How to Requeen a Honey Bee Hive

  • 01 of 07

    When to Requeen

    BLANKENFELDE, GERMANY - APRIL 25: Worker bees surround a queen, who is marked with a yellow spot on her back, in the colony of beekeper Reiner Gabriel in the garden of his home near Berlin on April 25, 2013 in Blankenfelde, Germany. Local beekeepers claim their yearly loss rates within their bee populations has gone from an average of 10% per year to 30% per year over the last 10 years, though they are unsure whether the cause lies with a mite and a virus it might be spreading or with the increased use of certain pesticides by local farmers. According to a recent report prepared by Greenpeace seven pesticides currently in use in Europe present a real danger to bees. Bees are essential in nature in pollenating a wide variety of plants and trees.
    Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

    The first question you need to ask yourself is: Do I need to requeen this hive and replace my queen bee? Here are some of the most common reasons for requeening a hive:

    • Old queen. Your queen may be more than a year or two old. Some beekeepers routinely requeen every September to be sure their queen is healthy, young and productive. Others prefer to let the bees do their thing and let the queen remain for two years or more. Most queens will only live for three to five years, and their egg laying...MORE will decrease over time.
    • No queen. If your queen is missing - verified by lack of eggs and/or larvae - you will need to requeen the hive as soon as possible.
    • Poorly laying queen. If your queen is just not up to snuff, you may choose to replace her. This could be evidenced by a hive that should have more bees than it does, a spotty laying pattern, or the advice of an experienced beekeeper.

    If you've determined that you definitely need to requeen, read on.

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  • 02 of 07

    Buy a New Queen

    A queen in a queen cage.
    A queen in a queen cage. Photo © Lauren Ware

    The first step in requeening your hive is to buy a newly-mated queen bee. Contact your local beekeeping association to find a local queen, which is always the best choice. Sometimes, if you live in a rural area, that will mean having a queen shipped to you from across the state.

    If you have a queen shipped to you, the cage she comes in might look like this one, or it might look slightly different. Be aware that it is possible you will have attendant bees in the cage with her or in the box itself....MORE (Open the box and out go the attendants!)

    Most likely, the cage will have a plug, cork or cover (this one has a cover you remove) as well as candy in the end that the bees will have to eat through to release the queen.

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  • 03 of 07

    Remove the Old Queen

    Pinching the queen bee.
    Pinching the queen bee. Photo © Lauren Ware

    For this hive, I had a living, but poorly laying, queen bee. I had to find her (which was easy because she was marked) and remove her from the beehive. Yes, you have to kill her...though you can keep her alive for a while in case the other queen doesn't take, or use her to split off another hive. Most beekeepers dispatch her.

    If your queen isn't marked, look for the circle of workers that surround the queen. She won't be striped like the other bees, and she will be slightly longer and...MORE thinner in the abdomen.

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  • 04 of 07

    Open the Hive

    Opening the beehive.
    Opening the beehive. Photo © Lauren Ware

    Install the new queen bee in the hive. Begin by opening the beehive just like you would for a routine inspection, although you might want to go light on the smoke. Some beekeepers use sugar syrup and essential oils to mask the new pheromone smell of the queen in hopes that this will improve acceptance of the new queen by the bees. The choice is up to you.

    If possible, it's recommended to wait 24 hours between removing the old queen and installing the new one. This gives the bees more chance...MORE of accepting the new queen.

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  • 05 of 07

    Install the New Queen Bee

    Installing the queen cage.
    Installing the queen cage. Photo © Lauren Ware

    Now comes the fun part. It's time to put the new queen bee in her cage, in the beehive. Of course, like almost everything with beekeeping, there are different approaches to this. Some leave the plug or cap on the end of the queen cage for one to two days, simply introducing the queen to the bees. There is some risk of the bees killing her if they reject her, so the idea is that by getting the hive used to the new queen, they will be less likely to reject her.

    For this particular requeening, I...MORE simply put in the new queen bee without the cap. I was told by the queen suppliers to put the candy side down when putting in the cage. When I got my new package, I was told to put the candy side up. But if you live in a hot climate, there is a chance that the candy will melt all over the queen, which could injure or kill her.

    Gently push the queen cage into some comb (without brood) in the center of the brood nest, and then gently push the frames together around the cage. Set it just a bit below the top bars.

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  • 06 of 07

    Leave the Hive Alone

    Closing up the beehive.
    Closing up the beehive. Photo © Lauren Ware

    After installing the new queen bee, leave the hive alone for about a week. One exception: If you left the cork, plug or cap on the cage, open the hive up in one to two days and remove it. Then leave them alone for a week. This way, the bees have time to accept their new queen without any disruption.

    If you disturb them during this time, they may "blame" the stress on the new queen and kill her.

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  • 07 of 07

    Inspect the Hive

    Opening the outer cover for a hive inspection.
    Opening the outer cover for a hive inspection. Photo © Lauren Ware

    If it's been a week or ten days, your queen has likely been released by the bees who have eaten through the candy plug. They've either accepted or rejected her and now it's time to find out which.

    Perform a standard hive inspection, although it doesn't hurt to go easy on the smoke so as not to stress them too much. Identify the queen herself or at least verify the presence of eggs, so you know she's there, laying and happy.

    If your queen isn't present, assess the situation with a more...MORE experienced beekeeper or order another queen and go through the steps again.