Re-Queening a ghastly colony: a cautionary tale! – by Fiona Henniker

As beginners, David, my bee partner, and I thought this bee keeping malarkey was just great.  A bit of a mystery, but at times fascinating.  The beginners’ bee course was very helpful and the bees did roughly what we expected them to do – or so I thought! Then in mid-July we discovered we had a colony with a drone laying bee/s.  On Malcolm’s advice we “chucked the bees in a hedge”, at least we did once I’d found out what that meant.  After that brutality we left the bees alone to settle for 3 weeks and David left the bees to me to look after as he’d been stung and had a very bad reaction.

After the 3 weeks were up (early August), I went in for a proper look and inspected them from the top down. I now realise that’s not a good idea (sorry Malcolm, was obviously asleep when you told us how it should be done!).  The top super had 3 frames of bees and was manageable.  The next super had 7 frames of bees and they were more aggressive but I managed to look through the frames.  When I got to the brood box, close to the brood nest, it was impossible.  There were masses of bees.  They flew directly at me and landed all over me.  Wearing a tee shirt under the bee suit, I got stung on my arms.  I abandoned.  Apart from anything else, I couldn’t see what I was doing through the cloud of bees.  I contacted Malcolm for advice.  He said “Regicide!”  The Queen I’d originally bought had given me a lovely calm colony.  This one had been raised by the colony following a Pagden manipulation and she was bad.  The good news was Malcolm had a nuc with an apidea-raised Queen and, more to the point, offered to help me kill off the horrible Queen.  Originally the plan was just to go in and find her but after more discussion we settled on a slightly different approach, as I couldn’t see that even Malcolm’s expert eyes would be able to find my Queen given number of bees in the colony and their murderous intent.

The plan

  • set up a new hive close to the existing one to take the new Queen and bees
  • the existing colony would be moved, approx. 20m away, the Queen would be killed and the colony encouraged to combine with the new bees and Queen
  • and possibly, if the horrible bees didn’t kill the new Queen first, she would transform the ghastly bees into happy bees


First job was to take off both supers to make the hive lighter to carry.  The intention was to put in a cover board with bee portals below each super to progressively move the bees into the brood box.  I failed.   I managed to get one cover board in but abandoned at that point.   The bees were even more aggressive and frankly I was too scared to finish the job.  By the time I’d finished, my gloves (heavy-duty Marigolds) were covered with stings sticking into the rubber!  A few days later I took off the top super, which was almost empty of bees.  I also prepared the site for the temporary location of the hive.


A week later (mid-August) we did the deed

  • in the afternoon:  set up new hive (brood box only), adjacent to ghastly colony for the new Queen and her bees.  Brood box had 6 frames of brood with new Queen and bees from Malcolm, and 5 frames of drawn/undrawn foundation
  • entrance block was added to ghastly bees’ hive to make it easier to stuff the entrance with foam later to keep all the bees inside
  • at dusk, really quite dark, we put the foam in and carried ghastly bees to new site.  Once in place, the foam was pulled out.  No bees appeared I’m pleased to say

The idea was that in the morning the foragers would go out foraging and, on the way back, would return to the site of their original home where they would find instead, the newly populated hive which, hopefully, would let them in. 

The next day

  • A good amount of traffic at the new hive. No evidence of the ghastly bees being warned off.  Pollen going in.
  • Hardly any traffic at ghastly bees’ hive so we hoped a good number had already decamped.  Actually, there were still loads of bees in the hive but Malcolm found the Queen and squished her.  Hurrah!
  • Then the bees were carried frame by frame to the new hive, were given a coating of icing sugar (to encourage the bee guards to let them in) and then shaken on to the grass near the hive.
  • The comb from the remaining super was chucked into the apiary for the bees to collect the honey. 
  • Empty frames, boxes etc were gathered up and shut in the shed.  Actually this was a mistake. I should have taken the stuff home to clean straight away.  Some bees smelt honey and found a way into the shed, causing chaos for a few days and great unpopularity for me! 

After 24 hours the piles of bees both by the new hive and at the temporary hive site had disappeared.

Malcolm said to leave them for at least 6 weeks to let the Queen establish herself.  I kept an eye on hive activity and it looked good, with lots of pollen going in.  At the end of August I put on a rapid feeder.  At first, topping up the feeder was an unpleasant task as the bees were not very nice but after 3 – 4 weeks they started to calm down.  I was hopeful. 

By the time 6 weeks were up the weather was cold so I waited until it warmed up properly before opening the box.   Other than feeding and sublimating they were undisturbed for 7 months.  The result was amazing.  A beautiful Queen, the box was stuffed full with calm bees, 7 frames of brood and lots of stores.  I added a super and away we go!

Fiona Celebrating

All in all a great success.  But I was lucky.  It happened when a Queen and brood was available; I started with a lot of bees; and I was able to leave the bees undisturbed to establish themselves.   Though it all seemed at bit grim at the time, I think the bee-gods were with me.

Fiona Henniker - April 2019