Albuquerque Beekeepers

Urban beekeeping in New Mexico's largest city.

"Dreaded" laying worker bees: Ethical question - what's best for the bees?

Greetings -- I am a new beekeeper with my first hive.

Without going into too many details, I have a dead queen and 3 combs of laying worker bees (estimated 2 weeks). My lack of experience and knowledge contributed to this situation and now I want to do what's best for the bees and safest for my neighbors -- not what's easiest or most convenient for me, the intervening human. 

I have been reading and speaking with people and it seems I have two options: 

1. Hustle and beg to get open brood comb to "turn off" the laying behavior in the worker bees. Put one in every 5-7 days and check to see if the laying behavior stops, then get a queen and try to re-queen the hive.

At this time of the year (understandably so), no one can really spare a Top Bar (Carr) comb of open brood comb to give away (or sell) every 5-7 days. 

Success rates on this appear to be mixed from what I can tell -- reading everything from "it's a waste of time cut bait and release the bees immediately" to "it's a 30% chance of working" to "yeah, that will totally work". 

Given the timing of this discovery (I didn't know the queen had died right after I queened the hive), I think the cycle of laying workers will accelerate, creating more drones and making the hive more and more aggressive, which is bad for me and bad for my neighbors, etc. 

2. Take the bees to a good location near forage and water and let them swarm so they have a chance of survival. From what I've read and heard, this approach gives the strongest bees an opportunity to find a hive or a swarm, but the laying worker bees will not survive this process. I've also read that it's a decent way to build up another persons hive if the bees are released 100 feet away from the target hive. 

This seems the simplest and most humane and direct approach, but I want to make sure I understand the implications of option #2 from an ethical beekeeping perspective and from the perspective of what's best for the survival of the bees. It seems a little irresponsible to just release a colony of bees, but again, I am new at this and don't have any precedent.  

I want to act quickly so I don't stress the bees any more than I already have and so I can stay on top of the situation in the most ethical, responsible way possible. 

Any insights, experience or opinions would be greatly appreciated.

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3. In the morning move your hive 100 yards away from it's current location. Then put an empty hive box, preferably with some honey and brood from another hive in the location of your current hive. The foragers are not the ones laying eggs it will be the nurse bees. So the foragers will find their way back to the new boxes you've placed and the nurse bees that are laying will become lost or stay in the old hive. Let it sit there for a couple days or and let the foragers find their way back to their new box. Once the new hive is full of bees requeen it. Hope this helps.

Thank you, Carl -- I don't have a second hive.

Would it work if I just put the current hive's bars and combs into a box and moved that 100+ yards away in the morning? 

Would it also work if I didn't have honey or brood combs to add to the now empty hive (in the original location)?

I am having a hard time finding anyone willing to part with honey or open brood combs, so I want to make sure it would work in an empty hive with just the waxed top bars and a feeder in the same location. 

Also - what would become of the nurse bees? Would they just die off? 

Thanks -- much gratitude...

Here is another way of doing it and you just need a second box. I'll say box one is the original box with the laying worker(s) and box 2 is the new one. Now box 2 is empty with no frames.

Move the entire hive at least 100 yards away. This is a good time to clean the bottom board. Clean off any debris and remove any bees off the bottom board at the location 100 yards away, then carry the empty bottom board back to the original location setting it up in the same location and in the same orientation. Keep box one at the remote location and place box 2 30 yards away from box 1. Put a cover on box 2 to prevent any bees from sneaking in. Shake every bee off the frames onto the ground. Now when I say every bee, I mean every bee, not one remaining. Shake each frame one by one onto the ground and put the empty frame in box 2. Do this for every frame. Move box 2 to the original location where you will have many foragers waiting at their original location. The nurse bees will die. Now you introduce the new queen. Do this in the morning on a day that is supposed to be calm and warm. It will give the bees time to find home and cluster around the queen to keep her warm at night. Don't do this then wait a day or two to introduce the queen. You may get a new laying worker if you wait. I hope this helps.

I can spare a frame of brood when I go down to check my hives on Thursday, if you decide to take that route. You may also want to join the "Brood Squad" brood sharing page on this site.

Carolyn -- thank you for the generous offer and the info about the Brood Squad. I'll join and I'm doing some more research for options.  I'll follow up with you tomorrow -- still waiting for some info to come in. 

Call  Joan Lasche at 505-238-6064 if you would like a swarm to help fix your problem.

Thank you, Carlos. 

If I add a swarm to my hive, I assume I should first remove the existing combs of laying workers 100yards away, put the swarm in the original hive , then allow the moved (original hive) foragers to fly back to the hive and mix in with the swarm, assuming that the original bees will accept the swarm's queen, correct?

Or should I do that, but use the newspaper trick to separate the swarm and the original (but queenless) bees in the same hive? 


I would do the newspaper trick. I think the new queens pheromones should put your hive back in order. Once the hive realized they have a queen again the worker should stop laying too.

Thank you -- I am incredibly grateful for your guidance here. I hope to pay it forward once I get my bearings and a season with the bees under my belt. The generosity of this community is really incredible. 



The newspaper between the 2 or a double screenboard will work.  But you should use 2 sheets of newspaper because the original hive will defend their laying workers as if they were the queen.  This will just make them take more time before they are combined.  Just use a couple of 2inch slits in the papers.  Make sure the new queen rite hive has an opening for the worker bees. Dan


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