This post describes the internationally recognised colour system for marking queen bees.
Will You Rear Good Bees? This simple mnemonic (memory aid) will make it easy for you to remember what colour to mark your queens.
The first letter of each word in the mnemonic “Will You Rear Good Bees?” represents a colour. W for white, Y for yellow, R for red, G for green, B for blue. You match the last digit of the year the queen is born with the first letter of word to determine the colour required. Starting at one, recite the mnemonic: 1=W, 2=Y, 3=R, 4=G, 5=B and then repeat the saying for the last five numbers: 6=W, 7=Y, 8=R, 9=G, 0(as in 10)=B.
To make it easy for you, in 2018 the marking colour is red, 2019 requires green and 2020’s colour is blue.
As an amateur beekeeper with just one or two hives you may not wish to buy five different coloured marking pens. You are also likely to keep good records regarding the year your queens were raised. If this is the case marking them all with a white marker is sufficient. You may choose to leave your queens unmarked as well. The drawback of not marking your queens is that it is harder to know what is happening to your queen within the hive. Marking queens helps you to identify if a queen has been superseded (the old queen has died and the colony has raised a new one), or if your hive is running with two queens – one will be marked and a second will be unmarked. This year I had one hive happily supporting two queens for at least four months in the lead up to autumn. I have not seen both queens in my last two inspections and assume the old one has been permanently superseded. This occurs more frequently than we realize. We don’t always notice two queens in one hive because once they find the first queen, most beekeepers don’t continue looking for additional queens.
Whether you choose to mark your queens the same colour every year, follow the international standard marking practice or not mark your queens at all is a decision up to each individual beekeeper. Your decision will be based on why you keep bees. Like most aspects of beekeeping there is no one correct way, do what works best for you.
Thanks for reading, enjoy your journey!