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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Excluders have taken many forms since Petro Prokopovych used the first one.
Modern excluders are usually made from:
All excluders work. Beekeepers need to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of plastic vs metal to make a decision.
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.
Honeybee colonies consist of three types (castes) of bees
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.
The argument for and against excluders will never be settled. Let’s look at the perceived advantages and disadvantages.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We also supply high quality local, raw honey.
Do you have questions about Queen excluders?
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