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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Does anyone have experience with long term banking of mated queens? I'm looking to bank mated queens overwinter to replace deads as well as sell. I'm from Alberta, Canada so looking to bank for 6 months.
Any experience or thoughts on banking in an incubator without attendants?

Thanks for your help.
 

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I have never tried to keep queens over the winter in a bank, but I do winter queens in mating nucs. I'm using a deep box divided 4 ways, each quadrant has 5 half size frames in it. What I tell people who want to understand how this works for us, is to pay attention to the details. We will do the last round of queens to be mated in early August. I leave them in the mating nucs for the winter. We do lose some in September for a couple reasons, usually it's a weaker nuc that gets robbed out and/or finished off by wasps. Over the last 5 years of doing this, of every queen alive in a mating nuc on November 1, with the exception of one this last winter, all of them were still alive by April 1. Up until this year, I've only been putting a dozen into winter this way, 3 boxes with 4 each. This year it will be 2 dozen, I've added more 4 way boxes since I found a commercial source for them that come complete with assembled frames.

What part of Alberta are you in ? Do you winter outdoors, or in a bee shed ?

I know a bunch of folks in our provincial association (BC) that did overwintered banks a few years ago, got very excited about the prospect because they had good survival in the banks the first year they did it. The following winter it was a total bust, for everybody. We haven't had our regular spring meetings in March for the last 2 years, so, I dont know how things have gone for those trying over the last 2 winters.

Our own project was inspired from a presentation by Liz Huxter of Kettle Valley Queens in Grand Forks at a provincial meeting a few years back. She told us about how they experimented one year by doing an extra round of queens into the mating nucs, then stacking them into a shed for the winter. They put a thousand queens into winter that way, 700 survived, they were using medium depth boxes, 5 frames per quadrant. A few years later, they got behind on work, so the boxes didn't end up in the shed by the time snow arrived, so the boxes ended up sitting outside for the winter. The next spring, survival was the same as it had been putting them in the shed, so she said 'its a lot of work, we stopped doing that'.

The kicker for me was when she looked at the audience and asked 'Do you know how much 700 queens are worth early in the spring ?'. Then she mutttered something along the lines of 'it put kids thru university' later.

I have had really good success wintering 'spare queens' this way, and I like using the 4 ways as mating nucs thru the season, so we are ramping up our use of them now. Granted, winters here on the northern half of Vancouver Island are not as bad as those in Alberta, but winters in Grand Forks are not that much removed from an Alberta winter, so I would expect it's doable where you are too.

One of the big reasons I like this method over using a bank is the spreading out of the risk. Setting up a proper winter bank will use up the resources of 3 colonies. For the same resources, I can populate a dozen 4 way compartments, and if one dies, I dont lose them all. If a bank doesn't survive, you lose everything in the bank. It's the age old question around 'eggs and baskets'.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
I live in central Alberta and winter both outdoor and indoors. My thinking for wintering in a bank is to have 40 queens in push in queen excluder cages so they can all lay small patches of brood to keep some young bees coming and hopefully not have to add bees throughout the winter while also keeping the cluster around the queens (drawn by the brood as well as the queens). I am unsure if the bees would kill the queens if there's more than 1 laying or if they would accept them kinda like 2 queen systems.
I like the idea of wintering in mating nucs but don't have the resources. I'm running under 200 hives but looking to bank 600+ (not this winter). If I had the equipment I'd keep them for increasing my own numbers.

Do the small mating nucs swarm easily in the spring if the queens aren't taken in time?

The earliest I've put cells in around here is the middle of May but I'd like to have mated queens by the end of April, I suppose I could leave them queen less until the middle of May but even those first cells usually take an extra week to mate around here.
 

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I certainly wouldn't consider banking queens overwinter. I've read a lot of studies that points to them being damaged when banked for only a few weeks and if banked too early, forcing them to stop laying, don't have the chance to fully develop. I would never buy a queen knowing it had been banked for months and personally refuse to bank queens - but I'm small enough I don't need to.

However, like grozzie, I do keep a number of queens from different lines in my mating castles as backups to replace lost colonies. In my climate the summer dearth is the hardest time for us and if I do lose colonies it's in October, just before things start blooming again. It's certainly great having backups but long term banking probably isn't your answer.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I'm hoping the push in queen cages would allow for the queen to never completely stop laying, I'm just not sure how the bees would react to a bunch of queens laying small patches.
I know there has been a number of trials for overwintering in banks with some around 75% and the main concern from my understanding is keeping the queens in the cluster. From the studies I've read they are still good queens if they haven't suffered heat or cold stress.
While I'm sure it would be ideal to have the queens in their own hive, I'm thinking local mated banked queens (given the right conditions) would be a better alternative to imported Queens which are banked, although not for as long, and from a much warmer climate than here. Many mated queens are needed early spring for canola pollination here.
 

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I think the big things to consider with banking queens over winter are:
1. How to you keep the cluster from moving off of the queens when they move up during the winter or contract in the cold? Do you feed them all winter, and/or do you put heaters under the hives, or something else.
2. What is the minimum quantity of bees that can make it thru the winter. If you stack several boxes together tightly so there is less warm surfaces you may have better luck.
3. How many queens are you going to try and bank in a hive. 40 seems like to many in one hive. If you have lots of queens in a hive they may all lay brood, and you may have problems with having to many bees in the hive.

I have not tried overwintering queens. I have overwintered a nuc, and it sort of worked. I am going to try this again this year.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
1. I'm hoping the small patches of brood they lay will keep the bees from abandoning the queens, I mostly just run singles so a strong hive going into winter wouldn't move up away from the queens, although a boosted double with the queens in the top box might work better for banking them overwinter. And I do have a possible way to have it wintered in a building kept at 4°C and would be easy to add feed if needed.
2. I've had quite small clusters make it through winter before and will boost the bank if needed to make sure it is strong.
3. I would be more worried about not enough bees as the 40 push in cages I have cover less than 2 frames and I think a single queen lays more than that but haven't studied their laying much in the winter.

Here's a picture of the type of cages, and I'd have 2 frames with 10 on each side.
63944
 

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Do the small mating nucs swarm easily in the spring if the queens aren't taken in time?
They do get rather full of bees early in the season, but, surprisingly they dont start swarm preps any earlier than full size colonies, even tho they are bursting at the seams with bees. I think that's driven by the low overnight temps and the availability of drones. I have found them getting honey bound on the maple flow in April, easily cured by yaking out a capped frame and replacing with an empty.

For our season here, my goal most years is to be placing cells from the first graft around May 1, but as an example, I ran rather late this year and first round didn't go in till mid May, none of them had swarmed yet, but one had started to make cells.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
They do get rather full of bees early in the season, but, surprisingly they dont start swarm preps any earlier than full size colonies, even tho they are bursting at the seams with bees. I think that's driven by the low overnight temps and the availability of drones. I have found them getting honey bound on the maple flow in April, easily cured by yaking out a capped frame and replacing with an empty.

For our season here, my goal most years is to be placing cells from the first graft around May 1, but as an example, I ran rather late this year and first round didn't go in till mid May, none of them had swarmed yet, but one had started to make cells.
It sounds like it would be worth a try with some, our first nectar flow doesn't start until mid to later May.
My longer term objective though is to produce and sell queens. I was hoping I'd be able to mate queens in queen castles above a queenrite colony (one accidental experiment looked like virgins wouldn't get through an excluder but might need more proof on that) and then I wouldn't be taking anything away from my honey producers but would still be producing queens.
Also any thoughts on keeping queens in an incubator in the house overwinter without attendants?
 
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