When would be the latest to remove the old queen?

Q. I live in Broken Arrow, OK. When would be latest to remove the current queen to allow bees to create a new queen and expect proper mating? —K. Sinclair

A. We caught up with Kentucky senior beekeeper Joe Taylor to answer this one, who summarized with “as long as there are still plenty of drones of a mating age, you should be good.”

“When is too late” varies by area and current weather conditions. Joe was quick to answer “July,” but then noted “unless there are plenty of drones later than that.”

There’s a couple of things to keep in mind though. If your area is experiencing a drought, the available drone population might fall off quickly. And, if you’re allowing bees to create a new queen, that’s a substantial break in the brood cycle. By the time the new queen starts laying, and those bees emerge and start foraging—is there enough time for the colony to build up sufficient stores and population to overwinter?

Another consideration is the risk of losing that virgin queen. Will she return from her mating flight, or become intimate with the belly of a bird? Do it early enough in the season to give yourself options if she doesn’t successfully mate or return from mating.

Joe added, “If you made a nuc with the old queen, you could combine again if something goes wrong.”

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