Topical Tips – “My Colony’s Queenless! – Is it really” – by Malcolm Wilkie

“I have messed up, I don’t have a queen and my colony is doomed”
Reply from an experienced beekeeper: “are you absolutely sure?”
Newbee: “Yes I am absolutely sure”
Experienced beekeeper (thinking to themselves) “Here we go again, yet another one who thinks they don’t have a queen”

I suspect most of you will have noticed that there is no let up with the nectar flow. Today I saw my honeybees working a huge eucalyptus tree that was in flower. Incredible what is in the environment when you start looking.

I have gone and helped a number of people including newbees who have gone into their brood boxes and just found the whole brood box clogged up with stores. They have concluded that they have no Queen, particularly if it is a new queen that they have not yet seen in lay.

Before going out and buying a queen they need to think logically about the situation. We have for the last couple of months had the most exceptional nectar flow and the bees, programmed to collect nectar, have done so daily. Some colonies have put off the Queen laying eggs in order to take advantage of these exceptional conditions. Other colonies, where splits have been done, have not bothered to get the new queen to do her job. They have been far busier taking advantage of the exceptional conditions in the environment.

Now here’s the rub. Owners of that colony panic. The thing is the bees aren’t panicking, it is the beekeeper! They examine their bees and conclude that there is no Queen. However if the colony is calm (and it does not have to be super calm) it is highly likely that there really is a queen after all. No evidence of eggs or brood is not necessarily a sign of a queenless colony. This is particularly the case if there are a lot of bees. When we artificially create a big colony by letting them have only one queen cell the bees are not really motivated to put their queen into lay. They know and she knows that they are big enough to survive the winter.

However you should be concerned if there is no brood at this stage of the year, even if the bees don’t seem to be so. This is because the bees that are hatching during August and September will ensure the survival of your colony next year. So you need to make sure that your queen comes back into lay. How are you going to do this? Well the first thing that you must do is create space in the brood box for your queen to lay eggs! Go through and remove the outer frames of stores. Put them in your extractor and spin out the honey. Then, replace them into the brood box in a central position. This will artificially create the necessary space for your queen to start doing her job. If your Queen has started to lay but the brood box is chogged up with too many frames of stores then these spun out combs can be placed next to the brood nest.

In addition if you have a new queen who seems reluctant to come into lay it is always a good idea to give her a frame of eggs or young larvae as this will often kick start her into laying. If you do this one week, the likelihood is that the next week she will be on that frame adding eggs around the edge of the brood nest. You can then stop panicking!

Just remember the bees know better than we do but you can help the situation by doing what I have suggested above.

Malcolm Wilkie 3rd August 2018

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