Queen Bee Failure

We’ve all been there.  While checking each hive in the bee yard there is often one or two hives that just aren’t performing like all the rest.  You decide to dig a little deeper in the hive by pulling out multiple frames from the brood box.  Your frustration grows as you can’t find any eggs, or worse, frames full of scattered, bulged out drone brood.  You ask yourself “what happened to the queen?”

Queen bee failure is often the biggest challenge beekeepers face during the intense spring work when they are engulfed by the tidal wave of nucs, splits, package hives, swarms and orchard moves.  With the limited time a sideline beekeeper has it is difficult to decide the most effective approach in handling this issue.

For years I felt that the easiest way to tackle this problem of under-performing queens was to make extra nucs.  I usually calculate, on average, I will loose five to eight percent of my hives through the summer months.  With running a 500 hive operation, adding the additional nucs would require I build my hive numbers up to approximately 540 by the end of spring.  Throughout the summer months I never worried about re-queening.  When I found a drone layer hive I would shake the bees out and use the equipment somewhere else.  By September my hive count would be back down close to 500 again.

This year is different.  For starters, the number of hives with queen failure is much higher.  As I look over my hive numbers I determined that the package hives and nucs that were made in April had twelve percent queen failure.  The package hives that I installed in mid May had an eight percent failure.  While working through my overwintered hives this past Saturday, I discovered that about ten percent of those are having queen issues.

In my attempts to remedy this situation I was able to have some new queens shipped in and other hives I simply installed a frame full of eggs from a nearby hive in hopes they will successfully create a new queen.  I have marked the hives and will be checking for the new queens in the coming weeks.

In speaking with other beekeepers I know that I’m not alone with the increased queen failures.  Some of the problems stem from poor weather in April which caused difficulty in getting the queens mated properly.  The package hive and queen bee suppliers were overwhelmed this year with orders.  It is a difficult task trying to meet ship dates when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Possible Causes for Queen Bee Failure

  • Stress from varroa mites
  • Chemical residue in wax
  • Pesticide stored in Pollen
  • Poor mating
  • Genetics
  • Disease
  • Old age

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