Sunday, July 4, 2010

LESSON 75: The Dreaded Laying Worker

This is actually a previous lesson, lesson 75 about laying workers. Due to a technical glitch, we lost it from our list of lessons and will now have to send it out again in order for it to appear. Sorry for the second sending.
Hello from David & Sheri Burns at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms!

Beekeeping just keeps getting better and more fun. To the basic beekeeper, beekeeping can be seen as enjoyable but challenging at the same time. Some newbies become panicky and micromanage their hives, worried about every little things. Most of this fear comes from not being informed, lacking beekeeping experience and not having a reliable mentor who can answer your questions. That is why we offer these free lessons, to educate and encourage beekeepers to keep bees with confidence. We hope to be one of your mentors.

The more we know about bees the better we are at keeping bees. Let me give you an example. Some may think they have a poor queen because she is not laying well. Did you know that how well she lays is determined by how well she is fed? Prior to a hive swarming, the hive reduces feeding the queen and her laying slows down or stops. Perhaps during a dearth or a rainy spell if nectar and honey stores in the hive are low, the queen may not be fed well, and though she is a good queen, the weather is influencing her ability to lay.

There are some things to worry about, like a laying worker. I always hate to see a hive with a laying worker. Rarely is there just one laying worker. usually there are many. Workers do not have fully developed reproduction rights and they do not mate with drones which means if and when they do lay eggs, they are not fertile eggs and will become drones. Laying workers lay between 10-30 eggs a day compared to a queen who lays between 1,000-3,000 per day.
Since workers lay eggs that become drones, the hive will quickly crash because drones do not forage and cannot help the hive survive. Since there is no longer a queen, there are no workers coming down the line to expand and care for the hive. It’s very serious and difficult to revive. Many say the only thing to do is divide the comb up into other strong hives. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

First, you must realize why workers start laying. The queen’s pheromones and the pheromones of the open brood suppresses the underdeveloped reproduction of the workers from laying. So as long as you have a good laying queen, the laying workers will never be a problem. Most agree that all hives have some laying workers, even in a queenright hive, but that they can never get a foothold to cause any real issues.

So how do you prevent this from happening? Always make sure you have a strong, and young queen heading up the hive. The younger or newer she is, the stronger her pheromones and her brood pheromones are to suppress laying workers.

Once a queen is lost, laying workers will become a problem within 2-4 weeks. So by checking your hive every two weeks and carefully examine the frames for a good brood pattern and lots of eggs, you will avoid laying workers. If you see that you are queenless, order a new queen immediately. I’ve always suggested that beekeepers should have a few 5 frame nucs with a good queen in it just in case you need her in a hurry. Usually it takes time to order a queen and have it shipped.

Some say to dump the bees some 20 or so yards away and make them all fly back to the hive, assuming that the laying worker has never flown and therefore cannot find her way back to the hive. I would not trust this method. There is more than one laying worker, and I’m not convinced that she cannot fly back to the hive.
I have found a few useful techniques:


A colony with a laying worker will rarely accept a queen the traditional way. They will almost always kill the new queen. The laying worker is a fake queen, but she is good at deception. She emits pheromones which makes her followers follow her.

If you place a queen in a push in cage, a cage made of hardware cloth that pushes into the comb, then the new queen can lay and spread her pheromones in the hive without being accessible to the other bees trying to kill her. After her pheromones and the pheromones of her new open larva spreads, she can be released from her cage. This works well the larger the cage and place it over open cells and emerging brood.
A second method is to move over a frame of open larva with the queen on it. Make sure the frame is from a strong hive with plenty of bees on the frame. When you place this frame into a hive with a laying worker, be sure to place the new frame against the wall of the hive and with the queen on the side closest to the wall to give her protection from the laying worker and her followers. The hive that you removed the queen from is now queenless, but you can introduce a queen the traditional way.

Since drone cells are larger in diameter, when a laying worker lays none fertile eggs in a worker cell the emerging drones are smaller but sexually viable.

Why can’t we just find the laying worker and kill her? It’s a needle in a haystack. Besides, if you happen to find one in the act of laying, chances are high that there are several more.
Having a laying worker is always the result of a lack of timely inspections by the beekeeper.

Thanks for joining us today for lesson 75 and we hope today’s lesson will help you now understand how to avoid a laying worker and what to do if it happens to you.

Before I go, let me thank you for sharing these lessons with your friends and fellow beekeepers. We appreciate the exposure. And, don’t forget to check out our upcoming classes at our honey bee farm. We have lots of classes over the next three months. Click here for more info!

Here at Long Lane Honey Bee Farms, we raise our own Pioneer Queens, from survival stock and other proven stock. They are queens that are raised in the North, and from colonies that have never been treated with chemicals and have survived an Illinois winter. However, they are in big demand. The way we sell our queens is on a first come first serve basis. Early on every Monday, I go out and gather all the queens that are mated and laying a good brood pattern. Then, starting at 8:30 am Central Time we begin taking calls for those wanting to purchase our queens. We are usually sold out within the hour. We do not take advance orders. So it’s kinda like calling into a radio show trying to win a prize, just keep calling back in if you get a busy signal.

Here’s our information and our summer hours:

Summer Hours:
Mon – Thur 8:30 am – 4 pm Central Time
FRI-SAT visits & pickups by appointment only
Long Lane Honey Bee Farms
14556 N. 1020 E. Rd
Fairmount, IL 61841
(217) 427-2678