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Re-thinking the queen excluder

This morning a reader from Roseburg, Oregon commented on The queen excluder controversy which reminded me of some observations I made this summer while experimenting with queen excluders.

I discovered that my colonies with excluders produced just as much honey as those without. However, the colonies with excluders seemed to follow a different protocol for honey deposition.

In my apiary the colonies without excluders built vertically more quickly than those with them. In other words, they completely filled seven or eight sides in the uppermost brood box, then five or six sides in the first super, three or four in the second super, and maybe two in the third super. It looked like a chimney effect: the honey appeared to be pulled up the center of the hive like smoke in a chimney.

In those hives with excluders I noticed a tendency for the bees to completely fill the brood boxes before moving into the first super–every cell not containing brood or pollen was filled with honey. This could be construed as good or bad, depending on how you look at it. It’s bad if you believe too much honey in the brood box causes swarming, good if you are hoping to overwinter your bees without having to constantly feed.

I believe that swarming is more apt to be triggered by an abundance of bees than an abundance of honey (“Help! There’s too much food! Let’s leave!”) but that is a separate question. Here I’m just looking at the pattern of honey storage.

Those beekeepers who wait (patiently) for their bees to fill the lower boxes with honey will find that the bees eventually go through the excluder and store more. I think that beekeepers who try to force them through the excluder, or those who run the risk of getting brood in their honey supers by not using an excluder, are just being impatient.

I also think that those who wait (and wait and wait) for the bees to go through the excluder on their own will be in a better position for overwintering. They will have ample supplies of honey throughout the brood boxes and will have do less feeding in the long run.

Of course, if you are the type of beekeeper who would rather take every drop of honey you can and then feed sugar to compensate, you would be better served by dispensing with the excluder and letting them chimney. But I hope you’re not that beekeeper.

I think the belief that a queen excluder is just a honey excluder is embraced mostly by those beekeepers too impatient to let the bees do it their own way and on their own schedule.

Just for the record, the colonies on which I used excluders this year are the heaviest I’ve ever produced—further evidence that colonies with excluders produce just as much honey . . . they just put it in different places. I managed a good harvest as well, but I am elated at the prospect of feeding less.

Rusty

HoneyBeeSuite.com

Comments

Anthony
Reply

The metal bound excluder is the only one that should be used. The low cost plastic ones, if held against the metal, you’ll see the difference in size of openings, the plastic one is considered by many as the honey excluder.

Anthony
Reply

Rusty, I couldn’t agree with you more! Tonybees!

ET Ash
Reply

Anthony:

Great web site. Kind of makes me wish I was 40 years younger so I might have the drive to make one of these for myself.

Interesting observation in regards to the use of an excluder. As a reference you might wish to review Jerry Hayes 1984’ish article/experiment in the ABJ titled ‘is a queen excluder a honey excluder’. Mr Hayes is currently the state bee inspector for the state of Florida and writes a regular column in the ABJ titled ‘The Classroom’.

Richard
Reply

I use excluders to create on and off dates for the honey that I harvest. My goal is to market a light honey with clover and lavender, so the excluders and comb honey supers go on when the clover blooms, and come off when the lavender is over, about 6 weeks in total. I leave the early season (dandelion) honey and late season (ragweed and goldenrod) honey for the bees for winter.

Kathleen
Reply

Hi Rusty,

I think I am in a mess with my second year hive. I did not take honey from the hive last year. The two brood boxes survived our awful winter very well. I almost thought I would have to split them, but I didn’t. I reversed the boxes once the weather finally warmed up. About a month ago, it looked like time to put on a super. The bee supplier in our area suggested not putting on a queen excluder at first, so I didn’t. The bees didn’t move up. So, it was suggested to spray the frames with sugar water, so I did. I checked this morning and the bees have built comb between the brood box and the super and have built comb between the frames of the super, like a bridge, but they are not building comb on the foundation. I couldn’t get a queen excluder between the brood box and the super if I wanted to. There are a lot of bees in the hive. After reading your posts on the queen excluder, I realize I should have just placed it on there and let the bees go up when they are ready. So, should I scrape off all the comb between the brood box and the super and place the queen excluder on? Why are they just building bridges between the frames in the super and not building comb on the foundation? I tried to send a photo, but I’m not sure how to attach it. Thank you for your help. It is so appreciated.

Rusty
Reply

Kathleen,

Yes, I would scrape everything that’s in the wrong place because the problem will just get worse and worse. It’s rare that honey bees will build a lot of comb in the contraction phase of the year, so I wouldn’t expect much.

I used to believe a lot of hype about queen excluders, but now I don’t listen to it. I put the queen excluder below my honey supers from the start. If the bees want to store honey up there, they will. If they’re not ready, they won’t. Commercial beekeepers have been doing this for decades, and they know better than most how to get things done.

I really don’t believe in trying to “trick” bees into doing things by spraying with sugar syrup or whatever. They know what to do and when to do it (and if conditions allow it) much better than we do. You want to give you bees the option to store by providing space, but you can’t force them to do anything.

Don’t worry about the burr comb. That’s what hive tools are for. Just remove it and move on.

As for photos, you can attach them to an email and sent to me here: rusty@honeybeesuite.com

Huss
Reply

Hi rusty love your articles, they have very good advice!

I have a few hives that don’t mind the queen excluder but 4 months ago I caught a fairly large swarm that has already filled 3 deep 10-frame supers from scratch but the problem is as soon as I add the queen excluder they build swarm cells the very next day. I even rotated the frames and still they build swarm cells and as soon as I remove the excluder they return to normal and remove the swarm cells themselves! Very strange bees they are but very gentle which is good! All supers are full of bees harvested the top 10 frames and now they are half full again should I just leave them like that without an excluder? They have plenty of honey in the brood chambers never seen a colony take off like this before very impressed, puts the others to shame. Sydney Australia

Rusty
Reply

Huss,

I’ve never heard of that either, so I don’t know what to tell you.

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