Introducing Queens Using Queen Cells & Smoker Safety

Thursday 27 August 2020

As we continue an exceptionally dry summer, there are burn restrictions in many parts of our region. Therefore, smokers must be used carefully especially in drought conditions. To remind beekeepers of best practices related to smoker safety, we have prepared a short piece for this week's blog. Our series on introducing queens continues with the 4th segment being on the use of queen cells as well as an additional list of methods to introduce a new queen.

Introducing Queens Using Queen Cells

An alternative to re-queening with mated queens is using queen cells to replace aging or unproductive queens. Queen cells have the advantage of being much less expensive than mated queens, but because the queens have to emerge from the cell and go on mating flights prior to laying eggs, there is a period of non-productivity for the colony. Also, there is the risk that virgins won’t return from their mating flights or that the queen cell will be damaged. In addition, a mated queen should have previously been evaluated for its laying prowess and bred following a selective breeding program. However, queen cells can also be from selected grafts and the acceptance of queens from cells may be higher than foreign caged queens. The same procedure as described in previous blogs is followed when adding queen cells with the addition of a two week waiting period to check for queen acceptance. Good record keeping is important so the emergence time for the virgin queens is known. 

Other methods

There are many other methods of introducing queens and a vast collection of equipment to help beekeepers with this task. A push-in cage is a very popular method as it allows the new queen to start laying eggs immediately. It does, however, require some extra handling of the queen, but some beekeepers find greater acceptance using this method.

To use a push-in cage:

• Brush the bees off the comb and place the push-in cage over an area with empty cells, some emerging brood cells, and open nectar 

• Remove the queen from the transport cage and place her under the push-in cage. Make sure no other bees are under the cage or can get under the cage. Also, make sure the cage isn’t pushed too far into the comb that the queen is too close to the hive bees so they could harm her 

• Remove the push-in cage after 3-4 days or when the bees are no longer clinging to the cage.

Additional methods of queen introduction may include: dumping all the bees out in front of a hive while adding the queen in the mix, dunking the queen in water, use of butler cages and frames specifically designed for queen introduction.

As with all beekeeping practices, finding a method that works for your operation is fundamental to having a successful and productive apiary.

Smoker Safety

Smokers are used to disrupt the defensive behavior of bees, facilitating hive inspections with less aggression and stings. Some safety rules to follow when using a smoker:

· Choose your fuel smoker fuel ahead of time so you don’t end up using an unnatural fuel source. Smoker fuel should be easy to light, burn slowly, and produce abundant cool smoke. Burlap, wood pellets, cotton fiber, straw, twigs, dried leaves, or herbs are all natural materials that can be used as smoker fuel. Avoid synthetic material!

· Smokers should be lit on the ground free of combustible material, in a fireproof container (a metal bucket), or on a fireproof surface.

· The fuel should be lit within the smoker taking special care on windy days. 

· Keep water or fire extinguisher within reach.

· When the smoker is not being operated, it should be placed in a fireproof container.

· Never leave your smoker unattended.


· Never dump your smoker out on the ground with combustible material, such as in a field. If you need to dump the contents before transporting, find some bare ground or a fireproof container and douse the contents with water. Never leave smoldering fuel unattended.

· Transport your smoker in a fireproof container after it has cooled. Never transport your smoker in the cab of a vehicle unless it is empty of all fuel and cooled.

· Smokers are considered fires in the open, so be aware of any fire bans in your area.

· An alternative to using a smoker is spraying the bees with a light sugar syrup. Bees will occupy themselves licking up the sweetness and be less aggressive.

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