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 laying well 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 isn’t 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
Clipping – 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.
Weekly Inspections – 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.
Out Apiary – is that I have a second apiary site about 2 miles from where I live and rather than have a swarm issue and cause bother for the landowner I like to buy myself more time and stop a swarm from issuing. So far I’ve not had a problem with a colony rejecting a clipped queen.