Re-queening: Five reasons not to do it

Almost all of the Sacred Texts and Tribal Elders of Modern Beekeeping will give you this straightforward piece of advice:

You must re-queen at least every two years to keep up the honey production.

Seems pretty simple, doesn’t it?

But let’s think about it in a different way for a moment. There are some very good reasons NOT to re-queen.

It’s time-consuming.

A beekeeper friend of mine says that finding a queen in a hive is the “most aggrevatin’-est thing” involved with beekeeping. Some people can spot the queen right off. Not me. I have spent hours trying to find a queen even in a moderately populated hive.

It’s expensive.

This year a new queen will cost you nearly $25. Most beekeepers I know are generous with their time and knowledge but pretty tight with their wallets. And as the price of queens has risen, the quality of imported queens seems to have decreased. There have been lots of complaints in our local association about queens during the last couple of years.

It’s disruptive.

Yes, you have to take the hive apart to get to the queen. But there’s more. Think about what it does to the colony to have to orient itself to a new queen. This may not be a real problem for the bees, but the fact is that we don’t really know one way or another. Common sense says there is some disruption and that disruption has a cost.

It may not work.

A hive may not like a new queen, even if you have destroyed the old one. One veteran beekeeper told me that, in his experience, about 30 percent of the queen doesn’t take.

It may not be necessary.

Generally, it is thought, queens run out of steam after about two years, but that isn’t always the case. Some queens go on for longer. Or, you may have a new queen in the hive and just now realize it because you didn’t see the swarm or didn’t know they had already replaced the queen.

Eventually, of course, the hive — if it’s any good at all — will re-queen itself. It will do this by raising a new queen and getting rid of the old one or by swarming. And they’ll do this while you, the beekeeper, are sitting on your back porch having a cool drink.

If a hive seems to be declining and there’s no sign of a queen, it can be combined with another hive that is in good shape, thereby saving the bees and making the second hive stronger. You should do this, of course, only if you’re sure there’s no queen in the first hive and if there’s nothing wrong with that hive.

There are good reasons to re-queen. But re-queening for the sake of re-queening is not one of them.

For the record: I’m not one of the Tribal Elders and didn’t write any of the Sacred Texts.

Key words: re-queening, beehives, swarming, Sacred Texts and Tribal Elders of Modern Beekeeping, honey production, replacing a queen in a beehive, reasons not to replace a queen

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