Mating apiary

A Legendary Bee has Died

In the Winter of 2017, I met Murray McGregor, owner of Denrosa Apiaries, based in Coupar Angus, Scotland and was delighted to be able to spend over a day with him. He carefully chooses his words and takes his time answering questions, making sure that his encyclopaedic knowledge, based on decades of experience, is passed on in the right way. It is a pleasure to play the tape of that interview to hear his soft, presumably Perthshire, accent. He is far from a shrinking violet, despite his gentle tones, and is fully prepared to go to war with dissenters on the beekeeping forum, using the battle tag “Into the Lions Den.” Several of the members of that forum are high calibre bee people, and it is evident that the majority of them hold Murray in high regard. He told me how strange he finds it that whenever he writes an answer to a forum post, that tends the be the end of the thread; few people dare to add anything more once the guru has spoken.

I have previously written about how Murray introduced me to his queen maker extraordinaire, Jolanta Modliszewska, and let me interview her too. I’m not too sure how happy she was about that, but she was generous with her time and her answers, and I hope that she was pleased with my Queen of Queens of Blairgowrie blog post.

Jolanta's Grafting Shed
The Grafting Shed

I have heard and seen some surprising and unexpected things on my travels to meet the giants of the beekeeping world. I remember seeing Mike Palmer put three queens in a single queen cage to prove that they don’t fight each other. These were queens due for the chop anyway, or as he might say “the hive tool test,” but I steeled myself for some queen on queen combat and was astonished to see three queens getting along just fine. They were like old timers sitting down to have a chat about days gone by, not mortal enemies sworn to eliminate the rest of their kind, in true Highlander style.

One of the mind-blowing things that I learned about from Murray and Jolanta in Scotland was the existence of a legendary queen bee called “J7”. True to her name, at the time I met her she was heading into her seventh season, and she did, in fact, continue to provide larvae as a seven-year-old, in 2018, which Jolanta grafted into cells, and daughter queens were raised. I had never heard of such a long-lived bee. Not only was J7 old, but her progeny were exceptional queens who fortified the hives of the Denrosa production colonies and were sold to eager customers too. Jolanta told me that this queen had been there from the beginning of her queen rearing career and that if it were possible to pick a favourite from amongst all of her babies, then J7 was the one. Just think for a moment, how widely spread must be the genetics of this one insect?

A recent tweet by Murray said, “this is just a random pic from the first nuc opened…but the new seasons early Jolanta queens raised in Piemonte (this is a 7B so a daughter of the venerable J7) have gone off like a rocket. Started on 2 bars only…now with all bars like this and first bees hatching.”

J7B brood pattern
J7B brood pattern

However, just one week later the sad news was tweeted by Murray, “OBITUARY: Came back to queen unit yesterday evening and found an upset Jolanta. Sadly old queen J7 has finally given up the ghost and died. It had been with her from the very start of the unit and was 7 years old. Its offspring are with many beekeepers and have been very popular.”

Jolanta with bees
Jolanta with bees

Sad news indeed. I am very privileged to have been sent the last mated daughters of that legendary bee. Jolanta told me that they are precious, and Murray said to treat them like gold dust as there will be no more now. So, no pressure on me then! I have set up two nucleus colonies which are queenless, but when I introduce these two precious queens to their new homes tomorrow, I will use a push in cage just to be sure. I talked about that method of queen introduction here. Just because they are well bred doesn’t mean that they are guaranteed to be the best queens ever, few things are certain in beekeeping, but I’m very hopeful that they will do well and I’ll probably raise daughter queens from them. I already have some wonderful queens with a gentle nature, low propensity to swarm and large honey crops. Beekeeping is a real pleasure when you have good bees.

So to anybody who reads this, please spare a thought, and maybe raise a glass, for a legendary queen bee that died recently at the grand old age of seven. RIP J7, and thanks for your years of service.

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