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Far too many valuable queens are lost through poor introduction techniques and as this is such a vital part of apiary management, it deserves a clear guide to help avoid these losses.

It is always preferable to introduce queens to a nucleus, rather than attempting introduction to a strong colony. Firstly, in the mid afternoon when the bulk of the flying bees are out of the hive, take two combs with capped and emerging brood, and place one comb of stores (honey and pollen) on each side, making 4 combs total, plus a dummy board. If the number of young bees seems small, shake more bees from combs with brood to increase the numbers, then place the nucleus in its new site, when the bulk of the flying bees in it will return to the original site. You want young bees in the nucleus, as they are more likely to accept a new queen than flying bees will. Do make absolutely certain that you do not have the old queen in your nucleus. If you cannot find her, then shake all the bees from the 4 combs you are intending using into the original brood chamber, then put a queen excluder on and put the combs in a new box above the excluder and put the cover on. The bees will move up, and you will be able to use the nucleus within a matter of a few hours. It is vital that you do not take a nucleus from a hive that shows any sign of swarm preparation, or has a queen cell present – if you do, the nucleus will kill off the queen you are trying to introduce – check the parent colony with meticulous care!

Leave the nucleus for up to 2 hours (until the early evening) to create a state of distress upon the loss of their queen. Spray all 4 combs of bees with thin sugar syrup together with a few drops of vanilla essence; then, having removed all the attendant bees from the queen cage, remove the flap to expose the candy and place the queen cage in the centre of the brood nest, candy end uppermost, and do not touch for at least 5 days – if you do, the bees could well ball the queen!

If you consider that your bees are particularly homicidal, then the following method could be used:

Home-made 4” square softwood cage; three sides 9/16” x 3/8”, one side 9/16” x 11/4” with two 5/16” holes, one with queen excluder. Two face bars fitted to maintain bee space between facing comb.


Follow the same preparation procedures outlined above, but use the cage illustrated above instead of the travel-cage. Firstly, half-fill the queen excluder hole with candy, and fill the queen escape hole fully with candy. Spray bees with thin sugar syrup together with a few drops of vanilla essence before placing the queen cage in the nucleus. Clear a space on brood comb with emerging brood, and press the cage containing only the new queen into the comb, plugged holes uppermost. Leave for at least 5 days without disturbance, when you can remove the cage. You will need to leave the nucleus hive for at least 3 weeks before re-uniting with the parent colony (do not forget to remove the old queen first!). 

Finally, make sure that your movements and handling are very slow, quiet and with no jarring. Contrary to many suggestions that it is bee ‘pheromone’ that controls acceptance of queens, it is in fact the behavioural state of both the worker bees and, more importantly, the queen. A calm laying queen, in its second year of laying, can replace another queen without any problems by merely gently placing it in the position where the old queen was laying, having removed the old queen. A young mated queen, not yet laying, is very nervous indeed; just opening the hive before it is settled can cause it to be attacked by the workers, so it is vital that the above guidelines are followed most carefully to help ensure success.

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