How to Help a Colony With a Drone Laying Queen
A major part of keeping honey bees is maintaining a good queen bee in your production hives. To ensure future generations of worker bees routine inspections are necessary. Is your hive filled with only drone brood – even though you have a queen? Most colonies are doomed without intervention – how can you fix a drone laying queen hive?
While there are several techniques you might explore, the easiest way to get a drone laying queen hive back on the path to success is to combine it with a good hive.
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 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 likely to be successful.
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.
Combining A Drone Laying Queen Colony
An earlier hive inspection had verified the existence of a drone laying queen in one of my hives. A nice older queen was present and it was Spring time with a nectar flow on.
All of the other hives had all stages of bee brood. Only this hive had a problem.
Every occupied brood cell held a drone pupa. The colony is doomed to failure without beekeeper intervention.
There are 2 conditions that cause only drone brood to be produced: a drone laying queen and laying workers.
During mating, queen bees store semen inside their body. There is a finite amount of sperm available. If the queen lives long enough, she may run out and become unable to fertilize eggs.
No Sign of Laying Workers
Laying workers develop after a colony has been without a good queen for a period of time. The queen and brood normally 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.
Laying workers are female just like the queen. However, they can not mate and can only produce unfertilized eggs. Any brood produced will be drone brood.
It is almost impossible to identify laying workers. Also, a colony with this problem tends to have more than 1.
A mature queen bee lays 1 egg in each brood cell. Laying workers have a tendency to lay more than one egg in each cell.
It is also common to find eggs attached to the sidewall of the cells. There is no sign of this in my colony.
Bees Can Not Replace the Queen
When a queen fails and lays only unfertilized (male) eggs, the colony can not make a new queen.
Queens are females so a fertilized egg is necessary to produce a worker or queen bee.
In time, there will not be enough bees left in the hive to sustain the colony.
Replacing the Queen Bee
If the problem is count early while the colony still has a good population of workers, requeening is an option.
Open the colony and find the failed queen. She may be an old queen that has simply ran out of stored semen. Or, perhaps she is a younger queen who was not properly mated – either way, she needs to go.
Remove her from the hive, or kill her and leave her body inside the box. Then, a new mated queen could be introduced to the colony.
Without finding the failed queen, (see sometimes even Master Beekeepers cant find their queen) any queen placed in the colony may be killed.
I don’t want to take that risk emotionally or financially. (Queens aren’t cheap) If I can not find the queen, a hive combine is the best recourse.
Combining 2 Hives
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.
Any laying workers in the group will be suppressed by the pheromones of normal brood in the newly combined colony.
I am working with 2 hives. They will be combined into 1.
- The bottom deep is the colony with the drone laying queen. I place a couple of sheets of newspaper lightly sprayed with sugar water on the top bars.
- The new deep with the queen right colony sits on the newspaper. So I have 2 deeps in place.
- 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.
Hive Inspection Recheck
The sheets of newspaper between the two deeps and will allow the 2 different bee families to slowly become introduced. This should result in less fighting and enable me to end up with one viable colony.
In a couple of weeks I will take the hive apart – condense all the good frames of brood, honey and pollen.
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.
I will replace the food super (shallow) on top to provide winter food for the colony.
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.