy the queen in one of the hives. My concern is that firstly, to find the queen if she is unmarked can be very disruptive for the colony as it will probably take me a long time, I'm not very good at spotting queens. And secondly, won't the colony sort out the queen situation for itself?

Which leads to my second query. After a swarm you are advised to inspect the left behind hive and destroy all bar one or two queen cells. This is supposed to ensure a strong queen hatches out. I can't understand the reasoning here. How do I, as an inexperienced beekeeper and a human being, know which of the queen cells will guarantee a strong queen? Again, won't the colony sort the situation out for itself?

Sorry for such a long post!
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Joined: 27 Jul 2011
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Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Thu Jul 20, 2017 5:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Jane

It is a difficult situation and I'll answer your second question first.
You are right that you have no real way of knowing which will make the strongest queen from the queen cells in the hive after the prime swarm has emerged. Also it is possible to remove all but one and find the one you left doesn't produce a viable queen for some reason. Many people make up nucs using the frames/combs with the spare queen cells on, so that they have the opportunity to assess the new queens and also have fall back queens in case their hive is left queenless.... but somewhere along the road you may end up with too many queens as per your current situation.
If you leave all the queen cells in the hive, it will most likely throw cast swarms each time a queen emerges until you are left with a very diminished colony and hopefully a viable queen, but they can on occasion get it wrong and leave themselves queenless or too small to recover and essentially swarm themselves to death. It is not unusual to get a prime swarm and 3 cast swarms from a strong hive, but what you are left with will not produce any surplus honey and may be at risk of robbing plus some of the cast swarms may need feeding to survive.

As regards your first question about uniting two queenright colonies, there is a risk that the queens will both be damaged/injured in the fight for supremacy and you would then be left at the end of the season with essentially a queenless colony and no means to rectify the situation as it would probably be too late to raise an emergency queen. Better to go through one colony and find the queen. Use her and a few frames of brood and stores to make a small nuc and leave the colony she came from queenless a couple of days and then unite using whichever method you prefer... I find a couple of sheets of slashed newspaper as easy as anything.
If your nuc makes it through winter you have the option to sell or rehome it, but it means you have that queen to fall back on if need be. Having an insurance policy is always a good idea in beekeeping, especially if you only have one colony.

Don't worry too much about having your hive open for a while looking for the queen as long as it is a warm day and it's a good idea to use covers for the top of the combs either side of the comb you are inspecting, if you intend to have the hive open for any length of time, to preserve the warmth and nest scent.

It can be beneficial to mark your queens for the first few years until you get more adept at inspecting your bees and spotting her, particularly if you live in a residential/urban area where some means of swarm prevention may be necessary. I know that people are keen to be as natural as possible when they start these days, but it really is important to learn how to handle your bees and inspect them reasonably routinely to become competent and confident, so that if you have a difficult situation to deal with, it is not made more daunting by lack of familiarity or frames that are welded solid with propolis because they haven't been inspected for months or top bar combs that are cross combed or heavily attached with brace comb. There is a temptation with "natural beekeeping" to be a little bit too hands off sometimes, particularly by more novice beekeepers and I really feel that it is important to learn the "craft" first.

Just my opinion.


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Guard Bee

Joined: 20 Jun 2017
Posts: 75
Location: Australia (Nth. Queensland)

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 4:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

G'day Jane.
It is not possible to determine your actual skill level within a single post, "inexperienced" is subjective and so "in the eye of the beholder" applies. However it holds true that those who lean towards natural colony development as the baseline for any colony in their 'care' own a skillset which allows them to know the behaviour of a working colony simply from
observation, a version of "Xray style diagnostics" sort of.
That skillset comes from many encounters/experiences within close management of various colony types owning many environmental nuances.
Following a model does not guarantee there will be no tears at some point and indeed many who do fall into regimented beekeeping get to experience the frustration of doing as they were told yet *still* encounter mishap, bringing brimming tears if not an actual flow in wailing.
So it is there being no "stairway to heaven", mentors (generally) pass on the basics relying on the tutored to be able to "tweak" the path forward in a specific circumstance encountered, and this , often, "on the fly".

Barbara has laid out the basics of an answer to your questions.
I hope you can absorb the advice as it is intended as I can find no contradiction in that text of work I myself could not live with, and indeed I can confidently 'say' you will find variations on the thoughts in many a published text and within bLogs.
That said, I recently came across a post within this very forum wherein a - in my initial view - a somewhat "novice" BK took upon himself to solve a number of localised environmental hazards for his bees.
At first glance it could be seen he was aware of the basics, yet in the fullness of time it was proven the fellow owned an understanding of bees that went beyond "the red block sat beside the blue block will make a purple block, on leaching" thinking a mentor passes on. An understanding which indicated an inherant grasp of "natural" colony development his work in building a natural hive structure is to be commended.

A long way of saying I could not know your ability in development, yet I am willing to put answers to your questions which may not follow convention but do follow bee logic and so should work for you in meeting the request for a "natural" solution. The methods used may be "intervention" and so *not* "natural" yet they would meet an ethos of least intervention in a natural way for the scenarios you set.

To Set Together Two Working Colonies (combine).
1. Make a choice as to which colony you wish to be Parent and place that hive next to the colony you declare Child. Leave the two hives insitu for at least two whole working days. Where there are honey supers on the Parent remove them and store securely.
2. Remove the Child some 10meters adjacent a prepared single super holding two frames of honey or mixed stores yet no eggs or uncapped brood. This super _must have_ a queen restrictor at the entrance.
Layout a board or light coloured cloth of no less than 1sq.metre abutting the entrance. Where ants may be present place the super on a stand making provision for the landing board/cloth.
3. One frame at a time, starting with the frames #4 and #5 take the frames from the Child to brush all bees in front of the super. Do not allow any bees to fall within the super, the lid of which is off, so be carefull all bees land at the entrance.
4. Place the vacated frames into the super, in the position they occupied within the Child.
5. After the last frame is placed in the super, place the lid on.
6. Shake any remaining bees from the Child onto the board/cloth and remove that hardware completely from the workplace.
btw... I recommend a simple sheet of thin ply be used as a
temporary "lid" for the super.

The nurse bees will walk into the new super with attendant workers going with that "flow". The flyers might fly initially but will land either back in the Child as you work through frames or rejoin any cluster at the entrance to the super.
The queen will attempt to enter the super encouraged by her attendants.
It is wise to allow nature to take it's course as bees migrate into the super to care for the brood, yet some will be torn to "cuddle" the queen now 'trapped' away from the brood comb. In time and/or gentle persuasion this number (cluster) will reduce to maybe a cupful of bees. Smoke and a brushing can assist the migration but be careful in excuberance as if vigorous amongst large numbers of bees (more than six cupfulls) the bees may incite the queen to fly. It is a herding motion you are looking for with gentle persuasion.

Some of the foragers will have migrated back to the original position of the Child beside the Parent. Leave them bee, drift and the next steps will "fix" this "clouding".
The "natural" method to deal with the Child's queen is to gather up that cupfull of bees which attend her - when the majority of bees are inside the super or spread around the external surface in a single layer - and place them all in a cloth bag.
Take the bag for a long drive, best at least 5kilometres, and release all bees in the bag. Other methods not so "natural" may be an option, she will not be difficult to find now.

7. Remove the lid on the Parent and place 3 sheets of newsprint or 1.5mm of cardboard sheet, either having been previously peppered with pinholes made with an awl/large darning needle.
8. Place super with the Child's bees on top of the Parent and apply the Parents lid, first shaking any Parent's bees out in front of the hive body.
9. Around four days later lift the top super and remove any remaining newsprint/cardboard.

Job done..."naturally".

Post Swarm comment;
As a baseline ethos I personally discourage swarming over best management practice, a position many modern BKs take odds with to the point of making it a bee management elective. For mine I see only a proliferation of weak hives as the outcome, and more so in the environment
much of this elective is carried out in - narrow foraging windows with lengthy periods of dearth and/or severe low ambient temperatures.
But swarming does happen, regardless, so here I layout an alternative which allows physical inspection/selection of cast queens to any number you choose. Hardly "natural" at all but does allow one to gather experience in selecting queen cells for future "on the fly" decisions.

I mention here that other mindset which says "queens kill", way too broad a statement as we know virgin queens will attack anything seen 'challenging", yet rarely is it seen for a laying queen to attack outside of direct physical 'rough' handling by bee or man. Some reasoning is found in studying those works which describe the anatomy of a laying queen which
describes a developed ovipositor restricting stinger deployment.
Whilst there exists no work I can refer the reader to I am of the firm belief
it is workers who control queen reproduction and so survival. Through herding and passive/aggressive "balling" the natural selection within a colony is determined by the bees and so there is no requirement for man to intervene. Yet we read of multiple casts of swarms from the same queenset,
a factor I believe of the aforementioned mindset of modern BKs which elects swarming as a method of quickly increasing apiary numbers.
And so "swarmy queens" prevail in those yards.
Certainly this has not been my experience of any measure of success and is most definitely stamped out (literally) in my apiary.
That methodology described below makes use of the logic workers determine queen hatchings survival by isolating virgins.

To Set Together Multiples Of Capped Queen Cells.
1. Remove all frames holding queen cells from the brood chamber, replacing same with drawn stores having no eggs or larvae younger than
six days.
2. Placing a queen excluder on top of the brood chamber add an empty super, known now as the nursery super.
3. Using a combination of dividers and drawn partially filled frames, cut out fixed queen cells remounting them onto frames. This could get as finite as one queen cell per division or simple a 50/50 split of queen cells found on just one frame using just two divisions within the nursery super.
3. Where honey stores are in place use a second excluder on top of the
queen nursery super.
4. Unless one has set larvae for queen rearing it is not possible to know within hours - or even a day or so - the exact time to look for queen hatchings as the initial egg lay may have been a controlled release.
So allow the earliest day possible for egg placement plus two days before inspecting the new queens.
5. From all queen cells uncapped situation, select the fattest+longest+uniform single colour queen as your new queen. Place her into a queen cage with a few nurse bees. Euthanase the remainder.
6. Inspect the brood chamber removing any queen cups or formed queen cells.
7. Remove the nursery super, returning the hive structure to that as it was originally.
8. The next day introduce your new queen.
9. Nine days - or soon after- inspect the brood chamber to find eggs and maybe larvae freshly hatched.

Job done..."naturally".


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Joined: 27 Jul 2011
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Location: England/Co.Durham/Ebchester

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 2:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Excellent post Bill!

The only bit I struggled to understand was taking the bag of bees for a long drive. I really can't see how this is "natural" or even, not cruel, as I very much doubt they stand a hope in hell of surviving. Surely it would be kinder to pinch her and let her entourage return to the "Child" or make up a small nuc with them? Am I missing something??
I appreciate some people have an aversion to killing and it certainly does not come easy to me, but if it has to be done, it should be done as quickly and cleanly as possible in my opinion.


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Guard Bee

Joined: 20 Jun 2017
Posts: 75
Location: Australia (Nth. Queensland)

PostPosted: Fri Jul 21, 2017 11:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Tis more of me playing with semantics in what is "natural" Barbara, like
creating a scene of natural demise out of sight out of mind type thinking?

In building the tute I tried to remain fixed on Jane's scope of enquiry.
You're right in thinking it's not what I would do either, but we are well
experienced apiarists and so have seen first-hand way more carnage
when a colony is left to "sort out the queen situation for itself".
If a slim, very slim, chance is installed for a queen to relocate elsewhere
then maybe those so inclined would be more comfortable with this
'natural' option - note I use single quotation marks :-)


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Site Admin

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PostPosted: Sat Jul 22, 2017 1:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks for clarifying that Bill. I had my suspicions that might be what you were hinting at.
I feel quite strongly that people should not take the easy option out of a responsibility, to the detriment of a creature in their care and wouldn't want people to be under a misapprehension that the abandoned bees would somehow miraculously survive.


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Guard Bee

Joined: 20 Jun 2017
Posts: 75
Location: Australia (Nth. Queensland)

PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah well it is a tute Barbara, no mantra :-))))
As with all things us humans tackle, the practicality of
advice overrules the actuality of ethos.. like I am reasonably confident
99.999% of folk would head for a cold beer and a snooze over following
the tute to the nth degree, in firing up the Landy ;-)

On practicality?
My immediate sibling, an accomplished beekeeper himself, emigrated to Eire
maybe 15years ago - yep, I know.. it's a long yarn - leaving behind his share of our
migratory apiary, now long sold off as I too left that "scene". Talking recently around
my endeavours to get educated on contemporary disease management he smiled
at my interest in his local situation not including a few hives, giving up;
"back home you can get 44gallons from just a few hives in any backyard, here if you
get a few jars it's a Good Year... nice to have but not practical, with the work and worry
attached to it".
It's where we differ, despite having the same upbringing. My endeavours with our native
bees are off the scale as to cost versus returns, yet each time I spot a half dozen or
so around the avacado blooms I smile as there is the practicality.... in knowing I
shall definitely be feasting on avacado over wishing and hoping as I have done in
previous times knowing honeybees leave them bee unless desperate.


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Scout Bee

Joined: 04 Jul 2014
Posts: 304
Location: Uk/Horsham/RH13

PostPosted: Sun Jul 23, 2017 6:26 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The nurture versus nature choice for the beekeeper is often a difficult one IMLE and the posters questions both relate to it.

The ability to find unmarked queens is one that needs to be developed IMHO.

I don't kill queens anymore from experience but remove them with some nurse bees to a two frame NUC until I am sure she has been replaced successfully.

Where a beekeepers efforts to introduce a Q fails, either by some emergency method or parachuting one in also fails, the choices are then limited.

It's tempting to suggest to oneself the colony can be combined with another but what if they are carrying some horrible disease and IMLE the d o not sort themselves out; they die off naturally or are killed off by predation.

i suspect in the wild bee colonies expire like this as nature is a harsh mistress.

Your bees, your choice?
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