Visit to Murray McGregor’s queen-rearing apiary

By Olga Macaulay

Every year Murray McGregor invites members of ADBKA to visit his queen-rearing apiary in Blairgowrie. This year, due to some Covid restrictions, only thirty lucky visitors were allowed to come. Most of us know Murray and his colleague, Jolanta, who is the “Chief” of the “queen-rearing factory”. This year we were pleased to also meet Murray’s daughter Linnet.

The apiary site was divided into three demonstration areas for small groups. Murray showed us the mating nucs and explained how a queen-right starter and finisher colony is managed in the apiary.  Jolanta invited small groups into her queen-rearing unit which is the heart of the apiary, and Linnet demonstrated the use of a push-in queen introduction cage.

The apiary site is located in a sheltered spot with an abundance of pollen and nectar sources, and with no other apiaries in the vicinity, it is in a perfect position for breeding good-natured, productive, honey-bee queens – and this is the aim of the queen-rearing unit.

The process of raising a queen from a tiny egg to a fully grown, mated, and laying queen starts from selecting colonies with suitable characteristics.  Only a few of the best colonies will be allowed onto this site to ensure that the area is flooded with the best drones to mate with the virgin queens and pass on their genes.

A frame with young larvae is taken from a breeder colony to Jolanta’s unit for grafting into small plastic cups which are then fitted on a cell-bar frame and added to a queen-right starter and finisher colony.

Jolanta uses a colony of high quality as a queen-right starter and finisher colony.  The brood box is divided in half with a solid division board. A queen excluder, cut in half, covers one half of the box where the laying queen will be.  The other half serves as a passage to the upper box when necessary.  The grafting frame is placed in the upper box on the side opposite to the queen. This reduces the queen’s pheromones and encourages the bees to feed the young larvae on the grafting frame. By moving the entrance slider left or right, Jolanta can control the number of foraging bees that either enter the queen’s half of the box to stimulate egg laying, or bypass her, by using the passageway to the upper box, to feed the larvae in the queen cells on the grafting frame.  Using this system controls the amount of eggs the queen is laying and thereby extends her productive life.

For two videos of Murray explaining the queen-rearing hive, click here for the first part, and click here for the second part.

Queen-right starter and finisher box.
Photos: Jolanta Modliszewska

After the queen cells are capped, they are removed from the frame and returned to Jolanta’s unit where they are kept in an incubator at 35℃ until the virgin queens have emerged. They are then introduced to mating nucs.  From then on it is just hope that the Scottish weather will help the young queens to get mated successfully.

Linnet demonstrated introducing successfully-mated queens from the mini nucs into nuclear hives using a push-in cage, rather than the small plastic introduction cages that we’re mostly familiar with.  This method allows the queen more freedom of movement while still protecting her from being attacked.  See the video of Linnet demonstrating a push-in cage here.

Visits to Murray’s apiary are always exciting events with lots to learn and see. After the demonstration Murray patiently answered lots of questions.

A big thank you to Murray, Jolanta and Linnet for this wonderful day.

Header photo and videos by Olya Macaulay

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3 thoughts on “Visit to Murray McGregor’s queen-rearing apiary

  1. Very interesting – I hope to become bee keeper soon. So much to learn I know. I have fond memories of y Dad bee keeping he had 5 hives at our croft.

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