As with everything in beekeeping, there’s more than one day to mark a queen, but most methods usually involve catching the queen, holding her down in some way so she can’t move, and then dabbing her with a paint pen or marker.
I’ve never bothered marking queens myself because, until now, I’ve been pretty free wheelin’ with my queens. I usually have little need to hunt them down. But this year I had a colony that was ready to swarm and it would have been great if I could have found the queen then. A marked queen in a few other situations would have made my life easier too. So I got myself one of the new fan-dangled queen catchers and I marked a few queens, the first time I’ve done this in 10 years. Here’s a video that shows how I did it:
Queen Marking Colours
I’m not keen on marking my queens with the official colours that we’re supposed to use. If I did, I would have marked my queens with blue paint according to this chart:
A white mark is supposed to be used for years ending in 1 and 6, and so on. But the green and red years/colours are kind of useless for the 10% of male beekeepers who have colour deficient vision like me, sometimes called colourblindness. I can tell the difference between and the red and green circles (and all the colours) in the above illustration. But if you reduce them down to the size of a little dot and put the green and red dots next to each other, I might not know which is which.
I don’t view my vision as deficient, though. I just see things slightly different than most people. One of the giants of cinematography, Haskell Wexler, was colourblind. Like Haskell, I notice tones and shade and light more acutely than most people. The actual colour is hardly on my radar.
For me, trying to find a small, worn out green dot on a frame packed with bees is pretty much impossible too. In fact, I messed up a transfer of some brood into a mating nuc this summer by transferring the queen along with the brood — not what you want to do in a mating nucs with a queen cell about to emerge. I didn’t spot the light green dot on the queen.
If I mark my queens, I’ll use a colour that jumps out at me — white or yellow. I don’t have dozens or hundreds of hives and I don’t sell queens, so I don’t really see the need to change the colour every year. I take track of my queens by numbering my hives. It’s easy and it’s worked out fine for me.
I’ve heard from a colourblind beekeeper who sells queens, and he only uses two colours, yellow and blue, I think, one colour for even years and the other colour for odd years. And at the end of the day, you aren’t supposed to do anything as a beekeeper. You do what works for you.