Ian Steppler >> Canadian Beekeeper's Blog
"We want bees as early as we can get them in the spring so the bee package sellers are getting these queens mated and shipped and there is just not enough drones flying for proper mating, so the queens may do ok for a little while and then get less productive and get superceded."
Thanks so much for the above explanation. That is exactly what happened to my first three packages. They came to me in early April in 2011. All three hives built up comb and brood and then the brood just slowed up. It was my first attempt at beekeeping and did not have a mentor. I don't think there is another domestic bee hive within 60 miles of my bees. In the mean time my continued experimenting with feeding caused the early death of many of my bees. (that's another story)
I inspected the bees in mid July and could not find any brood or eggs, but I did see two queens that looked smaller than the original queens. A week later there were eggs in all the hives. Over the past year these bees built from about three deep frames to fill a deep and two medium boxes. These packages were Italians.
Thanks again for the logical explanation.
...I'm not sure it is fair to assume that a queen that looks good building up a package (which is what those queens are selected for...a fast buildup) will be good for overwintering.
It isn't about being a mediocre queen, the queen could be fine. It is about quality mating. If you open mate replacements in your own yard you will likely get max drone density per queen and get matings with up to 20 drones... A package queen may have only mated with 2-3 drones because of the huge number of queens competing for the available drones.
Hope that makes sense? Sometimes I think you have to see a package operation to understand the numbers we are talking.... some of these guys need 1000 or more queens per day to fill their orders. For good matings they need up to 20 times the queen density and a drone is one time use... so they need 20000 ripe drones per day if they want to mate 1000 queens... Often that isn't achievable.
Always question Conventional Wisdom.
I think it'll be enlightening to see how the package queen performs against a nuc.
2. If you started 2 hives right next to one another, with sister queens, and do exactly the same things to both hives throughout the season, you would be unlikely to have 2 hives that look the same come fall or spring. This makes comparing two hives started differently difficult at best.
In the end, I'd prefer nuc's over packages for a lot of reasons but some nuc's are worse than some packages. Sometimes (perhaps often so), package queens fail sooner than you'd expect. The statements are simple, the answers are startlingly involved.
I love it. Be humble in the face of nature.
ps..and thank you deknow for humbling me again by your post. I'm grateful.
"My wife always wanted girls. Just not thousands and thousands of them......"
Some nucs are headed up by queens grafted and treated with the up most care, but it pored down rain or was cold when they needed to make mating flights... Stuff happens.
My approach to queen problems is mostly hands off. I have a hive here at the house that was created last spring when I was trying to depopulate some of my nucs. I pulled frames from the over populated nucs and gave the new hive a spare queen I had... They superseded her and her daughter, then the grand daughter before settling on the great granddaughter... It was September by the time the last queen emerged and they seem to be doing fine right now.
It is easier for me to take this approach than it is for other people though, because replacing a failed hive cost me very little. I am not putting out 90-125 to repopulate a hive.
Always question Conventional Wisdom.
Many say that playing around with a nuc that rejected a queen or queen cell multiple times is like....
Well peeing in the wind. They say its better to either kill rest of nuc or combine back with strong colony and resplit after the bees been re acustomed to a queen right colony.
How to enter my opinion without stepping on toes of the previous posters?
IMO the supesedure of queens of first year starters is more ingrained instinct than a result of queen "failure." The queen can be recycling brood cells as fast as they are prepared by the workforce, and still be superseded. When we started, we collected perhaps 80 swarms and twenty trap-outs/cut-outs in the first 3 years. Almost all superseded in the first year, regardless of performance. I think the supersedure can be traced to the natural instincts of the swarm process. They left the parent colony with an overwintered queen from last year. Some time in the establishment process, they invoke the insurance of superseding that old queen to gain the advantage of wintering and buildup next season with a young queen. Opinion based on observation.
The package has at least two different timing characteristicts for supesedure (SS). If they are not too fond of the foreigner in the cage, they can provide "tentative acceptance" and let her lay a few eggs. They, then can knock her in the head and rear their own queen from scratch. That gets the package off to a poor start.
Typically, though, they use her to develope an adequate brood nest - say basically fill a deep box. At that point, they have enough population and brood in development to add winter stores. Time to SS. That's about the same timing the beekeeper has added a second box, and he doesn't see it happen. Adding queen cups in the early buildup is not a frivolous endeavor. I call them insurance cups - provided for SS when it's time, or when it's necessary before that.
The overwintered nuc is not immune to this instinct. When confined to the small space, they treat it as their cavity size, and respond accordingly. But when the colony is transferred to larger quarters, they automatically revert to the establishment mode.
We have said many times that the establishment mode has a separate and distinct set of operations or format. You won't find that in the prevailing literature.
I didn't have an queen trouble with my package, but I lost the hive through ignorance later (grossly insufficient stores and not feeding up. Didn't make that mistake this year), but my brother has had packages fail to supersede a number of times.
The best way to get bees is to catch local swarms -- wherever they came from, the hive was healthy, well stocked with stores, and the queen lays well, or they wouldn't have swarmed. Only time this is a problem, of course, is when you live in AFB territory, where ALL swarms are suspected of being Africanized and hence very hard to handle.
As far as re-queening goes, I'd wait and see how they do first. Feed protein and syrup, generously, and watch. The queen should lay well as soon as there is comb available (I assume you don't have any drawn comb) and should fill a deep frame pretty quickly. After that, it takes three weeks for the new bees to emerge, and she won't lay much more since there are not enough bees to cover more brood. This is the point at which the package may supersede the queen -- not enough open brood, I suspect, so they "think" she's a dud.
If you see queen cells, you have two choices -- get a new queen, cut out ALL the queen cells, and introduce your purchased queen. This may fail, the bees are quite good at hiding queen cells from you, and they will kill your new queen. You can also just let them have a new queen that they made.
You will have more lag in growth if they raise a new queen, which is why I suggest feeding heavily. Should keep the bees healthier and longer lived (less flying for forage) and feed up nice, fat, healthy new bees with less tendency to supersede the queen. They will also increase faster -- feed until you have a full brood nest, whatever size you use (two deeps here) and continue to feed if they do not draw out frames in a super after that. In particular, watch that they don't just move up into the second box and leave the bottom one empty -- this is what happened to me, and in the fall I suddenly had an empty bottom box, little stored in the top box, and two shallow frames of syrup stored, not enough by far.
Come August, if they are not up to weight, feed 2:1 syrup until they are, you won't be getting any honey.
Hope this helps.
Occurs to me that my post above did not answer the OP question directly. Gave some background without applying it. The answer, as I see it, is no. If you requeen early in the package developement, you may be wasting time and money. The colony may well supersede your new queen later in developement. Of course, queen genetics will mostly carry down a generation, and her characteristics will still be present after supersedure. But I would wait until later in the package developement to requeen. (If I thought it importent)
As before, thanks to all who've posted.
Walt, your initial post answered my question, but I appreciate you taking the time to write a follow up. Your theory(?) on hive modes is fascinating (and I'd be interested in reading any background sources that you might have). Anecdotally, how frequently does a colony NOT supercede a sub-par queen? OR fail to produce a new queen (assuming uncapped brood) if queenless? Does it matter whether dealing with a full colony vs a nuc? Suburban area? I'm basically curious if there is any wisdom in buying a spare queen the first year (aside from a hot hive)? Given that I'm not starting with local bees, perhaps the last thing that should be done is to bring in more outside genetics/phenotypes since a swarm/SS queen would potentially provide this.
Feel free to enlighten me if I'm missing critical questions.
Almost asked about your screen name. Lots of undeveloped countryside out there.
To your questions:
Typically, a sub-par queen is detected by the colony well before the beekeeper peeking in occasionally. They don't hesitate to start SS, even if there is considerable risk in doing so. And often terminating the existing queen before the results are in, to amplify the risk.
My records show that the colony was about 95% effective in requeening themselves. That data is from the period before the mites decimated the feral population in this area. The wild bees are coming back now.
I don't buy queens. But if you are careful to acquire mite-tolerant stock, you are not likely to hurt the feral population's recovery.
Look at Canada for example. All of their Package bees and early spring queens come from New Zealand...
Always question Conventional Wisdom.
I've been obsessing over this again.
If the optimal way to deal with the possibility of a queen failure is to maintain at least one "backup" nuc, wouldn't it be best for new beekeepers to start with 3-4 hives instead of just 2? The 1-2 extra hives can be maintained as backup nucs. It might mean closer management on the part of the novice, but it gives one more resources to work with. Perhaps it also offers better quantity and variety of drones for any SS queens to mate with. IF we new beekeepers are better off with >2 hives (and I'm assuming we are), why do so many people recommend having just two? Expense? Fear of overwhelming the novice?
Beekeeping money is often limited when someone's starting out. Regardless of the number of full sized hives you have, 5-frame nuc equipment is real handy. I have six carniolan colonies in double five frame medium boxes that I started at the end of last summer. I had 10 colonies in five frame nucs going into the winter.
I really think starting with two full sized hives and two complete nuc setups would be nice. If you are interested in buying any queens (or virgin queens) you should order them very soon.
5 hives and 8 nucs................... Trying to think inside the box...
The best bees to start a fresh colony from ...in my mind...is a swarm. They are all related, the queen is their mother, they are in hyped up colony building mode, their guts are full of honey, they want to start building comb,...their main focus is on building a new colony.
As for local bees, how long do they have to be in an area to be considered "local"? My mentor and his best friend have almost a 100 years of beekeeping experience between the two of them. They have sporadically bought a few caucasian queens from a couple of queen breeders (they are focusing on caucasians) along the way but most of what they have came from swarms, cut-outs, and splits. Some of the swarms and cut-outs are thought to be possibly from a bee company that was in the area close to a century ago. My mentor has been in his present location for 15 years and his friend for 50+ years. I would consider their bees to be local.
urbanoutlaw, I would suggest that you try to find a listing of beekeepers in your area, maybe even call your state apiarist and see if he/she might can connect you with an older beek to help you along. Every year my mentor has a few colonies for sale. He helped me acquire bees from two swarm calls (that he received) last summer. I'm leaving some boxes at his place this spring so when he has a swarm he can put it in the box for me and call me to come pick it up. I'm sure there are exceptions but it seems the older guys really want to help younger beeks get started. My beekeeping experience actually started one day after church by riding back in the woods to my mentors house and buying a jar of honey from him (I didn't know him at that time)...I had *not* thought of keeping bees at that point. After buying the honey I got to thinking about keeping bees. I called him back a week later to ask him if I could come talk to him about keeping bees. Besides learning some about honey bees I've got to know a very good person.
I guess what I'm saying in a very long, round-about way is....find a good mentor...they're worth their weight in liquid gold.