There will be times when a colony needs re-queening and it proves difficult to find the old queen. There could be several reasons, most likely inexperience of the beekeeper, aggressive nature of the bees and possibly the number of bees present within a brood box, or possibly multiple brood boxes.
I have heard some suggest a system known as ‘Virgin Drop’ could re-queen a colony without the need to find the old queen. In the simplest of terms a colony is heavily smoked at the entrance and a virgin queen which has had no contact with other bees, i.e. a queen ‘pulled’ from a cell or a queen raised in an incubator, is dropped into the top of the hive. The strain of bee can influence the outcome, the lighter strains being easier to introduce. The loss of introduced queens might be acceptable to some commercial beekeepers (time is money syndrome and in New Zealand and America virgin queens are easily and cheaply available), but generally the hobbyist beekeeper will be unhappy to tolerate any loss of introduced queens.
I have already mentioned, and believe it is common knowledge, that before introducing a new queen into a colony it is necessary to find the old queen and remove her. Otherwise any introduced mated or virgin queen will be destroyed. An unprotected queen cell placed into a hive where a queen is present will normally be destroyed by one side of the cell being broken down. But if this cell is protected there is a good chance of successful introduction, both original and new queen will be present and one will be killed or starved, but eventually ejected from the hive… The natural supersedure instinct of the honeybee.
Unless the original queen is marked it will be impossible to discover if the new queen from the cell has been accepted in favour of the original queen, well impossible other than a noticeable change of colour of later workers. Consequently in order to prove the success of the method to yourself I recommend every effort is made to find and mark the old queen.
The method of inducing supersedure is simple. Cells can be from many sources, swarm cells, cells from grafted larva, cells produced using a Jenter type cage, all can satisfactorily be used. If possible the tip of the cell should be ‘bronzed’ meaning that it is maybe one to three days away from emergence. I cannot emphasise enough the necessity of treating these cells gently and keeping them upright. Laying them on their sides at this stage can result in a damaged queen. It should not be difficult to bore suitable size holes into a block of polystyrene or florists ‘Oasis’ block into which the cells can be held upright pending introduction into a hive.
The sides of the queen cell must be protected otherwise, as previously stated, it is likely they will be torn down. Protection can be as simple as aluminium kitchen foil wrapped around the sides of the cell, or possibly cone shapes can be cut from the neck of say shampoo bottles, or purpose-made ‘cell protectors’ are available from the appliance dealers. These exist in many types, the commonest is made from spiral wound wire with a plate at the top which prevents access to the cell from the top end and a short length of the wire which easily pushes into the comb to fix it in position.
In use the protected cell is fixed into the face of a brood comb, the central area of the comb is best, the position where supersedure cells will normally be built. July will be the best month to introduce protected cells as this will be about the time that normal supersedure’s take place. Having introduce the protected cell into the colony the hive is closed and left for about one month. By this time the new queen, if she has been accepted, will be mated and laying and the old queen is unlikely to be present.
The success rate of the method is greatly increased if the queen to be replaced is in at least her second season.
But if the system has failed, I always think the ‘angry’ stocks are the most difficult to re queen, well nothing will be lost. The original queen will still be present and you will be left to discover an alternative way of requeening.