Queen Excluder Pros & Cons.

Queen excluder pros and cons

There are very few topics that are more controversial in the beekeeping world than “Should I use a queen excluder on my beehive?”

Beekeeping forums and beekeeping related Facebook pages are battlegrounds with significant discussion devoted to the subject.

Queen excluders – Yes or No?  You either hate them, or you love them.

Some are adamant that they are honey excluders.  Many beekeepers swear by them.

We have saved you the trouble of wading through hours of argument and put together the most commonly asked questions about excluders.

Flow

What is a queen excluder?

In simple terms, a queen excluder is a perforated barrier placed between the brood chamber and the honey super that prevents the queen from entering the honey super and laying eggs.

  • The brood chamber is the part of the hive that the queen is confined to raise brood or baby bees.
  • Honey supers are where the bees deposit and ripen nectar then turn it into honey.

Brood chambers and honey supers are human inventions and part of modern beekeeping and hive management.

Understanding how queen excluders work and how bees interact with them is the key to their successful use.

What is the purpose of a queen excluder?

Bees, when left to do things naturally in a tree or any hollow cavity, will allow the queen to lay eggs anywhere she pleases.  The shape of the brood nest is typically an oval shape and positioned at the centre of the colony.

The size of the brood portion of the colony varies depending on the time of year and seasonal conditions.  When conditions are ideal, the queen can tend to expand her egg laying into supers and frames that were intended for honey storage.

Brood in honey supers means extra care is required when harvesting honey, particularly in commercial operations.  Excluders assist with colony management by confining the queen to a specific part of the hive.

So who invented the queen excluder?

Wikipedia credits the invention of the queen excluder to Ukrainian Petro Prokopovych (1775 – 1850).  He is also widely recognised as the inventor of the world’s first movable frame beehive which lead to the eventual development of economical commercial beekeeping practices.

Welded metal and plastic queen excluders

Welded metal and plastic queen excluders

What are Queen Excluders made from?

Excluders have taken many forms since Petro Prokopovych used the first one.

Modern excluders are usually made from:

  • welded galvanised / stainless wire or
  • plastic.

So should I use metal or plastic queen excluders?

All excluders work.  Beekeepers need to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of plastic vs metal to make a decision.

Metal excluders have the following advantages:

  • They are robust and can last many years or decades,
  • The edges are smooth, and they are less likely to damage bees as they pass through them,
  • The sit flat on the brood box and don’t sag onto the tops of the frames,
  • Gamma irradiation does not damage them,
  • They can be scraped with a flat blade then heated with a heat gun, steam or boiling water to remove burr comb.

Metal excluders have the following disadvantages:

  • Weight.  Metal is heavy,
  • The types with folded metal edges can provide harbourage for small hive beetles (Aethina tumida),
  • They are expensive compared to plastic excluders averaging around $18.00 each,
  • Metal excluders can conduct heat and cold into the hive,
  • Galvanised excluders may rust over time,
A metal queen excluder

A metal queen excluder

Plastic excluders have the following advantages:

  • Plastic excluders are relatively cheap.  They can be purchased for about $10.00 each,
  • They don’t have crevices where small hive beetles can hide
  • Plastic excluders are light,
  • Rust is not a problem,
  • They don’t conduct heat or cold into the hive

Plastic excluders have the following disadvantages:

  • Hive tools can damage plastic excluders,
  • Some types of plastic excluders (stamped) have sharp edges which may damage bees as they push through the gap,
  • Repeated gamma irradiation can make the plastic brittle,
  • The plastic can warp and sag restricting movement of bees between the tops of the frames and the excluder,
  • It is harder to apply heat to them to clean them.  Plastic excluders may warp or deform,
  • Plastic excluders have a shorter lifespan than metal

So which excluder is the best?

Without a doubt, provided you can afford them, welded wire galvanised or stainless steel queen excluders have been tried & tested over the years. They are the most durable and reliable queen excluders on the market.

queen excluder dimensions

Queen excluder gap width can vary between 4.1 and 4.4 mm

How does a queen excluder work?

Honeybee colonies consist of three types (castes) of bees

  • A queen (usually one only)
  • Drones (male bees)
  • Workers (infertile females)

Queen excluders exploit the size differences between a worker bee and a queen bee.

Typically the dimensions of the gaps in an excluder are between 4.1 millimetres and 4.4 millimetres.

The thorax of a queen bee is larger than a worker bee.  Workers can fit through the gaps while the queen cannot.

In a typical Langstroth hive configuration, the queen is confined below the queen excluder in one or two brood chambers.

A queen (L) & a drone (R) surrounded by workers

A queen (L) & a drone (R) surrounded by workers

What are the advantages and disadvantages of queen excluders?

The argument for and against excluders will never be settled.  Let’s look at the perceived advantages and disadvantages.

Advantages of excluders:

  • Honey in supers above a queen excluder can be confidently removed without checking for the presence of the queen or brood.  This means greater efficiency, particularly in commercial operations.
  • Bees are more prevalent on brood combs compared to honeycombs. This makes bee removal from honey supers before extracting faster and easier.
  • Excluders confine the queen to a known area in the hive. Therefore, disease checks can be done much faster as the queen has access to a lesser number of frames over a smaller area of the colony.
  • The queen is easier to find if the colony needs to be re-queened.
  • Combs that have contained brood are darker due to cocoons, and age.  Beekeepers can recover a greater amount of better quality wax from combs that have not had brood in them.
  • Brood combs contain pollen.  Honey extracted from frames that are brood free will contain less pollen and other impurities.

Disadvantages of excluders:

  • Some types of excluders, e.g. punched plastic may have sharp edges that could damage the wings of worker bees resulting in a shorter lifespan.
  • At times workers may have difficulty squeezing through excluders.  Many beekeepers feel that this results in lower honey production and the subsequent description of “honey excluders”.  The use of an upper entrance above the excluder may be a solution to this perceived problem.
  • Excluders are expensive and can be easily damaged.
  • Bees tend to build burr comb on excluders resulting in reduced airflow and overheating in hot weather.  Badly overheated colonies can die.
  • Drones can become trapped above queen excluders if brood is lifted up into the honey super.  Dead drones will clog the excluder if they are not removed regularly or provided with an alternative entrance.
  • Virgin queens or small newly mated queens can at times squeeze through an excluder meaning that she will not be where you expect her to be.
  • Queen excluders restrict the available area for the queen to lay.  Colonies with poorly managed brood chambers will rapidly become congested resulting in swarming.

Note:  While many beekeepers claim that queen excluders result in reduced lifespans of worker bees and decreased honey production the evidence is anecdotal at best.  I recently asked the brains trust of the largest Facebook beekeeping site in the world, Beekeeping Techniques for links to peer-reviewed, scientific papers that supported shorter life spans and reduced production and nothing of substance came to light.

Can you think of any more queen excluder pros and cons?  Let us know in the comments section below.

flow hive with queen excluder

It is best practice to place a queen excluder on your Flow hive.

Should I use a queen excluder in my flow hive?

Flow hives are no different to any other colony when it comes to managing brood.

My personal choice is to use a queen excluder.

Flow recommend that you use an excluder as well.

You can choose not to use a queen excluder between the brood box and flow super if you like.

Not using an excluder means that you run the risk of the queen laying drone brood in the Flow frame cells.

The likelihood of this happening can be minimised by placing an empty (foundationless) frame in the brood chamber and allowing the bees to build their drone comb.

Bees tend to draw approximately 20% drone comb naturally when left to their own devices so allowing them to do that decreases the temptation for the queen to lay in the flow frames.

What can I do if I get drone brood in the Flow frames?

One round of drone brood shouldn’t make much difference to the performance of the flow frames.

The best thing to do is to place a queen excluder between the brood box and the flow super.

It is critical to ensure that you have the queen below the queen excluder.

Make sure that hatched drones can escape through an upper entrance or they will die in the flow super and clog the queen excluder.

There is no need to clean Flow frames that have had a round of brood through them.  The bees will sort it out.

Flow

When should I add a queen excluder?

Excluders can be added whenever you choose to add them.

Beekeepers tend to place a honey super on a single hive when they want to expand.

  • Remove a couple of frames of honey, pollen or sealed brood from the brood chamber and replace them with foundation or drawn comb.
  • Make sure the queen remains in the brood box.
  • Place the queen excluder on the top of the brood box then add the honey super.
  • The frames that were removed from the brood chamber are placed in the honey super above the excluder.
  • These frames help to draw bees through the excluder mainly if they have brood in them.

Note: If you are placing a queen excluder onto a hive to allow brood in honey supers to hatch,  it takes 21 days for workers to develop and hatch and 24 days for drones so you will need to wait at least 24 days before you can remove frames for extraction.

beehive

Bees that won’t fill two boxes are frequently over-wintered as a single brood box.

Should I remove the queen excluder in winter?

Many of the management practices used by beekeepers are location specific.

In the Northern hemisphere where winters are long and bitterly cold, it is a common practice for beekeepers to remove queen excluders.  This allows the bees to cluster tightly around the honey stores in the top of the hive where they can consume honey and generate heat.

If the queen excluder were left in place, the queen would be unable to move up with the cluster, and she would die.

Clustering is a survival mechanism that has allowed bees to survive the millions of years.

There would be very few locations in Australia where removal of the excluder is required for winter survival.

Australian beekeepers commonly reduce hives to a brood box and a honey super which is ample for winter survival.  It is common for brood to be present in the colony all year round however brood rearing is minimal in icy areas.

Beehives that are not strong enough to cover a brood box and a honey super are frequently reduced to the brood box only.

My bees won’t use the honey super – must be the queen excluder!

Queen excluders are frequently blamed when bees don’t immediately start to draw new frames of foundation placed on top of an excluder.

If your colony is not strong enough & there is no nectar flow they won’t work the new frames.  It’s that simple.

Make sure that you put a new honey super onto a brood box that is full of bees with all of the frames drawn out.

You must also ensure that there is a nectar flow.

Bees won’t expand when they don’t have pollen and nectar resources to support them.

Another smart beekeeper’s trick is to remove a couple of frames of honey or brood from the brood box and replace them with frames of foundation from the new honey super.

The brood is placed above the queen excluder in the honey super.  Bees will move through the excluder to cover the brood frames and start working the new frames.

About the Author

The owner of Mt. Coramba Apiculture, Glenn Locke, has had the beekeeping urge since the early 1980’s as a 14-year-old teenager.

The Warwick (QLD) high school agriculture department had a few beehives and beekeeping was taught as a subject.  Glenn’s agriculture teacher Jim Caird let him have a nucleus hive, and the addiction started.

The move to the mid-north coast of NSW and particularly the beautiful Orara Valley means that Glenn now has the space to commence beekeeping again. Glenn has managed beehives in the Orara Valley since 2009.

Glenn is now concentrating on building his beekeeping business producing nucleus hives and queen bees for sale.

We also supply high quality local, raw honey.

Do you have questions about Queen excluders?

Leave a comment below or Contact us. 

old beekeeping smokers

 

4 responses to “Queen Excluder Pros & Cons.”

  1. Rod says:

    thanks for another very informative article MCA 🙏🐝

  2. Allan Thomas says:

    Another good one Glen. Congratulations.

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