A Paradigm Shift

headshot Rauschby Andrew Rausch

As I mentioned last month, I believe there needs to be a change. The change I am referring to is when we requeen our colonies.

While it is true that (as the late G. H. “Bud” Cale, Jr. pointed out) “the time to requeen a colony of bees is when the queen is failing, regardless of time of year or season,” it is also true that most of us would prefer to preempt that queen failure in order to maintain colony health and good production. So following this line of reasoning, there has to be some “best” time of year to requeen our colonies and a majority of beekeepers have settled on Spring as this “best” time –and with some pretty good justifications such as starting the year off with a young queen that will lay lots of eggs, an easier introduction given the likely presence of a nectar flow, and that is when the queens are most readily available.

You may have noticed that both times I used the word “best” it was in quotation marks and that is because “best” is relative to your given situation. Our situation here in SC does not permit the availability of well-bred and well-cared for queens as early in the year as they are customarily sought after. Here in the Upstate, the earliest we can reliably produce a well-bred queen is the month of May, though that is to some degree just my opinion, so there is no (economical) way that we can produce queens intended for spring requeening without encountering one of the biggest problems that we are seeking to solve—that of failing queens—which brings me to late summer (or fall in the bees’ opinion) requeening.

“Fall” requeening, though initially backward to my way of thinking, made a great deal more sense to me than spring requeening once I stopped and thought on it for a while so I’ll now give you the dubious honor of traveling through my thought process.

Question 1

What am I really trying to accomplish by requeening–beyond the obvious installation of a new monarch?

Initial Answer

Well I want to make sure that, whatever happens, my colonies are in tip-top shape during the spring because, in my neck of the woods, if I miss the spring flow then I’ve missed the year’s honey crop unless the Sumac and Sourwood actually come through for a late summer flow. Also, if I could get a brood break in there, albeit not too much of a brood break, that would definitely help in staying ahead of the mites.

After some research, came question number two….

Question 2

How does “fall” requeening compare to spring — would it be better?

Comparison

I would requeen in spring to replace a queen that is, shall we say, running out of steam, because she as last spring’s queen, she had to produce a lot of brood before and during the honey flow. I don’t want to risk queen trouble before or during the honey flow, but I’m creating a risk of just that if she is not accepted or if she is accepted but turns out to be no good.

But for me the main selling points were the answers to “How might autumn requeening be better?”

First of all, I believe in treating if needed with soft chemicals, and since my bees are not yet fully resistant, I will probably want to treat in August so that they head into winter with low mite counts. The previously mentioned brood break in spring does not cut it if that is all I do. So, I treat if needed in August and then proceed to requeen during that same month which further handicaps the mites. I don’t have a honey flow to deal with, so I might want to feed some to improve acceptance, but on the bright side, I don’t have a honey flow to deal (i.e. less heavy lifting and much easier to find the old queen). Further, I now have a young queen which will immediately start laying and give me a healthy cluster for the winter and assuming she makes it for at least nine months –which any good queen should– I will have a relatively unused queen in the spring which should eliminate any need to introduce a new one then.

I have found that I am not alone in this belief and that several notable beekeepers already requeen during the fall. Wyatt Mangum recommends fall requeening when a queen is 2 years old and Dan and Judy Harvey of Olympic Wilderness Apiaries also suggest this as the best time to requeen.

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