It’s late August or early September and you have just completed your honey harvest. This is the time that many beekeepers discover to their dismay that their hive is queenless. So you ask yourself the question as to whether to invest the $25 to $30 for a new queen knowing that winter will be here shortly and could easily kill off the entire hive if you aren’t very successful in overwintering hives.
Therefore, the first question is “do I spend the money now or save it for a package next spring?”
If you decide to get the replacement queen you next need to examine your queenless colony in more detail. You need to assess whether the hive became queenless recently or more than a month ago. If you can see capped worker brood then the colony became queenless less than three (3) weeks ago. The presence of either open or capped brood suppresses the tendency toward laying workers. Under these conditions it is OK to re-queen.
However, if you only see randomly spaced uncapped or capped drone cells then your hive has passed a critical point. Past the 3 week threshold laying workers take over the hive. It is very difficult to re-queen a hive that has laying workers. These workers will tend to kick out or kill a newly introduced queen. You are better off saving your money for the new package next spring.
The only successful method to re-queen a hive with laying workers is by repeatedly introducing frames of brood from another hive. The frames should have both open and capped brood. The brood pheromones will suppress the laying workers and MAY allow you to introduce a new queen. It’s still only a 50/50 proposition.
In the fall if you see the symptoms of laying workers it is probably best to just combine the queenless hive with another strong hive.
Fall is also the time that some beekeepers replace queens for a variety of other reasons:
1) Changing the genetics of aggressive hives,
2) Eliminating old queens,
3) Incorporating improved genetics into your apiary.
4) Replacing queens of swarms captured that summer since swarm queens tend to be old queens
In all cases make sure you have a replacement queen in hand prior to dispatching the old queen.