What to do when your hive is queen-less

Hive inspections can be fun, intriguing, painful and sometimes alarming. When you discover that one of your hives has no eggs, older brood, or any other sign of a queen, it’s easy to panic and go into red alert!

Here are steps that you can take if you find yourself in red alert.

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queen honey bee
Queen honey bee trying to get away from the camera. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

The 3 things you can do when your hive is queen-less

The first thing to do is not to panic. The second thing to do is go through this list carefully and assess your particular situation. And believe me, I understand exactly how you feel.

First thing: Your hive may not actually be queen-less

I have often come across a colony without brood. Sometimes the hive is clearly in distress; low population, easily agitated or wondering around the hive aimlessly, low food stores or low activity at the hive entrance. The list goes on.

And other times they are surprisingly productive. Lots of food stores, pollen and possibly even older, capped brood but no eggs and no queen.

But wait, there may be a queen but she has slowed down her laying rate. Colonies read the seasons and availability of forage.

The queen knows if she has enough food coming in or not. If there’s not, she slows down so she doesn’t have so many mouths to feed.

But even after considering these possibilities, what if your hive has no brood but otherwise looks okay?

In this case, look around for recently hatched queen cells. You can tell they’re recent because often, the cap of the queen’s cell will still be attached but flipped open like a hatch on an airlock or can of soup.

If you see this, slowly close up the hive and put things back together carefully. Most likely there was a problem with the old queen and your hive has already fixed it. But their new virgin queen hasn’t mated yet and is therefore not laying.

Give her 10 days or so, then check again.

Second thing: Buy a queen cell OR mated queen

This is definitely the ‘go to’ method that most beginners take. And I would recommend making this choice- but only if you have a single hive. If you have other beehives, don’t waste your time and money on buying a queen.

If this needs to be the option for you then do your best to find a local beekeeper and ask for their help regarding re-queening your hive.

productive honey bee colony
Hives that are this productive have a queen 99.9% of the time. I have never seen a productive, queen-less hive. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

Third thing: Fix it yourself

This method works great IF you have multiple beehives.

This is going to be easier than you think. If you find a queen-less hive, simply take a frame of young brood from one of your queen-right hives and give it to the queen-less one.

When I say a frame of ‘young’ brood, I’m talking about a frame with eggs and newly hatched larvae. These are the larvae of proper age that your hive will need to raise a new queen from.

When you grab this brood frame from your queen-right hive make sure of two things:

1- That the queen of the donating hive is not on this frame. The queen-less hive will probably kill her.

2- And next, keep the nurse bees that come on this frame. Chances are that your queen-less hive doesn’t have any young nurse bees needed to feed the larvae of the queen-to-be.

Put the new frame straight into the queen-less hive, and replace the brood frame in the queen-right hive with an empty frame.

Don’t worry about the bees of two hives fighting. Most likely they’re going to sense their mutual need for this young brood and get along just fine.

The last step is to give them time. Check back in 3 days. Carefully look for newly formed queen cells on the frame of brood.

If you see any queen cells, carefully put everything back together and leave them alone for 2 weeks, then check again, this time for a laying queen.

If you don’t see any queen cells started after 3 days, return the frame of brood to the original hive and try again.

When to not re-queen

When you find that your hive has gone ‘droney’ then it takes extra special attention to get it queen-right again.

A droney hive is a hive that no longer has a viable queen. Either she has become sterile or there is a laying worker bee. The result is a bunch of drones and very few workers.

I have successfully done this but it took several tries before they finally fixed their problem and raised a new queen.

beehive with entrance reducer
Reduce the hive entrance to help queen-less hives protect themselves. For some reason, not having a queen results in overall disorder and lack of harmony and creates a weakened hive. Photo by Jonathan Hargus©

It is only worth the effort when there are tons of bees in the hive but most of the time, droney hives are much lower in population than healthy hives.

If you find a droney hive, the best thing to do is shake the bees off of each individual frame and then stack that box on one of your strongest hives.

They will keep the comb free of wax moth and the homeless bees will sniff out and join a neighboring hive to live out the rest of their lives with.

That’s it!

Sometimes there are odd special cases that I may not of covered here. If that’s you, then feel free to comment below with your questions.

Until next time remember,

~Weeds are Wildflowers, let them Bee!~

Jonathan Hargus/Keeper of bees


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