Scorching Scotland And Fantastic New Queens

Steve Donohoe in Tighnabruaich
Steve Donohoe in Tighnabruaich

My favourite place in the world may not appeal to everyone. A seven hour journey to get to a house that’s always a little cold (even with bright sunshine outside), followed by sleep on a mattress that is not walrus-approved. The nearest supermarket is an hour away, and the local store is sparsely stocked, and does not stay open all day like they do back home. The midges are out in full force; they don’t bother me as much as some people, but there are times when staying indoors is advised. Then, after walking the beagle past waterfalls and majestic coastal scenery, we have to carefully inspect her for ticks – they, too, are ubiquitous here. Scorching Scotland And Fantastic New Queens:

Quiet Paradise

And yet, for twenty years we have religiously returned to our quiet paradise on the Kyles of Bute. Yes, I should be clearing honey off my hives, or making checks to confirm that swarming is nearly over, but that can wait. My new honey extraction facility awaits, as yet unused, and the queens in my mating nucs prepare to launch off on their mating flights. What could possibly go wrong? Experience has taught me not to get too cocky; the Gods amuse themselves by tormenting beekeepers.

Good News & Bad

Speaking of queens, as I often do, there is good news and bad. My first batch of grafts went very well, with 29 out of 30 being drawn out and fed with royal jelly in my cell builder. Their mother is my prize breeder queen purchased off Andrew Little (Peter’s son) and they will mate with the local drones. Hopefully the majority of such drones come from my hives, but who knows? My bees are in a place where, according to BeeBase, many other beekeepers operate.

On the bad-news front, once I recombined my cell builder into a ‘queen-right-finisher’, something went awry. When I came to collect my 29 sealed cells there were just 14 good ones; the rest had been taken down by workers. As usual with me, the percentage of successfully mated queens is going to be less than 50% of what I started with. Hopefully I’m improving, but I’m not entirely sure what went wrong this time. Maybe a stray virgin? Anyway, next time we are going to keep them queen-less until sealed, then move the cells to the incubator.

Mating Queens

I have been following the excellent ‘Using Apideas’ by Dan Basterfield for my mating boxes this season, even though I have Kielers (same thing, really). They were kept for three days in a cool dark room with fondant to munch on, and I sprayed in some water every day as advised. It seems to have gone well; each box was humming loudly as the nurse bees made comb for the future queen to lay in. The weather is now fine and the nucs are out on their stands, so I’m hopeful that most will be mated soon.

My theory on mated queens is that they should be moved from Apideas/Kielers into larger nucs for a month or two before being used to replace older queens in production colonies. Either that, or they can stay in nucs until next season – this needs careful management as they can grow fast. Queens that are just plucked from their mating nuc as soon as they start laying are not generally well accepted by their new colonies. They need to be laying for 6 weeks plus to be at their best, and that gives me time to check the brood pattern too.

Trays of fondant
Food for mating nucs

Introducing Queens

Brother Adam knew a thing or two about queens, even though he had his flaws (who doesn’t?). He maintained that a healthy laying queen would almost always be accepted by a queen-less colony. I have proved this to my own satisfaction. The other day I killed a drone laying queen and, half an hour later, introduced a queen from a nuc directly (no cage). They immediately welcomed her and all was well. I’ve done this several times, as sometimes I have spare queens, and only once have the workers started balling the new queen. Even then, she survived and the following season produced a big honey crop.

I suspect that if the queen-less colony has been in such a state for a long time then the success of introduction may drop; far better to have brood and young bees in the hive than to wait too long. Of course, they may still make queen cells even after accepting a newly introduced healthy queen; I get rid of those cells. The old saying, “the bees know best,” isn’t always true, in my opinion. I have also seen bees ball a queen after she’s just been marked, so I like to leave marking until she is properly established – sometimes the following season.

Beautiful Creatures

My purchase of non-toxic, water based, brightly coloured, pink acrylic paint seems to have been a success. I find pink much easier to spot on a queen than red. I have a mixture of all different colours of queens. The lighter coloured ones are easy to find, and I think they look pretty. Most of mine are a brownish colour, but the other day I found a newly mated queen in a nuc that is completely black. What a stunning creature! When I looked at my notes I found that her grandmother was a queen that I bought from Northumberland Honey a few years ago, as a virgin. Looks can be deceptive, and are not related to queen performance. I find the ’tiger’ queens the hardest to spot; they are marked just like the workers.

The beagle is staring at me. Intently. It must be time for a walk.

4 thoughts on “Scorching Scotland And Fantastic New Queens

  1. Only an hour to the supermarket? Almost suburbia 😉 . Neighbours here further up the west coast seems to think that it’s a particularly bad year for ticks. Our nearly-white labradoodle is easy to de-tick, the gingery, long-haired Australian labradoodle is another matter altogether. You need to get them before nightfall or they can end up around the eyes. Of course, if there weren’t so many damned deer there would be fewer ticks … and more trees rather than stripped bare environment.

    Enjoy your holiday


  2. I hope that the Walruses had a brilliant holiday in Argyll which is the best county in Scotland. I wonder if you have ever the seen basking sharks that like to visit too? Good advice in the blog to take mated queens to larger nuclei for a while after mating and before introducing to a colony. Not doing so could account for the failures that many people report when using Apideas.

    • Thanks Ann. I saw a seal but not sharks. Also, I know of somebody sailing in the Kyles who saw (and video recorded) a pod of dolphins.

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