The Unpleasant Realities of Staging a Coup
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.
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.
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.
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!