Cloak Board Colony

An updated, printable handout is at this link: CloakBoardColonyHandout

A cloak board is a very versatile tool for raising queen. This colony pictured here has been used off and on again as a queen cell builder and queen bank throughout the season. A cloak board is simply a queen excluder with a metal insert that can be inserted to divide the colony in two, or removed to unite the colony while confining the laying queen in the bottom box. It also creates an entrance for the top box.  As a ‘cell builder’, I’ll graft about 30 queens once a week into the colony. As a queen bank, I let the queen cells emerge in cages and the nurse bees care for the new virgins till they are introduced into mating nucs within a few days.

Here is a cell builder / queen bank using a cloak board. The metal insert is currently in, making the top box a separate colony without a laying queen. It is at the end of the season and now a new, virgin queen has been released in the top. The old queen is still laying in the bottom box, with the entrance open on the other side. In late October, when the top box is queen right (queen is mated and laying) and progressing well, the colony will be divided.
Here is a cell builder / queen bank using a cloak board. It is at the end of the season and now a new queen has been released in the top. The old queen is still laying in the bottom box, with the entrance open on the other side. In late October, when the top box is queen right and progressing well, the colony will be divided.

To setup a cloak board cell builder, I use the following procedure.

  • Several days before grafting, setup a strong double deep colony from one or more colonies that has been previously treated for varroa mites.
    • Reverse and close the entrance on the bottom board.
    • Find, mark, and place the queen in the bottom box. Make sure you have empty combs for her to lay in the bottom box.
    • Insert the cloak board in the open position with the entrance pointing in the direction that the lower entrance was formerly pointing in. The bees will orientate to the new, higher entrance.
    • Feed the colony before and throughout the period of raising queens.
    • Be sure and check for queen cells and destroy any. (i only do this in cell builders).
  • 2 days before grafting: arrange the colony
    • The top box will need 1 frame of larvae and 1 frame of pollen in the top box along with honey and an empty comb or foundation for bees to store nectar. Capped brood can be included. Have the larvae and pollen frame towards the middle of the box as the grafts will be placed between these two frames. Having the larvae in this box will lure nurse bees up from the lower box into the position grafts will be placed.
    • The bottom box will need capped brood, some honey and pollen, and empty comb for the queen to lay in. A frame of larvae can be included, but not more than 1 frame.
    • Support colonies can be used to move frames to and from the cell builder if the right kinds of frames (capped brood, larvae, etc) are not available in the right proportions
    • Leaving only 2 frames of larvae in the entire colony will keep the larvae from out competing the grafts for the attention of the nurse bees.
    • Check all frames for queen cells and destroy any found.
  • 1 day before grafting,
    • Close the cloak board by inserting the metal sheet
    • Open the rear entrance so the bees in the bottom box can get out
    • Returning foragers will return to the top box, using the new entrance they where trained to earlier, crowding the top box with well feed bees.
    • If there does not seem to be enough adult bees in the colony for this to work correctly, shake adult nurse bees from other colonies into the top box on this day with the board closed. The colony needs to be boiling with bees to raise good queens.
  • The day of grafting
    • Graft from a good colony placing the cells between the larvae and pollen frame. Some recommendations say to remove the larvae frame at this time, but my experience is that if grafting only about 30 queens, this step is not necessary in a good cell builder. If raising more queens per graft, you should remove the larvae frame.
  • 1 day After grafting,
    • remove the cloak board
    • close the rear entrance
  • 5 days After grafting
    • I remove the capped queen cells to an incubator. At 10 days after grafting, they will be caged and placed into a queen bank setup pretty much the same way this cell builder is, except the cloak board will be left closed as long as the virgin, caged queens are in it.
    • Start again at ‘2 days before grafting’ to setup to graft again. At this time, also be sure and check each frame for queen cells and destroy them. Eventually, you will miss one and end up with a virgin in the colony and it will no longer be usable as a cell builder, or you will injure the queen disrupting the colony so much, however you should be able to use it several times ( a number of months) until that happens.