Storage of mated honey bee queens, in cages within full sized colonies of bees, is known as queen banking.
Many things in beekeeping do not “go according to plan” and the supply and demand of mated queens sometimes do not coincide.
If it is a shortage there is little we can do except start another batch… But a surplus of queens can be temporarily stored by a technique known as “queen banking”.
Providing that the existing queen is kept out of reach by the use of a normal queen excluder, a honey super is a reasonable place to store a few queens. Many types of cages can be used… I have used hair roller type cages, so called “nursery cages” and a progression of even larger types
Why bank Queens ?
During the production season queens can be banked while waiting to be sent to customers.
In order to ‘ride out’ customer demand or unforeseen weather conditions.
To maintain surplus or over produced queens.
I have seen it written that queen banking should be used in order to store queens to put on the market early the following year, at a higher price, but I feel that long term banking causes some deterioration in the queens. If you wish to store queens for early sale the following season then the best way of doing it is within five frame nucs not banking cages. The case for using banking in the production season is a bit thin, because in most cases demand outstrips supply at this time of year.
A wooden frame that fits into a Langstroth bee hive, which can hold several mesh covered wooden queen cages that in turn each hold an unmated queen honey bee.
There are many types of nursery cage, but the majority of them can be ‘mixed and matched’, The cages are held in two sub frames that can be independently swivelled for easy insertion of the cages.
The distinction needs to be made between a queen nursery and the process of queen banking. A nursery situation usually refers to virgin queens that have actually emerged from their cells into the cages. In a queen banking situation we are usually storing queens that have been mated and are temporarily surplus to immediate requirements. The processes are similar and the conditions within the hive that is looking after the queens can be the same, although it is common to bank mated queens in honey supers, nursery frames need to be supported in the manner outlined below. There is a significant difference in the amount of queen pheromone given off by a mated queen compared to a virgin.
The colony should be made up in a normal deep brood chamber, place a frame of honey on each outside wall and five or six frames of brood in the centre. One of these frames can, to advantage, be a damaged one that has had a portion of blank foundation spliced into the damaged area, this acts as a magnet for those workers that are intent on wax working and would otherwise attach wild comb to the nursery cages. This will provide enough worker bees to care for up to 3 nursery frames (or banking frames), young nurse bees are ensured by using the Marburg box to provide the workforce of bees. The source of the bees must also be closely related to the queens in the cages in the genetic sense and all virgin queens in the cages should also be closely related. The nursery box should be assessed every week and restocked with frames of brood, honey stores and young bees as required. Early stage brood is particularly useful as it stimulates the nurse bees to produce food. Supplemental feeding of pollen and honey (or syrup) may be required to ensure good care is taken of the virgin queens.
At all times this colony must remain queenless and checks should be made that queen cells are not raised in odd corners of the box that might be a long distance from the influence of the weak pheromones from the virgin queens in the cages.