Recently, one of our Co Dublin BKA beginners asked for help finding an elusive queen. I’m sure we have all at some time or another struggled to find a queen (though sod’s law dictates that during inspections when you have no need to find her, she presents herself to you). Some years ago I was taught a method for finding a queen when the usual searching has failed. I have used it a few times with success (and once, without success, it must be said). Here are the steps:
1. Choose a warm day when the foragers are flying.
2. Quietly & gently move the brood box containing the elusive queen onto a stand at least ten feet away from its current site. Replace it with an empty brood box, and leave the supers and queen excluder on the original site.
3. Remove 3 of the brood frames. Shake every bee off each frame before you do so. Put them back into the brood box on the original site, so those bees keep any brood warm. At this point your queen must still be in your brood box unless she has taken to the air (in which case she may have arrived in the empty nuc box on the original site). Push the remaining frames to the sides of the brood box, leaving a gap in the centre.
4. This is the clever bit. Go to another hive and take out a brood frame, shaking all the bees off it first. Put the foreign frame in the centre of the brood box that contains the elusive queen. Move a couple of the brood other frames from the edges to alongside the foreign frames – so you have a group of 3 frames in the middle and a bit of a gap on either side of it. Close it up and leave it for an hour or so. Less time might suffice.
5. When you return to the hive containing the elusive queen, open it quietly and lift the 3 centre frames (foreign frame between 2 frames from this hive) together into an empty nuc box. All being well, your elusive queen will have been attracted to the lingering scent of a queen on the foreign frame and will be looking for her to kill her. Search these frames carefully and patiently, and you will usually find her there.
6. Catch her, reassemble the hive on its stand and then do with the queen what you will (it’s safer to have the hive reassembled before you do anything with the queen, just in case she escapes). Return the foreign frame to its colony (again, sans bees).
Note: you don’t strictly need to do step 2, but doing it makes the other steps more manageable, especially if the colony is aggressive or large.
(A version of this post appeared in An Beachaire magazine.)