Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bearding & Marking the Queen

Please remember, we are very new at this.  This is an account of what we're observing and doing, NOT a recommendation of what to do.  Only time will tell if we're on the right track.  So in the meantime, read along, look at the pictures and appreciate all the amazing skills that the BEES possess.

A couple weeks ago, on a very warm and sunny day I looked out the window above my kitchen sink and even from there I could see that something interesting was going on at the upper hive.  Thankfully, I had read about bearding and knew that it wasn't a sign that the bees were swarming, it just meant that they were warm inside the hive and needed to cool off themselves (by hanging out outside) and the hive (by fanning at the entrance).  We hadn't yet opened the entrance reducer all the way.  We were keeping the entrance small so that the new colonies would have some added protection from intruders (giving their guard bees a smaller opening to guard).  Needless to say, that evening Jamey opened the entrances to allow them to cool down.  Soon after, the hive entrance looked normal again.

Marking the Queen
As I've mentioned before, the queen in the upper hive has been incredibly elusive.  Usually, just seeing evidence of eggs would be enough for us to know she's still in there but this hive was booming (building comb and filling it like crazy) so we knew we'd soon need to divide it.  If we didn't, we'd risk the bees feeling crowded and deciding to swarm.

So, we purchased a queen marking kit.  We decided to make a trip into the hive with the sole purpose of finding and marking her so that she'd be a breeze to locate when we needed to make the divide later on. Here are the parts of the kit we used to mark her.

 a queen catcher (looks like a hair clip), a red marker (color matters) and a queen marking tube with foam plunger

Looking for a queen feels like looking for a needle in a haystack.  We know we'll get better at this, but particularly with this queen, it feels impossible to find her.  Jamey's parents were here this particular weekend and Jamey's mom happened to walk out to the hives and was right there (with no protection on) when we spotted and marked her.  For her first time at the hives, she was a brave woman, indeed!

Jamey finally spotted her about midway through the hive.  Our first task was not to lose sight of her, the weasel.  Then, using the queen catcher, he caught the queen and a few worker bees in the little contraption.

He then allowed the workers to crawl out and I helped slip the queen in the tube, slipping the plunger in behind her so she couldn't get out.  Next, we inverted the tube and let her stand on the foam.  Very gently, Jamey slid the plunger to the top gently pressing her against the mesh at the top.  This kept her nice and still so a dot of red ink could be placed on her thorax (the part of the queen between her head and abdomen). 

We held her in the plunger for a few moments to allow the ink to dry before returning her to the hive.  You can see that the end of her abdomen is dark- this is what made her hard to find.  Our other queen's entire abdomen is very light in color which makes her stand out among the other bees.  This queen had some camouflage going on- but no longer!  Now, she sports a flashy red dot.

But here's where things got interesting.  Instead of just marking her and putting her back into the hive, we ended up doing two things (over that day and the next) that we had no idea we'd be doing this early in our beekeeping adventure.  Stay tuned- they need a whole post of their own.
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  1. Oh the anticipation!!! A cliff hanger! This is so interesting to me, I can't wait!!

  2. Thank you for sharing all of this. It is so educational. If younger
    this would be something I would love to do! Raised chickens and a huge
    garden when I was a young mother of three. Told my husband, maybe in Heaven
    I will take up bee keeping! You are an amazing mother and wife. Your adventures
    are wonderful.

  3. seriously! who knew a bee post could be such a cliffhanger!

  4. What a great post, and wonderful pictures to go with it! We love honey, but I think I'd be too chicken to actually keep bees:)

  5. Okay.... Here's a question for you! My husband and I investigated bee keeping this year but decided we would hold off until next year. We did a garden, veggies, and super hot peppers instead this year. SO... here's my question... did you build your hives yourself? We looked into hives, and almost had my kidney donation scheduled so we could afford a hive, when we decided to wait. If you did build them, do you have a posting on how you did it? I'll dig around on your page and see if I can find one. I just LOVE your blog! :)


    1. Both Langstroth and top bar (the kind we have) can be built although top bar hives are much simpler. There are many plans online that you can use. Jamey built ours using almost all scrap lumber we had lying around (or picked up for free). I've heard that even if you have to buy all the supplies for a top bar hive you can build one for around $40. That said, read up on top bar hives and make sure you have about an hour a week to spend checking in on it (adding, shifting bars, etc) until you get the hang of it. They require a bit more hands-on time than Langstroth hives but we think they are very rewarding because you get to look in on them so often. All that said, we're only a month and a half into this- so take this into consideration too:-).

  6. This was a fascinating post, Jane! I really need to find my new queen and mark her as well. (The old queen went with the new split as far as I can tell) and I had two queen cells that were going to "hatch", so I need to see if she's in there and tag her so she's easy to find. How do you like the top bar hives? Sounds like they are inexpensive (big +), and I like that they are up off the ground! Less bending. I look forward to reading more about your bees!

    1. Hi, dear Amy. So far we like the top bar hives very much, but we don't have anything to compare them to either! Another plus is that building a spare is rather quick and easy for Jamey, so we can always have an extra one on hand in case we need to do a divide or catch a swarm.

  7. Thanks for sharing-- this is fascinating!

  8. I use a top bar hive. This is my second season with bees. We split our strong hive, too. We didn't see which hive our old queen went in, but after a couple of weeks, the new hive had at least five queen cells! So we think the old queen stayed with the original hive and the other one made a new queen. It was very exciting to see how the split worked. I was a little afraid that they wouldn't make a new queen, but so far so good! Looking forward to our first honey harvest later this year!!! There is a great website that helped me a lot with learning bees. I'm looking forward to following your adventure!


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