Clipping and Marking
Attempted swarm. With a clipped queen they are under the board.
Many of us keep bees as a pastime and have a job to go to. Unfortunately our mistresses do not respect this and swarm when they want and not at a time of our choosing and some of us may be unable to leave work and collect a swarm issued from one of our hives. Many of us have been at work on a sunny day and the ‘phone rings during the late morning;
“Your bees are swarming”
“Which hive is it?”
“The one on the left”
“That hive isn’t supposed to do that, it was fine 2 days ago!”
Clipped queen on the grass
More often than not the swarm is a result of a missed queen cell – we’ve all done that! However it doesn’t have to end up with the loss of the queen and half the bees. If the queen is clipped, she will fall to the floor and the swarming bees will return to the hive after a few minutes. On many occasions, the queen can be picked up from the ground under a small cluster of bees and then “re-used.” I've recovered them in that way, another time a queen was under then landing board with a tennis-ball sized cluster of bees around her as shown in the photo. They all dropped into a mini-nuc rather nicely! On another occasion; two days after a colony that had received an artificial swarm decided to swarm anyway. The queen made a few attempts at flying and there were little clusters of bees every few feet, hooked on her pheromone, as she tried to get away from the hive.
Techniques for clipping the queen will follow shortly; Notwithstanding the first attempt can be quite nerve-wracking but she will not sting and you can practice on drones first. It’s best when you have a few ‘spares.’ i.e. if you have reared some queens and can afford to lose one or if you are uniting two colonies and one queen has to go anyway. If you are worried about handling your bees without gloves, I can do the clipping with cheap 'marigolds' on - so it is possible to use gloves. Disposable gloves work well. Fingers should not be sticky with honey or propolis!
We will all get a swarm sometimes, however diligent we think we are, and the reduced hassle to ourselves and our neighbours plus the economic benefit of added honey production makes it well worth the effort.
The beekeeping suppliers sell pens for marking queens and when used it makes life so much easier if you want to find her. It does no harm to the queen provided it's done properly. Problems arise if excess paint is applied - of course - or if something other than the thorax is marked - sticky wings are no good, nor is paint on the antenna. I personally pick up the queens as I find it easier to do than the use a crown of thorns which is the only other method I have used. The plunger devices are quite popular and work well I understand.