Queen bee colour coded marking

Around the world apiculturists (beekeepers) employ a series of colour codes to identify queen bees and indicate their age. One method is to apply a dot of harmless quick-drying paint to the thorax of the bee so that it stands out within the hive’s population.

Another, more recent, method is to use plastic/aluminium disks, readily available in queen marking kits, attached using a special non-toxic glue. The disks are either blank – solid colour only – or numbered. These 2-digit numbers are used for stock control where there are many new queens being reared.

Here’s a quick and handy guide to identifying your queen:

International Queen Marking Color Code
Colour Last digit of year Example
White 1 or 6 2011
Yellow 2 or 7 2012
Red 3 or 8 2013
Green 4 or 9 2014
Blue 5 or 0 2015

Of bees & swarming

In early June we supplied a hive and a colony of bees to a friend who lives in a nearby town. This set-up we installed in her back garden. Since then her hive has been very active and healthy – lots of bee activity, pollen & nectar coming in.

Recently, over the past 2 weeks, our friend has noticed an increase of activity each day around 12:30. Lots of bees flying out, a burst of high activity. After some additional research we have determined that this is swarming behaviour.

Swarming is a natural process caused, primarily, by congestion in the hive. Early in the spring the population of the honeybee colony can explode creating overcrowding. As a result, the colony makes a decision to divide – what biologists call “colony-level reproduction”. The colony begins the magical process of producing a second queen. Once the development of a new queen is well under way the old queen and approximately half the colony will depart the hive and begin looking for a new home. This is called a “prime swarm” – one which contains the old queen.

It seems that in the second year of life a queen & colony are more inclined to swarm even if no external “swarming factors” are present. Our queens are between 1 and 2 years old therefore the colonies are predisposed to swarm. There is a burst of increased production within the hive and the workers begin to construct many queen cells. These virgin, unmated queens are allowed to hatch and subsequently leave taking with them a small portion of the hive’s population. Once this small swarm (“after swarm”) has departed the virgin queen will mate and the hunt for a new permanent home intensifies.

On Friday 29th July, our friend called us to deal with a small swarming incident. I easily recovered this swarm as it had taken residence directly above one of the hives, only a metre away. I placed an open nuc box beneath it and shook the bees into it. After replacing the lid I placed the nuc box, with door open, below the site of the swarm and left it for a few hours. Later that evening I returned to note that all the swarmed bees had entered the nuc at which point I taped closed the door.

Success – one captured swarm.

Today, Saturday 30th July, however we have reports of two more swarms leaving the hive. They too are small so most likely also virgin queen after swarms however they’ve gone too far for us to be able to practically recover them.

About Johnny's Garden

Johnny’s Garden came about almost by accident. I was talking with Michael, telling him about my plan to build a few hives and keep bees with the hope of having an additional source of income when my wife and I move over to Hungary. We are looking to be as self-sufficient as possible, as environmentally-sensitive as possible … as ecologically sound and low-impact as possible.

We’ll be growing our own vegetables and fruit, raising animals to sell and eat, harvesting rainwater, conserving everything we can. We want to buy from shops as little as possible. In keeping with this aim I wondered about substituting honey in place of processed sugar. Not that we use a lot of sugar now however we DO use it.

So … bee-keeping. Gathering the honey. And bees need help – it’s GOOD for the bees, the environment, for US. I envisaged placing a few hives, maybe 5, in and around our fruit trees. The trees need to be pollinated. The bees would do that. Honey, and fruit. And happy bees. It couldn’t be better. Could it?

So, anyway, I am talking with Michael about this and we’re bouncing around some ideas. I could have more hives, export the honey to Scotland, he’d sell it. Income for both of us. Great idea. Something for the future – you see we will be getting to Hungary in 2012. This is the schedule, the plan.

A week passed. Then Michael phoned … “we should just do it now”. Do “what”? “Keep bees”. Bee-keeping. Now. Here. It was such a logical progression I’m surprised I hadn’t seen it. So we got to work. Talking, planning, writing, learning. We had visions, ideas. Some idealistic, some not. How could we revive the bees? How could we ensure their survival? Not really with 5 hives. We’d have to think bigger. Beyond our two selves.

We devised our Adopt A Hive program. Have people who want to help bees but can’t (no time, no space, no knowledge) sponsor, Adopt bees that we, Johnny’s Garden, keep. These Adopters would receive a share of the hive’s produce and we’d have sufficient funds to continue our work. We could place more hives, create more bee colonies. If that’s not good, what is?

We had lots to do. We had to secure plots of land for hives to be placed. And we had to build the hives. All this time I’d been reading and learning about bees and bee-keeping. I had a vision of how I’d like to do it. And this vision was realised in “natural bee-keeping”. Using hives designed by Robert Kerr, of Stewarton, Ayrshire, in 1819, and Abbé Émile Warré in the late 1800’s we could encourage a more natural, sustainable way for keeping bees.

These hives, the “peoples’ hives”, require less work than National – the most common type of hive used in Britain today – hives. Bees kept in Stewarton/Warré-style hives are calmer, less stressed, less likely to swarm and more likely to fight off varoa mite and other bee diseases. While the Warré-style hive yields a lower volume of honey, when compared with a framed-type hive, the benefits for bee and bee-keeper are evident and worthwhile -calmer, healthier, less stressed bees.

In addition to the natural, sustainable nature of the bee-keeping the construction of these type of hives could be undertaken by us using reclaimed wood. If that’s not good, what is? We could help bees and the environment by re-using wood that’s already been cut. Wood which would otherwise be thrown away. Wood that would require money and resources to be spent in it’s disposal … old shipping pallets.

So. We have Johnny’s Garden. We’re moving quickly. We’ve made some land deals that will allow us to expand, securing our future for some time. We have a source for reclaimed wood and we have a skilled carpenter to help us make the hives to meet the demand. We have partners in place with more on the way. And we have Adopters. Not many right now however they’re coming. So why not become a key part in the Revival+Survival of bees.

This is the key to OUR survival. get on board.

Corporate Colonists

Our Corporate Colonists programme aims to employ the resources and profiles of the country’s best businesses, companies and corporations to support us in our general aims.

We aim to develop a network of Corporate Colonists who share our belief that the revival+survival of the honeybee is not only a worthwhile cause but is now a social and moral imperative that requires far more than grass roots participation.

We aim to attract those at the very heart of corporate society, those with a declared belief and interest in society’s well being, to join us in our efforts.

We believe that the mutual benefits are self-evident.

By linking our Corporate Colonists with the grass roots movements we can humanise the ecological efforts of each business, bringing them closer to the people’s own efforts and helping to create the global movement that is now necessary.

The Corporate Colonists program has two options: On-site or Off-site Colonies. With the on-site option Johnny’s Garden will supply and manage dedicated hives with bees in, on or around your business premises with minimal disturbance or difficulties.

As a Corporate Colonist you will receive your own branded honey along with honeycomb. You will also receive documentation testifying to your participation in our Corporate Colonists programme as well as use of our Corporate Colonists accreditation and branding.

Alternatively an off-site colony allows businesses without to keep bees and own hives at a distance. Corporate Colonists here will receive a reduced quantity of honey but receive full accreditation and information and access to the hives for their promotional purposes.

'…a hive of activity'

With the Johnny’s Gardeners programme we are developing a network of like-minded groups, individuals, companies & organisations who wish to participate in our revival+survival scheme.

We are currently involved with schools, inner-city land-share projects, freeholders and urban gardening groups and local groups in addition to local and international businesses.

We aim to expand this programme through our negotiations with local authorities and church groups and support from the Green Party in Scotland.

The Johnny’s Gardeners Programme is clearly aimed at the practical application of our aims – placing thriving bee colonies in urban settings, as well as further afield, in order to encourage honeybee growth and development.

If a business, individual or group has the will and the land we can place, and manage, their very own hive or simply support their efforts through provision of help and training.

A further benefit of the Johnny’s Gardeners programme is that it provides a vehicle for education and awareness.

Through our involvement with schools and local groups we can encourage a new generation of bee-keepers whilst involving urban farmers all serving to encourage people to think beyond their allotment and prize leeks.