The Unpleasant Realities of Staging a Coup

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Old-time beekeepers speak wistfully of the good old days when a good queen could be counted on to be productive 2-5 years. In the hear and now, amongst varroa mites and CCD, queens generally need to be replaced every year.

My preference would be to grow my own queens, but that’s a skill I’ve yet to master (or even attempt).  So, after giving her plenty of time to get up and running, I decided that the queen of the single hive I had to overwinter just wasn’t cutting it.

It’s mid-April here in central NC, and swarm season is well underway.  My established hive, thankfully, has shown no interest in swarming. They have a lot of room in my double deep 8 frame set-up – and that worries me. Tulip poplars are getting ready to bloom, and they’re the main source of honey around my house – my 3-acre property is covered in them.  And at this time of year, my established hive should be boiling with bees – jam-packed – and it just isn’t.  It’s a weak hive.

Tulip poplar (or tulip tree) in bloom. It’s the main source of honey here!

So today I took on the unpleasant task of requeening my hive.  In April 2020, we’re in the midst of national stay-at-home orders to flatten the curve of new COVID-19 infections, but bee stores, as agricultural suppliers, are deemed essential businesses.

At lunch today I headed over to Bailey’s Bee Supply and went in to buy my replacement queen.  I took a few minutes to look over the selection, choose a fat unmarked queen, paid and went home.

Shortly after 5 (I had to work – from home due to the pandemic) it was time to stage a coup. 

After fully suiting up, and donning some new cow-leather gloves, I set out to overthrow the reigning monarch.

I have a requeening frame – sort of a shortened frame in which the new queen can run around protected.  It allows her to better spread her pheromone, and after a week’s time, I’ll flip open a little hatch, and out she’ll go to visit her subjects.

A requeening frame from Dadant. I am not an affiliate or authorized dealer.

I put the new queen, the requeening frame, a one-handed catcher, a pair of needle-nose pliers, and my thickly gloved hands into a screened contraption (a word for anything I don’t know the name of) designed to contain the queen should she escape my efforts to contain her in the requeening frame.  I’m so glad that I did because she did.  With the help of a one-handed queen cage and several frustrating minutes, I contained her and closed the hatch on the requeening frame.

Now to the unpleasant task of finding the existing queen.

The deposed monarch

I opened up the hive, and found her within a few minutes.  With the one handed catcher, I isolated her, set in the requeening frame, and closed up the hive.

I hate the next part because frankly, I find it unpleasant. But now her watch has ended.  I removed the old queen from the catcher and pinched off her head with needle-nose pliers.  I always feel terrible after.

But that’s the reality of requeening.  Someone has to die, or the new queen will never be accepted.

I’ll check the new queen in a few days to make sure I didn’t injure her in the relocation (a distinct possibility – I’ve done it several times), and after a week, let her reign.  Let’s hope she builds up the hive in time for the flow.

The Queen is dead.  Long live the Queen!

The new queen, with attendants.

Ben

Ben is a lifelong lover of honeybees, and a moderately experienced backyard beekeeper, who is constantly working on getting better. This site is dedicated to helping backyard beekeepers improve their management practices, reduce hive loss, and improve yield. We want to provide you with scientifically grounded information to help your hives thrive.

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