Cheat Sheet

Beekeeping For Dummies (UK Edition)

Beekeeping is a unique and immensely rewarding hobby. This Cheat Sheet gives you some quick tips for finding and marking your queen bee to make you feel more confident about beekeeping in no time.

Finding the Queen Bee

Every colony needs a queen so you need to find her in every inspection. Many new beekeepers have difficulty finding the queen. Remember, a large, well-bred queen is easier to see than many of the small queens which result from swarming or emergency replacement by the colony.

You may need to find the queen so that you can:

  • Mark her to make her easier to find at future inspections.

  • Determine that your colony definitely has a queen. Of course, if you miss her but you see eggs you know she is there.

  • Make a nucleus, either queenless or queenright.

  • Make an artificial swarm.

  • Make two hives from one.

  • Restrict her to a particular area such as a Jenter comb box in order to produce larvae of a known age for grafting.

  • Remove her prior to introducing a new queen or queen cell.

  • Remove her as an emergency measure to delay a colony from swarming.

Examining Each Frame for the Queen Bee

Use only a very little smoke when you open the hive. Too much smoke makes the bees run about and the queen may move from comb to comb or onto the wall of the hive. Withdraw frames gently and quietly. You’re looking for a bee that is bigger than the workers with a longer abdomen. She will most likely, but not always, be a different colour than the workers, often more orange with a red tinge to her legs. Don’t spend too long on frames of stores. She is more likely to be on brood. Look carefully on frames of brood, especially where you see eggs she is probably here – laying eggs.

  • As you withdraw each frame from the brood chamber look down the face of the comb. The queen stands taller than the workers. Also look at the next frame. You may spot her on the comb you have just exposed but by the time you come to withdraw it she will have moved on away from the light.

  • Look first around the margins of the frame in case she is just moving around the edge away from the light. Then carefully scrutinise the first side, look again around the edges before reversing it to search the other side, again looking around the margins first.

  • Return the frame to the brood chamber and take out the next one for examination and so on until you have found the queen or been right through the brood chamber. Don’t go through the frames more than three times because the bees will be too disturbed by then. Close the hive and try again another day.

  • The queen can get into the supers occasionally, so if you can’t find her it’s worth a quick check to see you haven’t any brood in them.

Marking Your Queen Bee

When you’ve found the queen in your beehive, it’s a good idea to mark her so that you can easily find her in future. The best time to find and mark her is at the first inspection in spring when fewer bees are in the hive than in summer. A colour code enables you to tell the age of the queen; you can use white correction fluid because it shows up better than colours. Your hive record card should show the age of your queen. If you find an unmarked queen in the hive you know the original one has been replaced so you mark her and alter the date on the card.

Here are some methods of marking the queen.

  • Pick her from the comb by the wings using your right hand. (You can’t do this wearing gloves.) Transfer her to your left hand and hold her thorax between your finger and thumb. Never hold her by her abdomen. Mark her on the thorax and then release her back onto the comb. Practise on some drones to gain confidence in handling bees before attempting to mark a queen.

  • Use a queen marking cage which presses into the comb to confine the queen. Hold the cage over the queen and move her away from brood before pressing it into an area of stores or empty cells. With your marker ready in your right hand gently press the cage down just enough to hold the queen still, mark her thorax and lift the cage off straight away. Again, practising on some drones can help you acquire the knack of holding a bee still.

  • Alternatively, you can buy tube and plunger queen marking cages where you can gently push the queen into the tube and then up against the mesh at the top where you can mark her thorax through the mesh.

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