Is my queen failing?
As fall approaches it is important to evaluate the performance of your queen. With a dwindling supply of natural pollen, a queen will begin laying your “winter bees” which are crucial for the colony to survive the winter.
What are the indications that my queen may be failing? One of the first signs is a spotty brood pattern*. Typically, you begin to see drone caps in worker size cells. The indicates the queen is running out of sperm and is laying unfertilized eggs. (It is important to note if the bees are putting nectar in the brood chamber that can also give a spotty pattern. We will address this at the end of this blog.)
It does not happen every time, but it is not uncommon for a failing queen to begin laying multiple eggs in a cell. This could give the appearance that you have a laying worker but since there is a queen in the hive, you know that is not the case. These eggs will not mature, and the workers will remove them. You may also begin to see queen cups and supersedure cells. At this time of year, you will need to remove them if you plan to re-queen the hive. By the first of September, there is not enough time or enough drones for the queen to get mated and starting to lay.
If the colony is strong enough for you to consider saving it, you basically have two options, combine this hive with another queen right hive or secure a mated queen and replace the failing one. In either case, the failing queen needs to be eliminated. It is more difficult to get a queen accepted in the fall, so it is a good idea to put the new queen into the hive initially without exposing the candy. If there are not enough bees to feed new eggs, you may consider adding a frame of brood and nurse bees. After a few days, check to see if the bees appear ok with the new queen. If yes, expose the candy (remove the cork from the candy end or open the jzbz cap) so they can release her. Check in about a week to confirm she is out and laying. Bees that emerge in September and October are your winter bees.
*If the workers are storing nectar in the brood chamber, the queen will quickly run out of room to lay. If the workers detect she has stopped laying, they may start preparing to supersede her. In the fall this will almost always end in losing the colony. Once they have started putting the nectar in the brood chamber, it is difficult to stop them. One remedy is to move the honey supers to the bottom of the hive. Since the workers have started storing the nectar as soon as they enter the hive, they will store it in the first available cell. This does not always work but it is worth the effort.