As with everything in beekeeping, there’s more than one way 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 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 the brightness of 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 nuc 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. Coloured dots be damned.
July 31st, 2021: I had no problems marking queens with this queen catcher last summer. But this summer has been trickier. I can see how some people might not have the results and how they could even kill a queen using this queen catcher.
I first heard from another beekeeper who tried using this catcher and said the foam padding wasn’t high enough, so that even when he pushed the plunger all the way, he couldn’t pin the queen down for marking. Another guy had the same problem and kept pushing until the plunger pushed through suddenly and squished the queen. The sliding mechanism is as smooth as it could be either — a problem I had from the beginning.
Add it all up and those factors could easily make things better than worse, more difficult than easier.
While I found it to be the most convenient and easiest method of catching queens (because I’ve never really gotten into catching queen until now), it didn’t work out like that for me this summer. I tried to pin the queen and it seemed the foam padding had already shrunk to the point where I couldn’t get the queen pinned. I marked her a bit but she was moving and I said enough of this.
I think I can make some adjustments to the queen catcher so it’ll work well again. But more a traditional queen catcher like this one might work better for some: