When to Requeen a Colony

There is a lot of debate over when is a good time to requeen a honeybee colony–I’m talking about the age of the queen. The reality is, if ignored completely, a colony will eventually attempt to requeen themselves (through swarming or supersedure). This often works out just fine, as long as the swarm does not present a nuisance to someone else and the colony’s requeening process works out well (the new queen is well-mated, and the new genetics are desirable). There are also times, regardless of how often, where it is beneficial to proactively requeen a colony. For example, if you notice that the queen is damaged, is not properly mated (just drone cells), frequent colony disease issues, or ongoing issues with aggressive temperament, you might decide to requeen a colony, even with a young queen. Queens can easily live for several years, and some beekeepers take an approach to replacing every couple of years, and many others replace their queens almost every year (we fall into that category). The reasoning behind a more frequent replacement cycle has to do with predictability. While not always (100%) true, a new queen (from August or September the prior year, or spring of the current year) will be less likely to swarm and more likely to overwinter with fewer issues. An August or September queen from the prior year is ideal for those factors, plus the benefits of a very strong build-up as she reaches maturity in the spring. Others prefer to requeen if they are using southern package bees (there is an existing reputation for lower quality and rushed mating and research that suggests they may not overwinter as well). Ultimately, it is up to you, but you may eventually reach a point where introducing new genetics is a better option than random chance.

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