Weybridge Winter Meeting, Whats’s going wrong with our queens? A talk by Roger Patterson Wednesday 10th March (virtual)

I received this report from Anne, prefaced by the following:

‘The queen we’ve got are failing, we don’t know why, there is little point replacing them as the new ones might be duds as well. If I can’t get them through the winter because the queen fails, what exactly am I supposed to do?’

Having experienced a range of queen problems over the last few years – missing queens, queens stopping laying, quenelles hives refusing to make queen cells from test frames, I was interested to hear Roger’s views.

Roger introduced himself as a ‘practical beekeeper’ not a scientist, and has been keeping bees for over 54 years. During this time he has seen extreme changes in queen longevity. He saw the golden age of queens prior to 1990, when queen rearing, and life expectancy was relatively easy and they lasted several years and superseded naturally. Now due to many causes successful queen rearing is proving increasingly problematic.

He accepted that the problems could happen naturally, but the levels of failure were not natural.

In the past queens typically lived 3-5 years: swarmed 0-3 times in their life time and were superseded naturally at the end of a season (July – September). Queen failure used to be in spring.

Now queen cells are not always resulting in laying queens, young queens are being superseded and queens are failing or disappearing.

These cannot all be the fault of the weather or birds taking queens on mating flights.

Roger went on to describe new queens with deformed wings (not the result of Deformed Wing Virus) which means they could not fly to mate, so could not raise new workers, queens who laid drones peppered in amongst worker cells, queens being superseded almost as soon as their first brood was sealed and those that suddenly stopped laying. Queen cells are increasingly being found on stores frames are taking longer to emerge. Swarms are often failing, or have virgin queens.

The reasons may be many, including varroa or the treatment we are giving them; research is needed.

Roger encouraged us to do full inspections all the time to be alert to queen cells anywhere in the colony, to keep good records and to look for eggs at every inspection. He encouraged running extra colonies so a spare queen was available and to raise double the number of queens you need to cover failures. he did not recommend re-queening every year, as you could not guarantee that the new queen would be any better than the old one.

Roger warmly recommended making use of his books and of Dave Cushman’s website, which Roger now maintains and updates.

The talk was followed by questions and answers and the complete meeting can be seen in full (details below).

Thank you to Roger for the talk, Marion for arranging it and the techno wizards behind the scenes for thematic that is Zoom.

Anne Miller

Thank you Anne for this report.

Her emails ends like this:

‘I’m off to find a new hobby …’, but it’s good to report that she’s not.

This was truly an excellent meeting. It was far from yet another repeat of the ‘same old stuff’, and as Anne writes above, it was all from Roger’s own observations and personal experience. The attendance was disappointing. Do consider listening to it on the link shown if you were not there. Andrew has sent this note:

I have put Roger Patterson’s talk on ”Queen failure” on You Tube as an unlisted video, or rather two videos, that can be accessed through the links below. The jinx on recording Weybridge division talks struck again. With Matthew Ingram’s talk in February, the ‘record’ button was not turned on until about half way through the talk. Matthew very kindly repeated the missing part for us.

About three quarters of the way through Roger’s talk, I noticed that the light that shows recording is taking place had gone off – don’t know why. I was able to restart in less than a minute so very little was lost.

Roger Patterson’s Queen failure talk Part 1

Roger Patterson’s Queen failure talk Part 2

Andrew Halstead