Saturday, 19 November 2011

Who'd be a Queen?

One of the most common comments I get about beekeeping is "My grandfather used to do it!" which is a slightly ambiguous comment, as I'm not quite sure I want to be grouped in the grand parent category for the immediate future - which is why I was so pleased to find this web site. I wouldn't quite go as far as to confirm the sexy suggestion, though there's nothing so appealing as seeing a queen bee sidle round the brood box - after watching what seems like millions of bees, her petite wings and elongate abdomen have a certain appeal. And when I'm poised with some queen marking paint, she represents the Holy Grail!

I don't like the idea of painting the queen with the appropriate colour for the year: queens have their own personality which dominates the hive and, quite often, the behaviour of the bee keeper. I'd toyed with the idea of using a metallic red or bronze nail varnish, but that has to remain a fantasy: queens are too valuable to be damaged with any chemicals which may hurt her, though I maintain the right to use them on my own fingers.

My feelings about queens are muddled too. The traditional view of a queen adored and cared for by the entire population of the colony is quite close to my own heart, if, of course, I am scheduled for the role of queen and not of worker bee. And yet, part of the casual brutality of the bee world emerges with the birth of the queen, who seeks out any rivals, at which point there is a duel to the death after which there is only one queen in that hive.

When the queen emerges for her mating flight, it's something to make watching bee keepers catch their breath with fascination. Drones may fly for long distances to join her, though mating is the supreme climax of their life, as they die immediately afterwards. But after that brief moment of glory, the queen's life is confined to the safe darkness of the hive, laying eggs until such time as her colony decides that it's time for her to be superseded, at which point she is either killed or has to go into exile with a swarm.

So, who'd be a queen? That's the question of the day I ponder when removing the queen excluders for the winter, to give all the bees access to the whole of the honey stores which will keep them through the winter..

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