Bees have it pretty tough and have to contend with a wide range of potential challenges. But they do it so well and a successful colony can survive year after year.
In such a situation, there is but a single bee that may remain across this period of time - the queen.
Providing the queen stays productive, lays eggs and continues to give off the appropriate pheromones, the colony will support her and respect her. She may indeed stick around for quite some time.
But this is just the happy case!
In many situations, the beekeeper may decide that enough is enough and after a certain period of time or some situation arising, it is time to replace the queen. It is time to requeen.
But what exactly is requeening, why is it necessary and how does a beekeeper do it? That's our focus here.
What is requeening?
Requeening is a strange term for many new beekeepers - but it is also one of the more literal terms we use. Requeening is simply replacing one queen with another.
As simple as that.
But why would one wish to requeen and how does one get it done? Read on.
What about supersedure?
A colony can "requeen itself" (we are truly tearing the English language to shreds at this point!). When they take such action on their own accord, it is called supersedure.
But the end result is the same - one queen out, another one in.
Reasons to requeen
Old or poorly-performing queen
We marvel at the incredible but short life of a worker bee, at around six week (unless she is "lucky" enough to be winter bee, heading into the winter). But, in relative terms, the queen can live for an age. At the extreme end, a queen may live for seven glorious years!
But beekeepers are also on the lookout for a decline in performance and many will replace the queen when such signs are evident.
Reduce the chances of disease
Clearly a productive queen is central to the success of a colony. Some queens may be more resistant than others to certain diseases. In fact, a common response among beekeepers to Chalkbrood is to requeen.
In some cases, the queen may not be able to fertilize eggs, at least not on a regular basis. As you may know, when the queen lays an unfertilized egg the result is a drone.
Regardless of the cause, this is a huge problem for two reasons.
The most obvious issue is that the colony needs a constant supply of workers to keep the "pipeline" going. If the queen starts creating only drones, then the near future has, at best, a gap in the supply of worker bees able to carry out their various roles.
The other problem is that this can be tough to notice. A drone-laying queen is still laying eggs. So the beekeeper carrying out an inspection will see eggs, perhaps larvae and more. It is easy to assume that all is well with the queen.
If it takes a couple of weeks to notice that only drones are being created then that can create real problems for the colony.
A drone-laying queen is a strong reason to requeen.
Here's a video that illustrates how to spot a drone-laying queen.
Because it's time
Given these reasons why requeening might be beneficial to a colony, many beekeepers are proactive and requeen even before there are any of these signs. You will find a considerable number of beekeepers who have a requeening schedule as part of their process.
For example, they might requeen as a matter of course in the late fall each year, just as part of their annual checklist of things to be done. There is a broodless period in late fall, as the colony "slims" itself, ready for the cold months. New queens can be introduced reasonably easily at this time, with the rest of the bees being less concerned about a newcomer than at other times of the year.
Technically, requeening is what you will do when you recognize that the queen has been lost and you introduce a new queen. That's a pretty reactive form of requeening, but requeening it is.
Of course, requeening has a victim. A queen that was initially productive for quite some has to be taken from the hive. But where does she go?
Well, keeping in mind that she is being removed for a reason (see above), you won't want to place her in a new hive. That's just moving the problem from one hive to another.
There's really only one (sad) fate awaiting her. We'll leave it to your imagination how she meets that fate.
Yes, it's a cruel world sometimes.
Introducing a new queen
When you plan to requeen, make sure you have the new queen on hand first. Chances are you will receive that queen in a queen cage. The act of introducing a new queen has many of the characteristics associated with installing a package of bees.
You are placing a new queen in an existing colony and it's important the bees have a while to get used to her. For this reason, the familiar cage-and-candy approach is often used.
Here's a nice video of the requeening process.