Marking and Clipping Queens

There’s a lot of differing opinions about marking queens and especially clipping them.

When I first started I was like most novice beekeepers very nervous about this aspect of beekeeping. Also I didn’t see the need for clipping queens but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the benefits. Even if you don’t clip your queens I think it’s good practice to mark her. When you need to perform some form of manipulation on a hive, for example splitting a colony, it almost always involves isolating the queen so the quicker you can find her the better.

I used to use a “crown of thorns” cage to isolate the queen when I first started but never liked it and thought it a bit of a crude way of marking the queen. So I switched to using the standard technique of picking up the queen with my right hand and placing her on the top of the forefinger of my left hand and trapping her legs. Once secured I can then mark her and clip one of the wings. To make it easier you can either take your gloves off or pull them tight to make it less fiddly.

Couple of points to make on marking

  • Make sure the queen is fully settled in and as a rule of thumb I wait until at least there is capped brood from eggs she has laid
  • Perform the operation over the open hive just in case you drop her
  • Less is better than more with the marking pen, you can always remark her if it’s clear enough
  • Make sure you have the pen handy and with the cap off -a number of times I have not been ready and struggled to hold the queen and look for my pen at the same time
  • Wait 15-20seconds before releasing her back into the hive to give the marking fluid time to dry
  • Clippings – I know that a lot of beekeepers don’t believe in clipping and think of it as cruel to “damage” the queen. For me two things persuaded me to adopt it as a standard way of managing my queens.

    I normally try and inspect my colonies at the week-end but sometimes the weather or family circumstances prevent me carrying out a weekly inspection. As result I have lost a few swarms in earlier years. I’ve also seen evidence of Bees capping over a queen cell in less than a week, but this might be just me not paying enough attention when I last inspected them. So at least with a clipped queen it delays a swarm issuing for a week until one of the new virgin queens emerge.
    The second reason is that I have an out apiary site and even with weekly inspections and rather than have a swarm issue and cause bother for the landowner I would rather buy myself more time and stoma swarm from issuing. So far I’ve not had a problem with a colony rejecting a clipped queen.

    Bait Hive – hints and tips

    For the past 5 years I have been using a bait hive with reasonable success, catching a swarm in 4 out of 5 years. In fact this year I picked up a swarm from one of my own hives that I hadn’t managed properly. I haven’t changed much in the way I set the hive up other than doing in earlier in the season than I used to – now I put it up mid to end of May depending on the weather.

    My preferred location is on a flat roof about 3 metres off the ground with the entrance facing in a westerly direction. It’s in a sheltered position and doesn’t receive full sun for more than a couple of hours a day. My own hives are about 30 metres away and I think that there are about 5 other beekeepers within a 2 mile radius.

    The hive I use is a normal brood box with a roof but no coverboard. Apparently when bees are searching for a new home they look for a space that’s similar in size to a brood box, something with a volume of around 36l. The main difference is the floor is similar to a swarm box, solid with a reduced entrance 40mm wide positioned close to one of the sides, i.e. not central. The floor is screwed to the brood box using a couple of small angle plates to make it easier to transport. The whole hive is then strapped up with a ratchet strap which makes it easier to manoeuvre.

    To “bait” the hive it’s important to make it appealing to the scout Bees and I insert 4 old brood frames, ideally with no stores. To be honest the older the better seems to be best. As an attractant I then smear some lemon oil across the top of the frames and put some on a kitchen towel which I put in a plastic bag loosely scrunched up – keeps the lemon oil from evaporating too quickly.

    The tricky part for me is getting the bait hive up and down the ladder as it’s relatively bulky. So I use a long ladder set at a gentle slope which makes it a bit easier than a steep angle. Once in position I open the hive up to make sure the frames are orientated correctly and push them to the side furthest from the entrance. I’ve learnt from experience that the Bees seem to prefer this. When I started using a bait hive I placed combs centrally and found that they ignored them and drew brace comb as far from the entrance as possible. Then I strap the hive back up so that I’m not having to mess around when there is a swarm in place.

    Once the hive is in position you need to check every couple of days for activity around the hive. Quite often you you will see scout Bees checking the hive out but it won’t be until you have got a constant stream of bees going to and from the hive that you will know if you have captured a swarm. It’s not critical to move the hive as soon as you get lucky but ideally within a few days, especially if it’s a large one with an already mated Queen because they will run out of space quickly. Again like a swarm move it late evening when the foragers have stopped flying.

    Treat it like a normal swarm, feeding it with syrup if there isn’t a strong flow on. Inspect after about a week and if needed swap onto a mesh floor and add additional brood frames.