There are books devoted to this subject so this is only intended as a guide for successfully introducing queen bees.
A practical knowledge of honey bees and beekeeping is presumed.
Unless all conditions are perfect, introducing queen bees is a notoriously hit and miss affair.
Success rates are dependant on many variables such as the state of the colony, the state of the weather, the state of the queen and forage availability.
Some of this is under the beekeeper’s control so success rates can be increased but even if all the conditions were perfect a successful introduction cannot be guaranteed.
First ensure the colony receiving the queen is queenless and without queen cells.
The presence of a queen or queen cell is the most common reason for failure.
Do not presume your colony is queenless because you can see no brood.
If your colony was making its own new queen, she can take 3 - 4 weeks after emergence to start laying, they are not always quick so be patient.
Insert a Test Comb to confirm queenlessness. A Test Comb is a comb containing newly hatched larvae from another colony - this is just one good reason to maintain a minimum of two colonies. Check the comb after 3 days. If the colony is queenless, there will be queen cells being constructed. If the colony has a queen, there will be no queen cells.
Note that the only time this test does not work is when the colony has only just swarmed when there might be a newly emerged queen but the colony continues to construct queen cells in any case.
In the absence of a good nectar flow, queen introduction is more successful if the colony is fed 50% syrup prior to and during the introduction process.
It has also been shown that the success rate is increased if the queen is introduced to young workers. These ‘nurse' bees will feed a new queen but older bees are likely to attack her.
The success rate is further increased if the queen is in a state of laying eggs or ‘in lay’. Queen bees that have been sent in the post are, naturally, ‘off lay’.
Some of the above conditions can be satisfied by creating a small nucleus colony, taken from the hive to be requeened and placed next to the hive. Older flying bees will fly back to the hive ensuring that only younger bees remain in the nucleus. The queen can be introduced to the nucleus and the nucleus placed back in the hive after the queen has been accepted and is laying.
It is recommended to introduce the queen as soon as possible after receiving her but the queen and attendants can survive for several days in the queen cage.
If a delay before introduction is necessary, place a small piece of tissue soaked in water in contact with the mesh of the cage. Keep the cage in the dark in a warm room, 20-25ºC, replenishing the water on the tissue as necessary.
If all the above conditions have been met a 'quick' introduction method can be used.
Break away and remove the tab on the end of the queen cage to expose the fondant and provide access for the bees.
Place, hang or wedge the cage horizontally between two combs close to the brood and the centre of the cluster so the cage entrance and mesh sides of the cage are exposed allowing at least a bee space around the cage. The bees in the hive will familiarise themselves with the queen and attendants through the mesh.
They will eat their way through the sugar paste or marshmallow to release the queen over the next day or two and she will start laying in a day or two after that.
It is advisable to leave the colony undisturbed for at least a week before checking that the queen has been accepted, the cage can then be removed.
If the queen is to be introduced to a colony which has eggs or young brood the following 'slow' introduction method can be used.
In this case the protective tab on the queen cage is left in place so bees in the hive cannot gain access to the queen.
After 5-7 days thoroughly check for and remove any queen cells that may have been started. The bees will then be unable to produce any queens from the old brood that is left.
Remove the tab on the queen cage and proceed as above.
Alternatively, the Queen Introduction Cage can be used which mimics the nucleus introduction method above.
In one corner of the cage there is a peg which blocks the entrance to the space that must be filled with sugar paste or marshmallow.
Break away and remove the peg to expose the fondant and provide access for the bees.
Find a comb containing emerging bees, from another colony if necessary. Shake or brush off all the bees. Release the queen onto the comb where bees are emerging preferably in an area of the comb that also contains pollen cells but it is not essential. Immediately place the cage over the queen, pushing the cage spikes securely into the comb so there are no gaps between the cage and comb. Alternatively, push the cage onto the comb first and then introduce the queen through the capped hole. Replace the comb in the hive ensuring there is a bee space between the cage and neighbouring comb. Emerging bees in the cage will immediately start to tend the queen and at the same time provide empty cells for the queen to lay eggs. Within 2 days the sugar paste or marshmallow should have been eaten away by the hive bees and the queen will be released already ‘in lay’ although it is advisable to leave the colony undisturbed for at least a week before checking that the queen has been accepted, the cage can then be removed.