A simple home-made bee feeder, plus finding and marking queen bees


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Bee feeders, Beekeeping advice, Requeening re-queening | Posted on 07-10-2010

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27 September: It takes me until a week Monday to inspect the bees again. The weather and domestic routine get in the way over the weekend, so I come home at lunchtime. I’m a little concerned about how few bees there were around the entrance on both Saturday and Sunday evening. Granted it was cold (10 degrees Celsius) and wet (light drizzle) but even when I’d boldly stepped right in front of the hive there had been no reaction. Have they all gone?

Home-made contact bee feeder

"You spoil those bees": Tesco Premium Chewy Caramel 1 litre ice cream tub makes an ideal contact feeder

Mrs S – who I’m delighted to say has appointed herself chef to the bees – is out, so I make up the bee feeders myself, spilling granulated sugar across every surface in the kitchen as I do. For the mini-nuc I’ve used an empty round 1 litre ice cream tub with a dozen 2mm holes drilled in a circular pattern in the lid. Although it spills a little when you invert it, it quickly stops and the bees are then able to feed from the holes. In this case it also helps that the lid has a raised lip. When placed upside down over a hole in the top of the nuc-box it leaves the perfect gap for workers to crawl around underneath, safe from robbing insects.

Although it isn’t as chilly as it has been, it still isn’t exactly warm either, so I’ve decided to get in and out fast. Just long enough to find the queen and establish whether or not she’s laying.

“In and out fast,” is easy if you have an established track-record for finding queens, but of course I don’t.  So it’s something of a relief to find her safe, well and curiously unmarked on the third or fourth frame. Robert had said that the marker pen ink might come off.

Baldock-type queen marking cage

A queen marking cage. Those spikes are sharp. (Image courtesy of Michael Jay Beekeeping Supplies)

I then perform a classic beekeepers’ shuffle as, with one hand balancing the frame on the side of the hive and one eye on the moving target that is my queen, I fumble around with my other hand in the tool box searching for the press-in cage, using my spare eye to ensure that in finding it I don’t skewer a finger on its sharp spikes. Cage located, I gingerly place it over the queen and press down. Probably not hard enough, as in attempting to back out she gets her wings tangled in the mesh. With worker bees piling in on top I lift it up gently to free her before pressing down again.  At this point the sensible thing would be to shake all excess bees off the frame, but of course I don’t do the sensible thing. Instead, I use a finger to tackle the scrum of worker bees intent on piling in on top of the cage and their captured queen. As I push them aside I hold my marker pen aloft, ready to lunge. In fact it takes several lunges. So many that by the end of it the poor mite looks as if she’s been dipped in blue paint. Ah well, at least I should be able to spot her in future.

The mini-nuc is bound to present less of a challenge, I reason. There are fewer frames and fewer bees, after all. Robert rather mischievously refused to mark the queen when he left it, saying that I needed to get used to finding her. Bugger that. After four weeks of not finding my queen I’m ready to attach a blue flashing light to her if I have to.

The first thing that strikes me is how few bees there are. At least they don’t look like they’re clinging on for dear life anymore. Two of the original frames contain capped and uncapped larvae, and while I can’t see properly in the poor light, I suspect also contain eggs. But apparently no queen. What were the odds.

With little doubt that she really is there, but hiding, there’s nothing for it but to go backwards and forwards from one frame to the next until I find her. When I do I waste little time. I have the cage down on top of her in a flash, and while I’m spared the rugby scrum of workers I’m afraid I don’t spare the pen. She emerges marked and only marginally less blue than her next door neighbour. Shame, because she really was a very nice hazel colour underneath…


Is September too late to requeen?


Posted by Andy Sivell | Posted in Beekeeping advice, Requeening re-queening | Posted on 03-10-2010

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I got my very first colony at the beginning of July. By mid-month I’d already lost my queen.

Beekeeper beginner

Getting started: I'm smiling, but minutes later I accidentally squash my queen

I think I must have accidentally squashed her. Sadly, in the brief time I had her I never saw her, despite poring over each frame on every inspection. She came as part of a swarm from Robert, a local and highly experienced beekeeper. I couldn’t even give her a decent burial. I never found the body. I just guessed that she wasn’t there because capped and hatched larvae wasn’t being replaced by fresh larvae. I never saw any eggs either. Again, I guessed that they were there once because I could see small larvae growing into large larvae. Hardly an auspicious start.

For four weeks I did nothing, hoping first that I was wrong, then that no-one would notice, and finally that the bees themselves wouldn’t notice. I did keep telling Robert that I thought I’d killed my queen. He kept telling me that I hadn’t necessarily killed her – I’d lost her. I’m still not sure whether he was being kind, or whether it’s considered impolite to mention homicide in beekeeping circles.

I consulted Ted Hooper’s Guide to Bees and Honey, the beekeeping bible. Frustratingly, it mentioned that squashing one’s queen is not uncommon amongst beginners, but then didn’t spell out what you’re supposed to do about it. I did gather however, that if I could get a frame of eggs and larvae from another colony and introduce it into mine, then the chances were that my desperate bees would create new queen cells.

Back I went to Robert. Borrowing a mini-nuc for the day I swapped a single frame of mine for one of his with eggs and young larvae. Then I stuck a drawing pin in the top and placed the new frame in the centre of my brood chamber. By now my bees had been without a queen (and fresh brood) for four weeks. Would it be too late? Seven days later I had the answer: 18 new queen cells front and back.