Beekeeping is a very rewarding activity and can even be a fully-fledged commercial concern or just bring in some extra income on the homestead. But how do you get started with a beehive to get your colony started? There are various means to start a beehive, and some beginners may wonder if it is possible to start a bee colony with just a queen bee.
You cannot start a bee colony with a queen bee alone. A bee colony is a community of bees, where different bees have different functions, and they all depend on one another to fulfill their part for the colony to survive. The queen is pretty much helpless on her own and will not survive on her own, nor be able to build a colony without other bees.
You may have considered this question because you want to start a beehive on your homestead, and you have seen beekeepers advertising queen bees for sale. The purpose of these lone queens in beekeeping, however, is not to start a new colony. If you are considering getting started beekeeping, then read on to see several ways that you can get started and what the purpose of the lone queen is.
Why You Can’t Start A Beehive With Just A Queen
Queen bees have a clearly defined role in a bee colony, and they do not deviate from their designated function. The role of the queen bee in the colony is to breed and to lay eggs. That is pretty much the sum total of her function.
Despite the name “queen” bee, which in our human understanding of the word denotes a position of authority and governance, the role of the queen bee has very little to do with these aspects of the colony.
The queen has no say with regard to where the worker bees forage, the defense of the hive, maintaining the right environmental conditions in the hive, or even whether it is time for the colony to split with a new queen.
Power To The Workers
Surprisingly, these decisions about the greater good for the colony are initiated and carried out by the workers, not the queen. The workers send out scouts to forage for good feeding grounds, the workers defend the hive from attacks, the workers take care of the larvae, and the workers take care of the queen.
The workers also have the capability to decide to raise a new queen, as long as they have viable larvae or fertilized eggs to do it with. They may decide to raise a new queen should the existing queen become too old and slow down her egg-laying regimen, or if the queen dies, which may happen when she is out on a mating flight. If the hive is getting too small for the colony, the workers may also decide to raise a new queen, and then the hive will split, with some workers leaving with one queen to find a new home and the other workers remaining in the original hive with the other queen. This is a process known as swarming and often happens in the springtime.
The Queen Depends On the Workers
The queen bee is dependent on the workers to feed and groom her. She has a dedicated entourage of bees that feed her royal jelly, which is packed with additional proteins to help her with egg production. She will also eat honey of her own accord, but she is reliant on the workers to feed her royal jelly.
The queen bee is also not capable of building wax comb for the purpose of laying eggs. The worker bees build the comb with all the cells. The queen lays one egg in each cell, and the worker bees then take over the care of the egg, and later, the feeding of the larvae when they hatch and mature into the next generation of worker bees.
The queen is also incapable of defending the hive on her own from potential predators or invasive pests. Even though she has a stinger, and is capable of stinging, if she is alone, she would not be enough to deter attackers of the hive. Bees normally rely on overwhelming attackers by their sheer numbers, so a single bee will not be an effective deterrent for a predator.
The stinger of the queen is not for the defense of the hive but rather to fight off a rival queen. Often, workers will raise additional queens if they feel the current queen is underperforming. If the active queen is strong enough, she will attack and kill these new queens, often while they are still in the comb and haven’t matured to the point where they emerge and challenge her position.
What Is The Lone Queen For?
When you see a beekeeper advertising a queen for sale, this is not meant to be used to start a new colony. The reason a beekeeper may want to purchase a single queen would be for a few possible reasons.
- The queen of an existing colony may have died or been lost to a predator. The beekeeper can introduce a new queen to kick start the colony again instead of waiting for the worker bees to raise a new queen from one of the larvae.
- If a swarm has been rescued and the queen was killed or not collected in the swarm, a new queen can be introduced to the rescued swarm so that they can establish themselves and grow into a strong colony. Without a queen, they would die out if they have no larvae to raise a queen.
How Do You Start A Bee Hive?
There some alternatives you can try to get your hands on a colony of bees to get started keeping bees on your homestead. Most of the time, you would start this endeavor in the springtime so that your new colony can have time to settle in and prepare for the next winter.
- You can buy in a colony of bees, queen and all. Many beekeepers raise colonies for the specific purpose of selling them. The colony will arrive in a specially designed box, and you will need some know-how to get them transferred and established in a proper hive.
- You can catch bees that are swarming in the spring season and give them a new home to live in in the form of a hive in your yard. It takes specialized knowledge to catch a wild swarm, so don’t attempt this without training.
- Bee rescues are a good source to get a bee colony. Wild bees sometimes choose inconvenient places to move into, such as chimneys, in house rooves, under house floorboards, in air conditioner air vents, in utility boxes, and many other places where they can become a danger to people. These bees need to be removed, but it is often a difficult job and requires special knowledge, equipment, and patience. Rather don’t attempt this by yourself, but ask a professional beekeeper for assistance.
It is not possible to start a beehive with just a queen because of the division of work concept that runs a normal beehive. Each bee has its function and position, and they rarely deviate from their assigned tasks. The worker bees are the only caste of bees who change professions as they get older, from hive maintenance bees to nursery bees to guard bees and forager bees.
A queen bee on her own would not have the resources nor the capacity to build the hive, collect food, lay eggs, raise young bees, and defend the hive all on her own.
Keeping bees on the homestead is an awesome hobby, but it can also be dangerous not only for you and your family but also for your animals and your neighbors if they are close enough.
If you intend to start keeping bees, I would strongly suggest you attend a beekeeping course before you start. Also, make contact with other beekeepers in your area and ask them for advice and help wherever you can. Possibly even ask them if you can assist them when they do bee work so you can get a feel for the tasks that need to be done and how to care for your bees.