Central to all queen-rearing activities is the queen mating yard, where the queens make their home between the time that they are hatched from a queen cell, until the time that they are ready for sale. A typical commercial queen mating yard contains hundreds of mating nuclei, each with at least a pound of worker bees, a small frame or two of brood, sufficient honey stores or feed, and a queen cell.
Not all mating yards are of the same quality. When we evaluate locations for establishing a mating yard, we always consider the following very important factors:
- First and most importantly, all mating yards need to be within optimal flying distance (approximately one half mile, give or take) to our drone-rearing colonies. There has to be an abundance of quality drones in the area; otherwise, what’s the point?
- The mating yard should also be near rich pollen sources. Young, growing queens need proper nutrition during their formative days, and nearby pollen enables the queens to be well nourished as they prepare for and take their multiple mating flights.
- An ideal queen-mating yard must also have landmarks, such as trees or bushes interspersed throughout the yard. That way the queens do not get lost when returning home from their mating flights.
- A clean water source nearby is also important, so that the bees stay clear of swimming pools or other dangers
- And, the mating yard should be free from ants or other small pests that can overrun the small and relatively defenseless mating nucs.
The above photo is one of our favorite mating yards, and has all the key elements to make it a success. It also features an additional benefit that we didn’t mention above: beautiful tall pine trees that provide plenty of shade for a relaxing lunch break after a morning of selecting and caging queen bees!