One of the things I love about beekeeping is that I’m always learning something new! The latest is about “queen banking”, and while the first thing you may have pictured was me going into my local bank branch with a tiara on – nope that isn’t what it means!
I started the winter with 5 hives & 2 Nucs. I lost the two Nucs in late Dec & one of the hives in early February. In Mid-march the other 4 hives were still alive – 2 were very strong & 2 were alive – but weak. Unfortunately, the last 2 weeks of March were unseasonably cold & rainy… and the two weak hives perished – one the third week of March & the other a week or so later.
When the weather got a little nicer, I opened the cover of one of these recently deceased hives to see if I could figure out why it died.. I pulled a frame, and there was the queen bee + 4 other attendants with her. My first thought was – “oh that’s too bad, they must have froze because there weren’t many bees around”. I proceeded to nudge the queen with my finger & she started walking around!
Knowing that she wouldn’t survive in the hive by herself (queens required attendants to keep her warm & feed her), I scooped her up along with the other 4 or 5 bees and put them in a tupperware container with some sugar water in a dish, put a screen over it, and placed the container in a dark area. of the house Checking on her an hour or so later, she was starting to move around well & looked like she would survive! Next I had to figure out what I was going to do with her – if it were later in the year, I’d pull some frames of brood from the strong hive & start a new colony with her, but April is too early to do that since they are just starting to raise brood. I know I can’t add her to one of the existing colonies because the queen that is already in the colony will try to kill her. So the $10,000 question – how do I keep the queen alive until I can split one of the other colonies?
I called one of my beekeeping mentors, Allen Lindahl, and he said – “oh just bank her” to which I responded “what? I’ve never heard of that!” I learned that banking queens is a common practice among beekeepers who raise queens – it is a way to keep them alive & healthy while waiting to go into a hive. What you do is, first put a queen excluder into a strong hive ( A queen excluder is a metal grate with openings big enough to allow worker bees to pass through but not a queen). Next, put the queen you want to save & her attendants into a queen cage, and place it on top of the queen excluder. The “banked” queen will be protected from the other queen by the queen excluder & the cage, but the worker bees in the colony will feed the “banked” queen so she will survive.
I figured – what do I have to lose, she’ll die if I leave her in the tupperware container or put her in a hive to early – so I “banked” her in the stronger of the two surviving hives about 1.5 weeks ago. I checked on her just the other day & she looks great!.. She is running around her little queen cage wanting to get out, she is very fat – meaning she is ready to start laying eggs… so now all I need is to wait another couple weeks to be able to pull a frame or two of bees & brood so I can put her in a NUC to start a new hive!