Should I be Worried About Practice Queen Cups?
Should I Replace a Two-Year-Old Queen?
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Lou Sutton writes:
Good afternoon. I only have one hive, and they are doing well. However, the queen is two years old and I’m worried about how to deal with her age. There is no sign of swarming, but there were two play queen cups when I looked a few days ago. There is a lot of advice on taking a frame from another hive with new eggs but since I don’t have another hive, what should I do?
Congrats on getting a queen to two years old! In this day and age, that’s no small feat.
If I’m understanding you correctly — and please let me know if I’m not hitting the mark — you’re concerned it’s time to replace your queen but you’re uncertain of the best approach. If that’s the case, here are my thoughts.
First off, if her laying pattern is still good, the colony population is to your liking, and the workers haven’t tried to replace her yet, you could consider just leaving her in there. I recently had a hive that finally replaced their original queen after three years. Maybe she’s got one more winter in her!
You mentioned you saw queen cups. As you suggested, that may or may not mean they are getting ready to replace her themselves. All colonies keep those “practice” cups around at all times. If the cups have no egg or larva, then they aren’t being used.
If they are replacing her, depending on where you live, you may be coming to the end of the season for a hive-raised queen. I’m in Colorado and I’d be really nervous about letting one of my colonies make their own queen late in the season. So another option would be to buy a young, mated queen either locally or mail-order. If you buy a mated queen you can kill the current queen and do a normal queen introduction (in the cage for a couple/three days, then release).
Even if they are making a new queen, you could do this but the timing is critical — you’ll want to introduce the new, mated queen BEFORE the virgin queens they are raising emerge. In fact, once you introduce the new queen you should remove any actual queen cells.
That said, if they are making their own new queen this may not work. Bees are stubborn and once they decide to do something, often they do it no matter what. If they stick to their guns, the virgin queen they raise will kill your nice new mated queen and you’ll be out the cash it cost you to buy her.
I hope this helps! Let us know what other questions you have,