Should I destroy extra queen cells?
When beekeepers make splits they frequently destroy all the queen cells except one. Other beekeepers routinely remove queen cells to prevent swarming. Others simply excise queen cells whenever they see one.
To me, a queen cell is a valuable thing—something to covet—and the thought of destroying one gives me the willies. If you have 10 one hundred dollar bills, and you spend only one at the market, do you discard the rest knowing full well you might need them later? Who hasn’t said, “My kingdom for a queen cell!” especially when you find yourself suddenly queenless and there isn’t a queen bee to be found at any price?
Think before you pinch
I’m not saying you should never destroy a queen cell, only that you should think about it first. If you have hundreds of hives, it’s not much of an issue because you have hundreds of chances to find another queen should you need one. But if you have only a hive or two, it may be worth conserving the cells you have, or at least being cautious.
Conventional wisdom tell us that multiple virgins in a hive will fight to the death and leave you queenless. I have never seen this happen. However, I have seen beekeepers destroy all the queen cells but one, and then have the colony go queenless. Why?
Not all queens are created equal
Sometimes it was a supersedure cell they destroyed, which left them with nothing. Sometimes, they simply picked the wrong cell to keep, one that produced an inferior queen.
Simply put, not all queen cells produce healthy viable queens. Some may have birth defects, some may not be good fliers, some may have weak pheromones, and the list goes on. So if you systematically destroy all the cells but one, how do you know which one to keep? Perhaps you chose the biggest or most perfectly-shaped peanut? But the virgin queen didn’t build that gorgeous cell, the workers did. The cell appearance tells us more about the worker genetics than it does the virgin queen’s genetics.
The colony knows better than you how to raise a new queen for itself. Colonies would not produce multiple queen cells if it were not the best thing for long-term survival. In nature, anything that is energy expensive is carefully vetted by the selection process. Since honey bees were producing multiple queen cells millennia before human beings started messing with them, you can bet it is done for a good reason. Trust your bees.
Queen cells and the urge to swarm
Cutting of queen cells may delay the release of a swarm, but it doesn’t reduce the urge to swarm, so the bees simply build more cells. If you miss one cell in a large and teeming hive, which is easy to do, the swarm will eventually get out the door. It’s much better to make a split, checkerboard above the brood, try the Demaree method, or use some other management technique that actually reduces the swarm impulse rather than cutting cells, which does not.
As for splitting, I usually leave the queen cells in the original hive and put the old queen in the split. Or sometimes I make several splits and put a few queen cells in each. At other times I split up the queen cells and put them in nucs. But regardless of what I do, if the original hive fails to produce a mated queen, I have options, something to fall back on. If all goes well, at least some of those queens will be mated and ready to go. All that is required in a simple introduction.
Honey Bee Suite