The Queen of the Queens by Blairgowrie

It is always a great pleasure to meet people who work with honey bees. All the people I have spoken to in my travels so far clearly love their work and are always willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me. Bee workers must have enormous patience because they tolerate my awkward question lines as I struggle with my voice and note recorder, trying to sound vaguely informed. When I go home and listen to the interviews, I’m usually able to make some sense of it and turn them into pages that readers will one day find enlightening, fascinating, fun, and life-affirming … I hope so. I reasoned that if I like to read it, there must be someone else who enjoys it too, and any beekeeper who wants to learn will undoubtedly want to hear from the gurus on my favorites list.

I recently visited Murray McGregor, owner of Denrosa apiaries, in his difficult to find but very beautiful cabin near Blairgowrie in Perthshire, Scotland. It is located next to a small lake that had been frozen for the most part. The large area of ​​surrounding land is populated with core hives, countless mating hive stalls, a queen rearing shed, some artificial raptors to scare away woodpeckers, Unimog vans and various other paraphernalia. After a tour of some of her apiaries along the valley sides of the Earn and Tay rivers, we met up with Jolanta Modliszewska at Denrosa’s headquarters in Coupar Angus. Jolanta was cutting and packing heather honeycomb honey, which is a strange thing to be doing on a Saturday afternoon, but orders need to be fulfilled and there is a lot of demand for this high-quality product. There were a lot of sloth pictures on the wall. Who doesn’t love sloths? However, her real domain is the queen rearing operation, so we took her back to the beehouse where I put a tape recorder under her nose and did my routine of awkward questions.

Jolanta has worked for Murray for 12 years. For the first few years, he was helping hard-working bees in the field, but he stood out from the crowd in terms of aptitude and passion for bees and took the opportunity to establish Denrosa’s queen-rearing operation. She was flown to Cyprus to train with Roger White, where she quickly acquired skills such as grafting, establishing cell builder and terminator colonies, using the incubator, achieving successful matings, trapping and marking mated queens, and everything related to keeping her. majesty healthy and well.

In her first year at the new Blairgowrie mating station, Jolanta started with 150 mating boxes and the results were very encouraging. Since then, it has grown steadily to 900 mating boxes divided into two locations, and word is spreading in the beekeeping community about the quality of the queens produced. Murray proudly informed me that just last week the Scottish bee inspector and someone from the science institute had been very complimentary about the project. Although most of the queens raised are used in production colonies to make that delicious heather honey, an increasing number are being sold to other beekeepers. Murray has a lot of capacity to expand that side of the business, and he sure will. I will place an order myself next season because they are big bees and now I have seen how they are made and who makes them.

I’m going to save a lot of the technical details of how the talented Ms. Modliszewska makes her queens for my book, but I can say a few things. She uses a Chinese style grafting tool and wishes to point out that it must have bamboo cane, not plastic. She uses fairly small mating boxes of the Kieler type. Murray brings in packets of worker bees taken from colonies in the field, and a measure of these goes to the mating box and a newly emerged virgin queen is introduced. Jolanta places the sealed queen cells in the incubator around the eleventh day, so a few days later the virgin emerges in her roller cage on the fourteenth day, and in two days she has a new home in a small mating box with the workers. freshly shaken.

Once the queen is mated, they capture her, extract her, mark her with a colored dot on the thorax, and place her in a queen cage to transport her to another location. Its place is taken by a sealed queen cell of a finishing colony (not an emerged virgin) and so on. Jolanta found that virgin queens work best in newly created mating boxes, but queen cells work best once they are established with the drawn comb and brood. The cell is protected with aluminum foil wrapped around it, which improves the acceptance rate. Mating success is highly dependent on the weather, which can be useless in these parts, but overall Murray estimates that they mate between 60% and 70%. Sometimes if it’s too cold or too windy, the virgins don’t leave their cozy homes to go on a mating flight, and if they’re still virgins after two weeks, they shake them off and everything has to start over.

Breeding queens live in 5-frame polynucleus hives placed near the beehouse. These are the finest queens, handpicked by Murray and brought back to be used for breeding only after proving they are exceptional. Murray has more than 3,000 bee colonies, so he can be very picky. Each queen is known by a code; the prefix “J” is for Jolanta, followed by numbers sequentially. Apparently, the queen “J21” is really good, and “J7” is very old and very dear to the ever-protective Jolanta. She says she will cry when J7 dies. I’m afraid it may be as soon as I am seven! These queens live longer than production queens because they are kept in small colonies and do not lay as many eggs each year as a queen leading a giant colony. They are the mothers of most of the Denrosa colonies and many of the top queens sold to customers, although Murray maintains diversity by bringing breeding queens from abroad as well. Both Murray and Jolanta agree that the Carniola subspecies performs better in their area, but any queen of any type enters the show if they are good enough.

When I asked Jolanta about her favorite part of the queen rearing cycle, she said, “Catching queens,” so she can “see her new babies.” She cares a lot about her queens and is a perfectionist, which is clearly part of the reason for her achievements so far. I asked him if any aspect of the job had been difficult for him. “No,” he said, “Actually, I found everything quite easy.” Murray chimed in with a laugh, “She finds one thing difficult – following orders!”

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