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What to do With a Drone Laying Queen Hive

Every experience beekeeper knows that without a good queen – you don’t have much. Even the best colony of honey bees can not survive without one. With a productive queen, future generations of worker bees are always in the works. Then, a routine inspection reveals only drone brood – now what? Seeing only drone brood in a hive with a queen present is a problem. Most colonies are doomed without intervention – how can you fix a drone laying queen hive?

Drone brood in a beehive image.

You Have a Drone Laying Queen – Now What?

How to Save a Colony with a Drone Laying Queen

There are several different ways to deal with a hive full of drone brood. The one you choose depends on your preference and the current condition of the colony. Also, the resources you have to work with.

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  • give the drone layer hive a new queen
  • add resources for bees to make their own queen
  • combine the colony with a queen right hive

Replace the Drone Layer Hive Queen with a New One

Any colony that has only been producing drones for a while will be low on worker population. This creates an imbalance in the hive.

Worker bees do not live for very long. A new generation must be constantly emerging or colony population starts to drop.

If you catch the problem while the bee population is still good, you may be able to give your bees a new queen.

This can be as simple as finding the old queen and removing her. Then, purchase a new queen and place her (in a queen cage) in the hive.

After requeening the hive, check back in a couple of weeks to be sure the new queen is accepted and laying.

picture of bees in a hive what to do with a drone layer hive

Give the Hive Resources to Make Their Own Queen

In the warm season, there is another way to help a drone laying queen problem. This is the advantage of having more than 1 beehive – you can share resources.

Remove the poor queen from the hive and give them a frame with fresh eggs. Or very tiny larva – worker brood.

This allows the colony to make a new queen for themselves. This only works well if the problem hive has a strong population of bees.

Worker bees do all the tasks that sustain life in the colony. If the colony has been in trouble for a while – giving them eggs to raise a new queen is not as likely to be successful.

Combine the Drone Layer Colony with Another

One of the easiest ways to get a drone laying queen hive back on the path to success is to combine it with a good hive.

A honey bee colony full of drones is running out of time. Yet, if the hive still has a fair population of bees – perhaps they can be saved and become part of another productive colony.

In situations where no queen is available to purchase and no frame of bee eggs is available, combining may be the only option to save the workers in the failing hive.

How to Combine 2 Beehives

Combining a drone laying colony with an established queen right hive is a viable option. This is true whether you have laying workers or just a failing queen.

If the old failing queen is still present, the workers in the queen right colony will kill her. Though I often remove her myself if possible.

Any laying workers in the group will be suppressed by the pheromones of normal brood in the newly combined colony.

Drone laying queen hive combine. Carolina Honeybees

Steps to Combine Hives With Newspaper

  1. The bottom deep is the colony with the drone laying queen.   I placed a couple of sheets of newspaper lightly sprayed with sugar water on the top bars.
  2. The new deep with the queen right colony sits on the newspaper.  So I have 2 deeps in place – temporarily.
  3. I want to leave my shallow super (that I will use for winter feed (from the drone layer colony) on the colony as well.  So, I place a few more sheets of  damp newspaper on top of the 2nd deep and finally the food super.

This leaves me with drone laying colony on the bottom, one queen right deep on top of that, and 1 shallow super (with some bees from the drone laying colony) on top.

In the next few days the bees will eat through the newspaper and work things out. I had a special situation where I could not move my hive and had a shallow box as well.

In most cases, it does not matter if you have the drone laying colony or the queen right colony on the bottom. The important thing is to have a layer or two of newspaper between the boxes.

Hive Inspection Recheck in 2 Weeks

The sheets of newspaper between the two deeps will allow the 2 different bee families to slowly become introduced.  This should result in less fighting and result in one viable colony.

In a couple of weeks I will take the hive apart – condense all the good frames of brood, honey and pollen into 1 box. .

I will remove one of the deeps because I just don’t like to run 2 deeps. And, I may not have a population large enough (right now) to cover all those frames.

This process requires some time, some work and a little luck.  However, I will go into winter with 1 strong queen right colony instead of 2 small colonies.  

Failing Queen or Laying Workers

There are 2 conditions that result in the production of solely drone brood.

  • the queen bee has run out of semen
  • laying workers are present

During mating, a queen honey bee mates with 12-20 drone bees. Their semen is stored inside her body in a special organ called a spermatheca.

There is a finite amount of sperm available. If the queen lives long enough, she may run out of semen and become unable to fertilize eggs.

Also, a queen bee that was poorly mated due to poor flight weather or lack of drones may become a drone laying queen at a young age. No semen means she can not lay fertilized eggs that become workers.

Evidence of Laying Workers

In a hive with no worker brood and cells containing multiple eggs, laying workers are a possibility. Eggs produced by laying workers are often attached to the side of the wax cell instead of the bottom.

Laying workers develop after a colony has been without a good queen for a period of time. Both the queen bee and the bee brood emit pheromones that help regulate colony life. 

If a colony is without worker brood for several weeks, some of the worker bees begin to lay eggs. Laying workers can only produce unfertilized eggs – drones.

A Final Word of What to Do With a Drone Layer

These are only a couple of ways to deal with a colony containing only drone brood. There are many ways to manage bees and each beekeeper has a favorite. One thing is certain. What to do with a drone layer queen hive is up to the beekeeper, but you must do something – otherwise the hive will die.

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14 Comments

  1. Sue Holden says:

    I so needed this advice! I have just looked at my three hives and one is full of drone lay. The old queen, my first ever hive, has either died or become infertile. I am now planning to reintegrate this colony (which swarmed earlier this year) with the new queen from that original al hive, using the paper as you suggest. Wish me luck. If I do not do this they will just die out. Can you advise what I can do with the old bottom box full of drone lay? I will read your advice again to see if I just missed something. Many thanks.

  2. It may sound heartless but if you could freeze those drone frames, it would kill any varroa mites inside. You could then feed the larva to chickens or eventually put the frames back on the hive for the bees to clean.

  3. Sue Holden says:

    If the frames are really covered with drone lay, and I try to re-use them, would this frame be useful in a normal hive? Might the larger drone cups encourage the laying of drones On these frames? I will do the freezer trick anyway! Sounds a good idea. Thanks. Sue.

  4. Normally, when a colony has a queen failure – they raise drones in worker cups. Some these drones are a bit smaller than normal. I would not be worried about it unless it is a real mess.

  5. Sherman pillis says:

    I read Charlotte s recipe for a drone laying hive. I have a Queen less hive. I tried to introduce a new queen in the queen less hive and the queen less hive tried to kill the new queen. I don’t want to risk loosing a queen right hive. To save the queen less hive. I will add some frames of brood from a good hive to the queenless hive and hope for a miracle.

  6. Requeening a hive is not that difficult but it is not always a guaranteed thing either. We are taking a stranger and putting her in charge. The longer a hive remains queenless, the more difficult it may be to requeen. If a queenless colony killed a new caged queen, I would wonder if they are indeed queenless. Perhaps there is a bad queen in there. When combining a queenless colony and queen right colony – I make sure the queen right colony has at least 5 frames of bees. With the queen frame in the middle and her other frames on the sides of her – I have never lost a queen. But there is a first time for everything. Frames of brood may encourage your hive to raise a new queen but only if they contains eggs or very young larva.

  7. Shannon Crouch says:

    Wow, so glad I read this! How did this turn out? This is exactly our circumstances, cant find the old marked queen here either and just drone brood. I newspaper combined our hives tonight and just happened to come across your article on you blog. I caged my queen right hive’s queen, I was a little worried since I couldnt find the other queen (pretty sure she has been gone for 16 days). Anyway, I really didnt know what else to do. This is a split recombine from April 15th, didnt appear to be a laying worker yet. Hope caging my old queen isnt problematic. Just extra precaution, probably unnecessary, but its hard to get queens now here. Great info! Thanks!

    Shan

  8. You did fine. If the queen right hive has alot of bees, they will protect their queen. But, caging her for a bit is okay too.

  9. John Bellamy says:

    I need to combine 2 hives but am concerned about the queenright hive getting too hot. At what temperature is it safe to do this?

  10. With the larger population hive on the bottom and having access to the entrance and the smaller pop on top and only 1 -2 sheets of newspaper between them, I wouldnt be too worried as long as it is not over 90 for a day.

  11. Holly Kozlowski says:

    Hi Beekeeper Charlotte,
    So not surprisingly I have a worker layer. I read your method with the queenless deep on the bottom, a queen right deep in the middle and then the top box being from the queenless hive again. This may sound like a stupid question but can I put a queen right super with a queen right medium in the middle? The point is there will be an extra medium….would that be an issue? I am hoping to do this tomorrow morning and want to feel confident in my steps. Thanks so much for sharing your experience.
    Holly

  12. That should work fine. Many beekeepers place the queenless hive on top and honestly I’ve done it both ways.

  13. patricia mawby says:

    My queen less hive was given a frame of eggs and young larvae and they just stored over the whole frame.

  14. That can happen – especially if the colony has been queenless for a while. I would probably combine them with another hive or if you have a decent population and see no signs of laying workers – you might find a mated queen to buy.

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