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.

    Bait Hive – Success As Swarm Takes Up Residence

    I put a bait hive out for the first time last year but didn’t have any luck attracting a swarm, but then I didn’t have much luck with anything beekeeping related last year. The main reason for doing it was to hopefully stop swarms from my own colonies causing problems with the neighbours.

    About 4 weeks ago I decided to relocate it from it’s westerly facing position on a  flat roof to the top of my south facing porch – about 3m off the ground. The bait hive consists of a 14 x 12 brood box fitted with a solid floor and a restricted entrance of about 30mm in one corner, topped with a crownboard and roof. Inside the box were a couple of old frames and a dummy board – as it’s a 14 x 12 box I wanted to make the internal volume appear smaller. All the research I did indicated that bees seemed to prefer around 30-36 litres so using a dummy board meant I could adjust the internal space to the recommended volume.

    I smeared a couple of drops of lemongrass oil across the tops of the frames and put some on a wad of tissue inside a freezer bag that I placed in a corner on the floor.

    Got back after being away for the week-end to find that a swarm had occupied it. As I hadn’t inspected  my own bees I was a bit concerned that one of my colonies might have swarmed whilst I was away. However, after inspecting my colonies it looks like it’s a swarm of somebody else’s bees.

    From a cursory look I can see it’s a large swarm and has already started to fill the old combs and drawn a new comb down from the crown-board and the bees look to be good tempered. As it had been there for about 3 days I took it down and sited it in my apiary. I have added some additional frames of foundation and put in a frame feeder in case they are short of stores and to encourage them to draw out the new foundation. At the week-end I will do a proper inspection and look to put them in a normal brood box so I can re-use the bait hive.

    Really pleased so far with the results as it’s always nice to get something for nothing, hopefully they will turn out to be a productive colony and expands to be able to take them through the Winter as a full size colony.

    My advice for anybody contemplating setting up their own bait hive is go for it. Make sure that the location you choose is one that you can access easily as you will need to able to carry a box full of bees down from it. At first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do this as I had originally set the hive up by carrying the individual components up a ladder one by one. It’s a different story trying to lug a full size box back down again.



    Collecting Swarms

    I had 2 swarm calls on the same day this week – I guess as the weather had turned nice the bees decided to take off. Both of them were within 600m of each other so I thought that there were likely castes from the same colony. How wrong; both full size swarms – one with amber coloured bees and the other very dark. The first one was very easy to get to – only about 1.6m off the ground in a small conifer. Shook them into a cardboard box and dumped them into my nuc box, which was on the ground. Within 5 minutes the remaining bees found the entrance and were using it. A bit of a panic with the second swarm as I didn’t have a box ready, but made up some frames and went off to collect the second swarm a few hours later. It was in the grounds of Woodlands Park Hotel near my River Mole apiary site. Again very easy to get to, about 2m off the ground in a small tree. Repeated the process of shaking the bees into a cardboard box and tipped into the hive. Came back in the evening and collected both and fed them when I put them onto stands in my home apiary.

    Next day bees were flying from both and within a day were bring back pollen.

    Decided to inspect today which is 4 days after collecting them. The first swarm had drawn 3 of the 4 frames in the nuc and there were eggs in 2 of the frames and a nice looking queen. Quite a bit of pollen had been collected. The second swarm had drawn 5 of the 6 frames in the full size box and I spotted the queen. It looked as though she had been out on a mating flight as there was the orange coloured remains of the “mating sign”. This is the first time I have seen this and wished I had my camera with me. Anyway no eggs yet but beautifully amber coloured bees.

    Swarming and Prevention with Clipped Queen

    I inspected one of my colonies on Saturday late afternoon and found a number of queen cells – 2 sealed, 4 unsealed and 5 with eggs in them. The queen cells had been raised in the 5 day period since my last inspection. The queen was still present and there were 3 frames of brood with quite a few eggs. A bit of a surprise as this was a nucleus colony set up a few weeks ago when the parent colony showed signs of swarming. I had hoped that by setting up a nuc with the old queen they would stop wanting to swarm. The queen is 2 years old, but the number of queen cells doesn’t indicate it would be a supersedure process.

    Swarm over the front of hive

    Getting Ready To Leave

    With the queen still present and being unprepared I decided to leave for a day and go back in on Sunday to take out the queen and bank her.

    Well the bees decided not to wait and had tried to swarm. The front of the hive was covered with bees and quite a few were on the floor. But fortunately for me I now clip all my queens and so the swarm was without a flying queen and didn’t take off. The clipped queen was on the floor surrounded by a few bees, so I picked her up and put into a Butler cage and banked her on top of one of the other colonies.

    Clipped Queen on Floor

    Clipped and marked queen on floor in front of hive

    The bees gave up on the swarming activity, well at least for now, and within half an hour had gone back into the hive.

    I will need to go back in a couple of days and reduce to just one queen cell.

    Weekly Inspection – Chilly May

    First inspection in May and the weather has continued to be unseasonable – cold and wet with temperatures struggling to get above 10C. The forecast is for more of the same.
    The bees were very ratty and I got stung a few times. Also it’s now noticeable that the bees are going through what little stores they have managed to put away. Another worrying factor is that generally the queens have slowed down their egg laying and there’s not a lot of unsealed brood in quite a few colonies. Overall disappointing, very little progress to report for the various colonies.

    Moved the Lime nuc back to the home apiary.

    Apidea – still has sealed queen cell.

    Flowering: Same as last week – Cistus, horse chesnut and apple

    Swarm Control – Using a Modified Snelgrove Board Part 2

    The split seems to be doing well. The colony looks to be balanced with more bees in the queen rearing half. This is to be expected as the flying bees are returning to this colony. Both entrances are being used.

    1. There are no queen cells in the lower parent, didn’t spot the queen but there were about 3 frames of eggs out of the 6 brood frames.
    2. In the queen raiser half there were about 6 unsealed queen cells, none on the frame I gave them from the lower box. I will go back in 3 days to select one cell to remain and take 2 for my apideas.

    The apidea frames that I put into the super hadn’t been drawn any further than when I visited on Tuesday. So I just took them out and stocked the apideas with bees from the other 2 colonies. As I hadn’t added any feed I was able to use the bottom slide and it’s certainly easier than trying to get them in past the frames and push the lid on quickly.

    I brought the apideas home and fed with syrup. Normally I find this to be very messy and lose a lot of bees taking the lid and cover off. But this time I drilled a small 4mm hole in the acrylic cover and used a syringe to squirt the syrup into the feeder. Certainly a lot easier than my past experiences. Finally I sprayed some water in through the front grill and put in a quiet spot to acclimatise and hopefully draw out the wax in the next few days.

    Swarm Control – Using a Modified Snelgrove Board

    My largest colony is on two 14 x 12 brood boxes and at the week-end showed signs of swarming with a number of charged queen cells and 2 additional ones with eggs in. The colony has plenty of space but as it is very big , 13 frames of brood, it seems to have decided to make preparations for swarming. Not being prepared I went back 2 days later to perform a split with a modified Snelgrove board. The technique was described by Ken Basterfield in Beecraft (April 2012).

    It’s similar to the technique I normally use to raise 2 nucs above a brood box in a single stack system, but looks simpler and involves less manipulations. My usual split board is a solid floor with 2 entrances on opposite sides of the same face. So I made up a new Snelgrove type split board by cutting 2 entrances on opposite edges of a crownboard with one on the upper side and the other on the lower side. I then covered the porter escape slots with wire mesh on both faces.

    Modified Split Board

    Modified Crownboard

    At the last inspection I used a queen excluder to confine the queen to the bottom box. Fist step was to take off the super and the top brood box and set to one side. I found the queen and put her in a clip cage whilst I went through the bottom box. The bottom box and floor were turned through 180 degrees and the entrance block closed off. I shook the bees off the frames to make sure I didn’t miss any queen cells knocking down the queen cells the bees had started in the last 48 hours since my last inspection – 3 charged ones and 2 with eggs in. I took a frames with mainly eggs from the bottom box and swapped this with a frame of stores from the top brood box. The modified split board came next with the upper entrance open for the top brood box in the same orientation as the original lower entrance. The entrance at the rear was opened up for the lower brood box.

    The theory being the flying bees from the lower box will return to the front of the hive where the old entrance was and crawl up to the new entrance boosting the bees in the top box. This is different from most other methods using a split board as they normally ensure that the flying bees return to the parent colony, i.e. bottom box. But as the 2 brood boxes have a similar amount of brood combs it means that they should both be strong enough to rear the brood and the foragers can still access the super above the top box.

    The frames with the open queen cells could have been moved into the top box, but as I had shaken them I decided to let the bees draw their own queen cells from one of the existing brood frames or even from the transferred frames of eggs and larvae.

    I will inspect in 5 days to select just one queen cell for the top brood box and if there are any spare ones transfer them to Apideas. It will also give me a chance to inspect the lower box and check that it has no queen cells and enough bees. If there aren’t enough bees in the bottom box I can reverse the split board and boost it with the flying bees from the top box. The bees had started to draw the comb on the Apidea frames that I mounted on a top bar and put into the super at the week-end.

    It will be interesting to see how the technique works.