By Blake Shook
What Time of Year Should I Requeen?
Quick answer: Spring is generally preferable for requeening but with the right approach anytime from April to September can be successful.
For starters you have to be able to buy a queen. Since queens are typically available for purchase only from April to September you are pretty limited to requeening during those months. Hives most readily accept new queens when there is a natural honey and pollen flow or you are feeding the hive. If you requeen in April or May they will naturally be more inclined to accept the queen since most regions have a decent pollen and nectar flow by then. This is also the most common time in the industry to requeen.
If you want to maximize your honey crop it is best to requeen as far in advance as possible before the primary honey flow begins to let the hive recover and rebound before the flow starts. I recommend requeening four to six weeks before the main flow if possible.
However requeening in June to September can also be effective and queens may be cheaper and more available. Plus, you don't have to disrupt your hive and the growing process right before the honey flow. The downside to postharvest requeening is that hives do have the potential to be very large at this time of year making finding the old queen more difficult. Also, the nectar flow that we enjoyed in the spring and that helps encourage queen acceptance is no longer present.
The upside of early fall requeening is that the new queen gives the hive a burst of new brood going into the winter months. Note: If you do requeen when there is little to no nectar flow, be sure to feed your bees a week before and after adding the new queen to help simulate a nectar flow. Using an internal feeder is highly recommended during a period of dearth as the odds of robbing are much greater.
Marked vs. Unmarked Queens: What's Better?
Quick answer: If you struggle to find queens, getting a queen marked is ideal.
This is largely a question of preference. It doesn't generally hurt a queen to get her marked, but it does cost extra since beekeepers have to find the queen, pick her up, and mark her. It is far easier to find a queen once she has been marked! If you are a long-time beekeeper and don't have any trouble finding a queen, it's not necessary. But if you are new, finding a queen can be very frustrating and a mark can make all the difference in the world!
If you are an experienced beekeeper, you can mark your own queen using a marking pen. Gently pick her up between your pointer finger and thumb and carefully paint her thorax. Hold her for about 20 seconds while the paint dries and then place her back on the frame. It's not uncommon for workers to remove the dot or portions of it over time. Practice on drones first (since they don't have stingers!) to get comfortable with marking queens.
Is Clipping a Queen's Wings Good or Bad?
Quick answer: Bad.
I don't recommend buying queens with clipped wings nor do I recommend clipping the wings of a queen. The theory is that it will prevent a hive from swarming since the queen cannot fly away with the swarm. However, when a hive really wants to swarm, they will crawl away on the ground with the queen! Plus, a clipped queen is seen by the bees as defective and is more prone to be replaced or not accepted at all by the bees.