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