Queenless in Late Fall
By: Blake Shook
It goes without saying, there’s never a good time to be queenless - but late fall or winter is the worst time! Suppliers are no longer offering queens and let’s face it – drones are all but gone and “queen season” is over!
What do you do?
First, verify the colony is actually queenless. Depending on what part of the country you are in, queens either completely stop laying in the fall or will at least dramatically reduce laying. If you are in an area that typically remains above freezing during the winter and has more days than not in the 60's and 70's, your queen may lay year around, although at a much-reduced rate during the late fall and early winter. In those warm areas, zero eggs or larva is a sure sign that your hive is in fact queenless.
For the rest of the country, queens normally fully shut down. That being the case, if your hive has a healthy population and the queen was laying until the weather cooled, she just shut down for the winter. If you have more than one hive, and the other hives are rearing a lot of brood, but one hive is not, it is most likely queenless. When it comes to starting & stopping brood rearing, most strong hives follow roughly the same patterns.
If after reading this information, you are convinced that your hive is indeed queenless, you have a few options:
If the hive has at least 7-8 frames covered with bees or better, you can try to save it. If it has less than 7 frames of bees, combine it with another hive if possible. That late in the year they can't raise their own queen since there are virtually no drones left to mate with. So, you can do one of two things.
1) Look for queen breeders in CA, FL, or HI who may still have queens for sale, even late in the fall. If that doesn't work...
2) Just leave the hive be. If you have other hives - once they have a few frames of brood in the early spring, give the queenless hive a frame or two of brood and a new queen as early as you can find a new queen for sale. For southern states, you can often give them brood in late February or early March and they may be able to raise their own queen and have sufficient drones available before you can find a mated queen to purchase.