The red-headed queen of the Diamond Jubilee

‘For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen.’ The moment a princess became a queen, by Rosie Waites, BBC News Magazine 

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee brought street parties with red, white and blue bunting this weekend to mark 60 years of HRH. As the queen is an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians where I work, we celebrated Jubilee Day last week and held a charity cake sale with all the proceeds going towards the Prince’s Trust. There was traditional English food on offer in the buttery including roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

At the apiary on Saturday there was also lots of cake, which is not that unusual. I had brought a cake from my holiday in Rome called ‘Dolce del Papa’, or ‘Dessert of the Pope’, which I was bemused to see John Chapple, the queen’s beekeeper, eyeing a bit suspiciously before taking a slice.

Dessert of the pope – it’s heavenly delightful!

Emily and me had our own queen to celebrate – a beautiful bright orange virgin which had been spotted by Emily in our swarmed hive while I was in Italy. To our delight, the queen’s enlarged abdomen indicated that she had mated and she was happily running round the comb being attended by her revenue of ladies-in-waiting.

Queen Neroli, our bright orange Diamond Jubilee queen!

Emily thinks her mother, Lavender, mated with New Zealand drones, which would explain why our new queen is very orange. We have decided to call her Neroli, which is the oil obtained from the blossom of the bitter orange tree. The essential oil (Citrus aurantium var. amara) takes its name from the 17th-century Italian princess of Nerola, Anna Maria de La Tremoille, who famously wore the oil to scent her gloves. A royal name fitting for a queen bee who took her crown on the Diamond Jubilee.

Salvatore Battaglia says the aroma of neroli is light, refreshing and floral, citing Valerie Worwood’s The fragrant mind which describes the essential oil to be ‘ageless, forever young in a spring-like way’. Emily and me hope Queen Neroli will live long and bring good fortune to her hive.

A queen cell from our swarmed hive placed in Myrrh’s dwindling colony has not produced an heir.

Sadly, Myrrh’s old hive remained queenless. The queen cell that I had placed in the colony from our swarmed hive two weeks ago was still capped. Queen bees usually emerge eight days after the queen cell is sealed, so it seemed unlikely that the larva had survived this long. John suggested uncapping the cell to be certain and showed us how to do this gently with a hive tool. If the queen was alive then this would allow her to emerge – but the uncapped cell revealed a shrivelled, blackened, dead queen bee inside the cell. John thought she may have died from black queen cell virus.

A blackened and shrivelled dead queen which may have died from black queen cell virus, associated with the hive disease nosema.

This hive has been unlucky with queens – a drone-laying queen after winter, an unmated queen in spring due to bad weather, and two failed attempts to re-queen using frames of larvae and finally a queen cell from Lavender’s hive. This latest bit of bad luck – a dead queen in her cell – decided the colony’s fate. Emily and me had given these bees enough chances, it was time to combine our two hives.

As the new queen of our swarmed hive, Neroli, had mated it was safe to combine the hives, whereas before it may have risked stressing the virgin queen or have caused confusion when she returned from her mating flight. Combining two hives is really easy – here’s how it’s done in two simple steps…

A sheet of newspaper is placed on top of the brood box which has the queen in the nest, and a hive tool is used to make a few small holes through the queen excluder as Emily demonstrates here.

The brood box of bees without a queen is placed on top. During the week, the bees will chew away the newspaper, which will give them time to become accustomed to each other’s smell and prevent fighting – they will be the best of friends. At least, that’s the plan.

Hopefully, next week we will return to our newly combined hive and our girls should all be getting along! John explained that hive combining should be done in the evening or early morning when the foragers are inside the hive. This is because moving a hive – even by an inch – can cause foragers to lose their way home. However, as it was already late in the afternoon he thought it should be fine.

Emily and me waited as long as possible for Myrrh’s foragers to return and circle the area where their old hive had been. When they settled on the mesh floor we carried and brushed the bees into the combined hive, but we could not get them all. Eventually the circle of returning foragers disappeared and we hoped that they had bribed their way into other hives with their loads of nectar and pollen.

Our newly combined hives – and what is this mysterious empty hive next door?

It seemed that we were down one hive, but John and Pat were busy scheming. In April Emily and me had helped John set up nucleus hives at Osterley Park and the nucs were now ready to bring to Perivale apiary. ‘Would you like another colony?’ Pat asked, to which we both replied ‘Yes!’. So before we left for the day, we used our spare woodwork to set up a new hive next door to Neroli’s. We reflected that both our hives were now in the sunniest spot of the apiary, which should help them to flourish before summer ends.

Happy Jubilee Bees!

Neroli, lavender and rose facial oil
In honour of our new queen, Neroli, and her royal mother and grandmother, Lavender and Rose, here is a hauntingly beautiful essential oil blend that can be used for a rejuvenating facial massage or for an anti-aging and nourishing night oil.

  • 9 drops neroli
  • 6 drops lavender
  • 3 drops rose
  • 30ml jojoba oil
As with all aromatherapy blends, remember to patch test before general use and don’t use during pregnancy without advice from your midwife or doctor.

Related links
The official website of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, where you can also send a message to the queen.


30 thoughts on “The red-headed queen of the Diamond Jubilee

      • So wonderful that the Queen can celebrate 60 years as your Monarch! And I hope your queen bee stuffs herself silly with honey! How’s your weather been?

      • She is an example to us all remaining so consistent through the years – I love that the ‘fairytale’ story of a princess who went up a tree and came down a queen is actually true. Our weather is getting back on track, typical British summertime sunshine and showers. Hope the sun is shining on your side of the pond! 🙂

      • Hi Emma – Its been rainy damp and cold here the last few days and forecast to remain so much of the week. Officially summer is three weeks away but on this side of the pond the season starts Memorial Day Weekend. So far, its been a bit of a washout, but with such a dry winter, we can use the rain for sure. I would just like to be able to sit out and enjoy my back yard soon! Keep your fingers crossed! Hugs! D.

      • Ooh, so you have at least three weeks before summer starts officially – that is something to look forward to. A bit of rain brings everything to life, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for just the perfect blend of sunshine and showers for your garden! 🙂

  1. morning emma, lots of learning on your pages today! i can never find my queens.. but I know they are there!! I am sure I will get better with practice, i wish you two lived down he road though.. c

    • Thank you, Emily is a great hive partner – I certainly missed her while she was in Albania – although we are still learning lots. Thomas, a beekeeper at our apiary, gave me a tip to spot queens: holding the frame over the hive, divide it mentally into square sections and relax your eye over each square – like one of those picture puzzles, the queen should magically appear! (In theory!) I also look to see how the workers are moving and behaving because they both circle and clear the way for the queen on the frame.

  2. Combining hives is fascinating… and paper for them to chew through during their ‘getting acquainted’ stage. Love that. Thanks so much for another wonderful post. Best of luck and I look forward to upcoming posts on these important bee-adventures!

  3. Really glad that you’ve got a new colony and hope that your original ones combine happily!

    I need to start planning an artifical swarm, but haven’t got a second hive yet!

    Hopefully will do soon….


    • An artificial swarm – that is exciting! I like the nuc method best of find the old queen and putting her in the nuc with a few frames of brood, bees and stores, because I understand that way best. But there are quite a few methods and they all usually work very well. Your bees are doing splendidly, they must like the hens! 🙂

    • What a lovely thought, Emily 🙂 It must have been mixed by angels! I think John and the others were just not used to cake coming out of a packet – they are accustomed to your hand-baked delights!

  4. I’m so glad you’re getting another hive! That was so sweet of John and Pat!!
    It sounds like you had an exciting Jubilee – I’m looking forward to seeing you and Emily in a few weeks.
    I love the new background on your blog, too! 🙂

    • Of course, your trip to London is coming up fast 🙂 That is exciting! I hope you can visit our apiary 🙂

      The new banner and background for my blog was painted by the daughter of a friend of mine, Amber Tenzin-Dolma, who is a very talented young artist. She draws, paints, does glasswork, makes jewellery. I’ll be blogging about her soon!

      • Amber is wonderful!!
        I hope I can visit your apiary. 🙂
        I also emailed John Chapple about my visit. Please assure him that I am not a crazy person!!
        I did mention your name. I hope you don’t mind. You know us pushy Yanks… 🙂

      • John is a great mentor to all the Ealing beekeepers, we’re lucky to have him. I’m sure he’ll be pleased to chat bees to a beekeeper from across the pond! 🙂

        I’ll let Amber know you think the artwork is pretty, she has a lovely imagination and is always making something in her studio like these cute flower pieces for hair:

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