Sometimes, the bees need our help. If the hive is without a queen you may need to strengthen the hive in order for it so survive. There are a few ways to approach this problem.
Signs A Hive Is Struggling
- Examine the brood (deep) frames.
- There is a poor laying pattern in the brood box. A good pattern will resemble a football shape of brood (capped, eggs, or larvae) with honey and pollen in the corners of the frame.
- There are no eggs or larvae visible and minimal capped brood.
- There is an abundance of drone bees.
- There is a lot of empty drawn out comb in the brood box with nothing in it.
- There are not very many bees visible. Note: For an accurate read on the bee population, do your inspection in the morning (9:00’ish) or later in the evening (7:00 or after). This will allow most of the foragers to be “home” so they are included in the count.
Solutions to Build the Hive Population
You have a few options — add more bees to your hive or re-queen the hive.
Adding Bees to Your Hive
The quickest way to source an abundance of bees is to look at your strongest hive. In your strongest hive, look in the brood box (the deep box) and locate a frame with an abundance of capped brood on BOTH sides of a frame. You do not want a frame that has any larvae or eggs or uncapped brood. Pull that frame and shake the bees back into the hive. Lightly spray that frame on both sides with a mixture of sugar water and Honey Bee Healthy. This will scent the frame enough that the weaker hive will not not pick up on the queen’s pheromone from the stronger hive.
In the weak hive, remove one of the brood frames — preferably the weakest looking one. Gently spray down the tops of the remaining brood frames with the sugar water and Honey Bee Healthy mixture. This will help distract the bees long enough for you to introduce the new frame to their hive. Close up the hive and place a feeder on the hive. The bees will need to be fed even during a nectar flow until the hive is thriving again.
The school of thought here is that the capped brood is perfectly capable of surviving on its own until the baby bees emerge. When they emerge, they will serve the queen of whichever hive they are born in to, so there is no reason they would try to reject her. However, if you use a frame that has uncapped brood (e.g. eggs and/or larvae visible), the weak hive will use those cells and build out their own queen. This is okay, however, if the hive is weak, there may not be enough bees to maintain the hive long enough for the queen to be mated and start laying.
If the hive is really weak and you have multiple strong hives, you might consider pulling several capped brood frames from other strong hives to build your hive’s bee population. Remember, a weak hive cannot defend itself from predators so it is important to promote strong hives whenever you can.
Re-Queen the Hive
If your hive is weak, you may determine that in addition to building up the bee population, you are going to also replace — or re-queen — the hive. If this is the case, you MUST locate the queen and remove her from the hive entirely. Not removing the old queen will almost certainly result in the death of any new queen you introduce. Once the decision is made to remove the old queen, make sure you have the new queen in your possession the day you eliminate the old one. The worst case scenario is that you destroy the queen and then cannot locate a new queen. It happens!
Although we can write a really good article on re-queening your hive, Master Beekeeper Charlotte has an excellent article on How to Requeen a Hive — The Best Techniques. Most beekeepers in our club use the Indirect method she describes in this article.
After installing a new queen be patient. Sometimes it can take up to a week for her to start laying. Good luck!