More Thoughts on Queen Excluders

What follows is a continuation of the previous post, Exclude the Queen, or Not?

QUEEN EXCLUDERI’ve been reading more about queen excluders (QEs). Here’s some online info from people who I trust more than me: Honey Bee Suite; Beesource; Long Lane and David Burns (or Long Lane again).

All the tips from the previous post for keeping the queen out of the honey supers are mentioned in the above, along with some other suggestions. More than a few articles on QEs are available at Beesource. The consensus? There is none. Many beekeepers say throw away the excluders because they’re more trouble than they’re worth and dealing with some brood in the honey isn’t the end of the world. The brood will hatch, the cells will be refilled with honey and that’s it. Nothing to it.

Some argue that worker bees will cross the QE if the honey supers are baited — which means: let the bees build comb in a honey super without a QE. Then add the QE after they’ve begun to fill the new comb (making sure the queen is in the brood chamber first). The partially filled comb motivates the worker bees to cross the QE and finish the job. If brood was in the honey super, again, just let it hatch and wait for the cells to be filled with honey before harvesting it. (Note that this is only good for extracted honey because brood comb is too dirty for comb honey.)

One experiment seems to conclude that QEs in hives with an upper entrance aren’t a huge problem because the worker bees don’t have to cross the QE when they enter from the top. They’ll fill up the honey supers and make barely enough honey in the brood chamber for the baby bees. That leaves the queen plenty of room for laying, both workers and drones, and eliminates the need to lay outside the usual brood nest. The trick in that scenario is to make sure the colony eventually fills in the brood chamber with honey and pollen and everything they’ll need to survive the winter. So it’s best to remove the last honey super of the season while the bees still have time to fill up the brood chamber. Are you following all this?

Another complaint about the open brood nest model (a.k.a. not using queen excluders) is that the queen will fill entire frames in the honey super with drones. (But so what? It’s better than swarming, isn’t it?) This isn’t usually an issue for foundationless hives where the colony naturally builds about 20% drone comb in the brood chamber right off the bat. For conventional hives, though, adding a frame or two of drone comb will eliminate the queens need to lay drones outside the brood chamber.

And I’ve barely scratched the surface on this contentious issue. There is so much more where this came, it’s kind of ridiculous. However, I do have a better sense of what to do this year. I will probably rotate the brood boxes, which is often done in early spring anyway to prevent swarming. By the way, does that actually make any sense? Everything I’ve read about feral honey bees tells me they always build from the top down and the queen lays from the top down. Why would it be the opposite in a Langstroth hive? I can understand the cluster gradually moving from the bottom to the top in the winter because it might be a little warmer near the top. But then why wouldn’t the queen start laying in the bottom box once the weather warms up? If the bottom box is mostly full of empty cells ready for eggs, and the queen usually builds the brood nest from the top down anyway, how does moving the bottom box to the top prevent swarming? There’s plenty of room down below. I don’t get it, but I’ll do it anyway, even if it’s just to keep the queen from moving into the honey supers. Anyhow…

After rotating the boxes, I’ll eventually put on a honey super without a queen excluder. Then I’ll watch and see what happens. If the queen goes nuts and starts laying throughout the honey super, I might add the queen excluder then and continue to monitor the situation. I may continue to rotate the boxes to keep the queen down. I may remove honey frames from the brood chamber and replace them with drawn comb to give the queen more room to lay down below. So… I’ll be happy to rotate the brood boxes once in the spring, add honey supers without a queen excluder, and leave it at that. That’s what I’m aiming for. And if that doesn’t work out, at least I know what I can do about it.

So that’s it. It’s settled. I won’t use a queen excluder unless I absolutely have to.

P.S.: Rusty at Honey Bee Suite mentions: “If you are trying to produce comb honey, use square or round sections instead of regular frames. Queens do not like these little spaces and will hardly ever go in one. I never use an excluder with section boxes and I’ve never had a queen decide to lay in one.” I’ve found the topic for my next post!

6 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Queen Excluders

    • As I say in the post, I’m really re-thinking the reversal of boxes. I’ve decided that unless there is some compelling reason, it is a silly thing to do.

      Your post makes sense to me too — based on scientific articles and books I’ve read about feral honey bees. The bees start from the top and build down. That’s it.

      But then I go on the forums and half the beekeepers are talking about swarm prevention by reversing their boxes or checkerboarding, etc.

      Many beekeeping practices seem entrenched not because they make sense, but because that’s what everybody does. And as a novice beekeeper, to play it safe, I mostly do what everyone says works for them. And therein lies the challenge for novice beekeepers: finding your own, because there is no one right way.

      I’m really looking forward to the spring and summer, because, assuming my colonies survive the winter, I’m going to learn so much just by watching the bees, I’ll be in a much better position to decide for myself what should work best. Every beekeeper has to adjust their methods to their local environment and to the specific behaviour of their bees. It’s going to take more experience for me to sort it out, but at least I know what to look for now.

      Anyway, I’m just going to watch the bees and if I don’t need to mess with them (e.g., reversing the boxes), I won’t.

    • I didn’t know what a section box was either until a few weeks ago. I plan to go with foundationless honey supers. I picked up some Bee-o-Pacs a while ago. But I would have gone with sectioned boxes had I know there was such a thing. I have no idea where to get them, at least not from a Canadian supplier.

      But, yeah, I’ll write about that as soon as I can. Certain challenges arise from going off the beaten path, and going entirely foundationless like I plan to do (I wish I’d done it from the start) does introduce a few complications, and I haven’t decided how I’m going to deal with them yet. I need to do more research. (Or what passes for research when I barely have time to read anything these days. I need to find a new line of work.)

  1. This is something I also need to give some thought to, my initial idea is to have an open brood chamber and see where and how the queen tends to lay.
    One thing I’m wondering about is….with moving thing around too much does one risk mixing up the queen’s laying pattern? I’ve heard that when working in the brood chamber it is quite important that the frames be returned to the same location to enable the queen to keep track of where & when she’d laid.
    Thanks for sharing your beekeeping adventures, as mentioned previously, I’m looking forward to getting my first 2 Nucs in the spring and am grateful you’ve decided to share what you’ve learned in your first year.

    • This is something I also need to give some thought to, my initial idea is to have an open brood chamber and see where and how the queen tends to lay.


      …with moving things around too much does one risk mixing up the queen’s laying pattern? I’ve heard that when working in the brood chamber it is quite important that the frames be returned to the same location to enable the queen to keep track of where & when she’d laid.

      That’s another reason I’d rather not reserve the boxes. Why risk screwing up the queen’s work? I don’t think moving honey frames around (and placing empty frames in between) is such a big deal. But brood and pollen is another story.

      We messed it up last summer when we added the second brood box to our hives. I know we split up the brood nest when we did it (I realize it now anyway). This year, when we do it with our new hives, we’ll put empty frames between fully drawn frames to encourage the bees to build in between, but we’ll make sure not to split up the brood nest.

      By “brood nest,” I mean only the frames with worker eggs, usually in the middle. Apparently drone brood can be moved to the sides of the hives, if it’s not already there to begin with. Pollen should stay close to the brood (because it’s brood food), though from what I’ve seen, the pollen usually surrounds the brood on the same frame anyway.

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