Installing a queen into a hive split
So you’ve done a hive split, and now you need a queen—
Once you have split your hive, you have the option to:
- Take the old queen with you to the new hive split (though the original hive will still need a new queen),
- Rear your own queen,
- or Introduce a queen.
As with most beekeeping practices, this comes down to personal preference – we recommend doing some background research to decide which option best suits your situation.
Why do you introduce a new queen?
If you want to get good genetics from a queen breeder, if your colony is very aggressive (and are not Africanized bees), or if your hive split has not yet successfully raise a new queen. Read more about this here.
How do I install the new queen?
Disclaimer. There is no “right way” to install a new queen to a hive split – as with all beekeeping, there are many methods.
Step 1: As per Hilary Kearney's how to split a hive blog, first prepare your new hive split.
1. Take 4-5 frames full of brood with healthy brood pattern from a healthy, prolific hive, and install into a new brood box – 4 brood frames if your hive is an 8 frame Langstroth hive (which is also our Flow Hive Classic 6 frame, Flow Hive 2, or Flow Hive Hybrid 3 frame), and 5 brood frames if your hive is a 10 frame Langstroth hive (which is our Flow Hive Classic 7 frame).
2. Make sure to keep the 4 frames pushed tightly into the middle of the brood box, with the new, undrawn-comb frames on either side; this helps keep the brood space intact, maintains a stable temperature, and also encourages the bees to continue drawing straight comb.
- Move the original hive slightly, and place the new split next to the old hive – returning foragers will go to both hives; meaning there should be a healthy amount of bees in both hives.
- Some beekeepers also choose to shake a few frames of worker bees into the split – just make sure that the queen isn’t on a frame you shake in!
- Be sure to do the split on a warm, windless day, as a drop in temperature can damage unhatched brood – ideally, you want the external temperature to be above 17-20°C/64-68°F (unless you work really quickly – but even so, you need the temperature to be above 15°C/60°F).
- Also, if it is still consistently cold—with further drops in temperature overnight—and there are not yet many bees in the new colony, it can be difficult for the bees to maintain the required temperature for the brood to survive.
3. Make sure the original queen is in ONE hive. Whether this is the split, or the original hive from which you took the split, this doesn’t matter – just make sure it is not the hive you plan on introducing the new queen into. The worker bees will kill the new queen if the old queen is present 😞
- Organise the hive split about a day—or a bit longer—before you install the queen. This encourages the new split to more likely accept the new queen.
Step 2: (Wear protective equipment.) Smoke the queenless hive a little before opening up.
Keep a look out for the old queen – just in case. Check the lid – sometimes she likes to hide here.
What is a queen in a cage?
Queen in a cage is a queen bee (either mated or not – you will need to check with your Queen Breeder regarding this) with a couple of escort bees (they are worker bees, also known as attendants). The escort bees feed the queen and chew the candy from the inside of the cage.
Once installed (and the cap on the candy has been removed), the worker bees will chew the candy from the other side; this means the hive can first get used to the pheromones of the new queen before she is let free.
Correct placement of the new queen
Some beekeepers place the cage on the floor of the hive—if you do this, be careful to ensure that there is no cold weather forecasted, as she can die without the colony to keep her warm.
You can install the queen cage between the top bars of the brood frames – CAREFUL of placement (e.g. if placed into a section of the frame with honey, the queen may drown) and orientation of the cage.
Orientation of the cage: If a worker dies & the cage is placed vertically, this could cause a problem. The cage should be placed horizontally.
Place the cage between the top bars of brood frames.
A hive won’t always accept a new queen
It’s a waiting game to see whether the hive accept the new queen. Let the new queen settle in, and the hive become adjusted to her. If the queen is still stuck in the cage, after one week, you can go ahead and release her.
Check for brood laying pattern to see if you’ve been successful in introducing the new queen.
The head-of-pin sized egg should be in the centre of the brood cell.
As Hilary says – “you also need to check for supersedure cells. Worker bees will often try to overthrow their new queen and make a queen of their own genetics to replace her. If you do not find and destroy all the queen cells, the worker bees will kill the queen you installed once they have raised their own. For this reason, it is also important that you do not wait too long after installing the queen to check the hive. If you wait longer than it takes to raise a new queen, it will be too late.”
"Ask two beekeepers one question, get three answers."
At Flow, we love to hear from all kinds of beekeepers using all types of methods, but their views are their own and are not necessarily endorsed by Flow. We advise reading widely, connecting with your local beekeeping association and finding a mentor as you delve into this fascinating hobby.