Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ridding Your Hive of the Laying Worker Phenomenon

(Excerpt from Beekeeping for Dummies)

How to know if you have laying workers

The following are key indicators:

You have no queen. Remember that every inspection starts with a check for a healthy, laying queen. If you have lost your queen, you must replace her.

You see lots and lots of drones. A normal hive never has more than a few hundred drone bees. If you notice a big jump in the drone population, you may have a problem.

You see cells with two or more eggs. This is the definitive test. A queen bee will place only one egg in a cell -- never more than one. Laying workers are not so particular; they will place two or more eggs in a single cell. If you see more than one egg in a cell, you can be certain that you have laying worker bees. Time to take action!

Getting rid of laying workers

You may think that introducing a young and productive queen will set things right. But it won't. The laying workers will not accept a queen once they have started laying eggs. If you attempt to introduce a queen, she will be swiftly killed. GUARANTEED.

  • Before you can introduce a new queen, you need to get rid of all the laying workers. But how? They look just like all the other workers! The solution is tedious and time-consuming but 100-percent effective when done properly. You need the following items:
  • An empty deep hive body (no frames). The empty hive body will be used to temporarily hold the frames you remove from the problem hive. You will need two empty hive bodies if your problem hive consists of two deep hive bodies.
  • An outer cover.
  • A wheelbarrow or hand truck.
Follow these steps:

1. Order a new marked queen from your bee supplier.

2. The day your queen arrives, put the entire "problem" hive (bees and all, minus the bottom board) in the wheelbarrow (or in the hand truck) and move it at least 100 yards away from its original location. You'll want those spare empty hive bodies and outer covers nearby.

The bottom board stays in its original location.

3. One by one, shake every last bee off each frame and onto the grass.

Not a single bee can remain on the frame -- that bee might be a laying worker. A bee brush helps get the stubborn ones off.

4. Put each empty frames (without bees) into the spare empty hive(s) you have standing by. These should be at least 15 to 20 feet away from the shaking point.

Make sure that no bees return to these empty frames while you are doing the procedure. Use the extract outer cover to ensure that they can't sneak back to their denuded frames.

5. When you have removed every bee from every frame, use the wheelbarrow or hand truck to return the old (now bee-less) frames to the original hive bodies.

Again, just make sure that no bees sneak back onto the frames.

6. Place the hive to its original location on the bottom board, and transfer all the denuded frames from their temporary housing. So now you have the original hive bodies back at their original location, and all of the originals frames (less bees) placed back into the hive.

Some of the bees will be there waiting for you. These are the older foraging bees (not the younger laying workers). Be carefull not to squash any bees as you slide the hive back onto the bottom board.

Most of these older foraging bees will find their way back to the hive. But the young nurse bees, the ones that have been laying eggs, have never ventured out of the hive before. They will be lost in the grass where you deposited them and will never find their way back to the hive.

Now you can safely introduce your new queen.