Two-Queen System

Two-Queen System with Russian Bees
May 23, 2007.

  "The establishment of a two-queen colony is based on the harmonious existence of two queens in a colony unit. Any system that ensures egg production of two queens in a single colony for about 2 months before the honey flow will boost honey production (Moeller 1956). The population in a two-queen colony may be twice the population of a single-queen colony. Such a colony will produce more honey and produce it more efficiently than will two single-queen colonies. A two-queen colony usually enters winter with more pollen than a single-queen colony. As a result of this pollen reserve, the two-queen colony emerges in the spring with a larger population of young bees and is thus a more ideal unit for starting another two-queen system. To operate two-queen colonies, start with strong overwintered colonies. Build them to maximum strength in early spring. Obtain young queens about 2 months before the major honey flows start. When the queens arrive, temporarily divide the colony. Replace the old queen, most of the younger brood, and about half the population in the bottom section. Cover with an inner cover or a thin board and close the escape hole. The division containing most of the sealed and emerging brood, the new queen, and the rest of the population is placed above. The upper unit is provided with an exit hole for flight. At least two brood chambers must be used for the bottom queen and two for the top queen. Two weeks after the new queen's introduction, remove the division board and replace it with a queen excluder. The supering is double that required for a single-queen operation, or where three standard supers are needed for a single colony, six will be needed for a two-queen colony. When supering is required, larger populations in two-queen colonies require considerably more room at one time than is required for single-queen colonies. If a single-queen colony receives one super, a two-queen system may require two or even three empty supers at one time. The brood chambers should be reversed to allow normal upward expansion of the brood area about every 7 to 10 days until about 4 weeks before the expected end of the flow, after which the honey crop on the colony may be so heavy as to preclude any brood nest manipulations. Thereafter, give supers as they are needed for storage of the crop. As the honey is extracted, the supers are returned to the hive to be refilled. They should never be replaced directly over the top brood nest, unless a second queen excluder is used to keep the queen out of them. The top brood nest may tend to become honey bound. If this occurs, reverse the upper and lower brood nests around the queen excluder. This puts the top honey-bound brood nest on the bottom board and the lighter brood nest with the old queen above the excluder.There is no advantage in having a second queen when about a month of honey flow remains, because eggs laid from this time on will not develop into foragers before the flow has ended. However, entering the brood nest during the middle of the flow to remove one of the queens is impractical. Uniting back to a single-queen status can be done after the bulk of the honey is removed from the colony. By this time some colonies may have already disposed of one queen. When this happens, simply remove the queen excluder and operate the colony as a single-queen unit."

"The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of a two-queen/beehive management system on colony population, honey production, and profitability. Ninety two experimental colonies (46 colonies with one queen and 46 with two queens) were established in the Mexican high plateau region. The following variables were estimated: honey yields, cost per kilogram of honey produced, bee populations, and beehive weights. Colonies with two queens yielded 101.2% more honey than colonies with one single queen (53.2 2.4 vs 26.4 1.8 kg, P less 0.01). The production cost per kg of honey was US$ 0.86 and US$ 1.07 for double- and single-queen colonies, respectively. The lower production cost in the two-queen colonies was due to savings in labor, transportation, and feeding. Two-queen colonies had 100 % more bees, and they were 100 % heavier than single-queen colonies (P less 0.01). Significant (more 70 %) correlations were found between population, colony weight, and honey production (P less 0.01). Hive weight was the best predictor of honey production (r= 0.94, P less 0.01). The best results were obtained with the two-queen system. Therefore, two queens per colony are recommended. Also, weighing the hive during early bloom is recommended as a technique to predict honey yields for either research, or genetic breeding purposes."

"Two queen hives working on good conditions have produced amazing amounts of honey for us when stimulated by feeding protein cakes on a good Yapunyah flow. Our two queen hives consist of 2 x 5 frame units in a ten frame hive body, the centre divide has a 50 mm metal divider strip placed on top of the divider to keep the bees and queens away from each other at the centre. We prefer the queens to be related as we believe this makes them more tolerant of each other. The best yield we have achieved using the two queen system was 300 kg per hive from 120 two queen hives."

"Some swear by two-queening, but I practised it for several years and never found that it increased my production. It definitely did increase my costs, and it did increase the bee populations and how much they ate. Maybe it was my timing. Maybe they built up on the flow. I don't know, but the result was strong hives that wintered very well, the need to carry a ladder, and no increase in net crop. I decided that it was easier and cheaper to run 200 single queen hives than 100 double queen hives. Wintering is not quite as good, and queenless hives are more common, but the work is easier, the crop is about double, and the expense and pressure is much less. Risk is a big factor to consider. It is easy to underestimate the danger of putting out too much money and effort for a less than certain reward. Long term survivors in agriculture tend to be those who are conservative and, if they lose money, it is potential profit passed up, not real cash spent on intensive activities that did not pan out. They tend to take the sure profit and pass up the less certain gains. Profit is a hard thing to calculate in advance because we cannot know the future. We can know with some certainty -- if we are honest with ourselves -- what our costs will be, but the returns can only be guessed. We can control our costs, but never be certain that spending money will result in a profit, so we are playing the odds and always have to consider and be ready for the worst case scenario. Some do quite well two-queening, but it seems to suit some regions and not others. I'd try it in a very limited test for a year or two and ask close neighbours what they think before jumping in with both feet. There is a real risk of overmanipulation and dividing clusters too much, especially in a region with cold nights. The two small clusters may do worse than one big one. (I did my two-queening with two 2 lb packages and that is about as small as I would go for cluster size)." Allen Dick (Alberta,Canada)

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