Victor is delighted to have bees again after a long bee-less gap. He kept bees for many years as a boy in the Borders and was mentored by one of those salt of the earth beekeepers who intuitively understands the bees and learns from watching their behaviour.
Source of bees
Victor has just bought a colony of my bees. They are descendants from the wild bees rescued from the fallen tree along the River Nairn in 2016. Part of the deal is that I help him get started again, and today we must find the queen and mark her so that she can easily be spotted again. We choose red because she was produced in 2018, a red year. I never mark queens in the autumn due to the risk of the bees killing them and not being able to produce another well mated one in time to take the colony safely through winter. In spring it is too early for many drones to be on the wing, and the colony is more acceptable of a newly marked queen.
Victor and Celia’s garden is bee paradise and the cherry trees are in full blossom. Although we moved the bees under 3 miles from my house, they are too excited by all the new forage to bother returning to my apiary. They seem well settled in their new luxury villa, a 10-framed cedar WBC hive.
Technique for finding queen
We use very little smoke. The bees are calm and fairly relaxed and we search the dark side of the frame first as her majesty is not keen on strong light. They are prolific and she is laying on the second frame in.
The marking business
I place my hand behind the queen as she walks over the frame, and pressing, ever so gently and slightly, on her thorax I take hold of her wings and lift her up in my right hand. Offering her the tip of my left index finger, she settles there and my left thumb covers her left 3 legs and holds them gently but firmly between left thumb and index finger.
Next a small blob of non-toxic paint is applied with a blunt cocktail stick and when she is dry I place her back on the frame she came from. I make sure that the bees are happy with her and are not crowding round her in a tight ball which could kill her.
We shut up the hive and repair to the lawn for a refreshing cup of tea with Victor’s family. There is a nice spring feel to the air and the light over the Moray Firth is spectacular. A greater spotted woodpecker in a nearby tree noisily announces itself whilst swallows light up the sky with their distinctive chatter. We chat too and reflect on a successful afternoon.