When it comes to bees, for the safety of the queen, her eggs, and clean, safe to eat honey, the queen is typically excluded from the honey super. We all know being excluded isn’t nice but excluding the queen from half of her hive has a few advantages.
Queen excluders have numerous advantages and disadvantages for a man-made beehive predominately meant for the commercial production of honey. Excluders are designed primarily to keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey super, where beekeepers collect their honey.
The difference in the sizes of the bees is how the excluder works its wizardry. The queen and the drones are too large to fit through the excluder and take themselves into the honey supers where the worker bees are busy storing honey for the winter. Among the beekeeper industry, not all keepers agree with excluders, and you’ll find out why if you continue reading below.
Do You Really Need a Queen Excluder?
A queen excluder has its advantages, but it’s not technically needed until the bees in the hive have created and filled out their comb and become an efficient working colony. While we agree that excluders are useful, we don’t recommend using them until completely necessary.
What we intend to do with excluders, is stop the queen from laying eggs wherever she pleases, including the honey supers where honey is extracted for human consumption. The extracted honey in the honey super chamber is intended for human intake and if larvae have developed in the super chamber, you run the risk of unclean, larvae-filled honey and honeycomb.
While eating larvae isn’t what’s bad for you, brood honey comes with the risk of other contaminations that might not sit well in human stomachs.
That doesn’t sound too appetizing to us, how about you?
When it comes to using a queen excluder, it all leads to a simple “do it your way and I’ll do it mine” type of solution. Listen and watch your bees, let them decide for you.
The bees might not like the excluder and their productivity levels will visibly decline if they don’t like the excluder. However, if they don’t mind the excluder, they will continue to work, busy as ever, without any issues arising.
Should I Remove the Queen Excluder?
As mentioned above, it’s a personal choice whether to use an excluder or not. There are times though, that removing the excluder is encouraged for those who choose to use one regularly.
The queen excluder, which goes above the brood chamber should be removed in the following instances:
- From July to August, in the midst of colder days, the excluder should be removed so that the queen is able to fly to the top of the hive to stay warmer
- You can remove the excluder once you have extracted your honey from the combs and completed your honey crop cycle
Bees don’t tend to make any honey or reproduce throughout the winter because they are susceptible to the cold, and instead hibernate in the hive with all the honey they made and stored through fall, spring, and summer.
Therefore, removing the excluder in colder months is not an issue as the queen won’t be laying any eggs in the upper chambers of the hive.
Advantages VS Disadvantages of a Queen Excluder
We want you to be able to make an informed decision about whether you should use a queen excluder. There are pros and cons, and each has a valid argument to go with it.
Every beekeeper will have his or her opinion about the matter but when it comes down to it, if you and your bees are happily working together with or without an excluder, then you’re doing something right and you could probably just continue beekeeping as you are.
If beekeeping is new to you and you’re unsure which method to take, we have all the pros and cons for you here to help with your decision. Remember to do what works best for you and your bee colony.
Here are the advantages of using a queen excluder in a beehive:
It’s easier to find the queen
Making it easy to find the queen is advantageous so that you can keep an eye on her health and productivity levels.
The queen bee plays a vital role in regulating the colony, so they all get along and work together and of course, for laying eggs and continuing the colony’s existence.
Using an excluder makes it easy to spot the queen when performing your inspections and maintenance of the hive so you don’t risk harming or losing her amongst the thousands of active bees in the colony.
Being able to find the queen quickly is also an efficient way of being able to replace her with a new queen if she is aging. Bees can only work efficiently and have a chance of survival if they have a healthy queen.
Having confidence that the queen is safe in the brood chamber can be relieving for beekeepers.
Eliminates the possibility of the queen laying eggs in the honey super
We don’t want eggs in the honey super for the simple fact that we don’t want eggs or larvae in our honey or honeycomb for consumption.
Allowing the queen to spend her time in any chamber of the hive, gives her the freedom to lay eggs and produce larvae in the honey super.
If the brood is laid in the honey super, you need to relocate your queen back into the bottom hive boxes and let the brood hatch out before you should really collect any honey from that comb.
It’s not advised to collect honey from frames with brood in them as this honey is to feed the larvae and baby bees through their growing and development phase.
As far as we know and have researched, consuming bee eggs and larvae is not harmful to us, it just doesn’t sound appetizing to eat bee larvae from a cocoon, does it? If found in honey or honeycomb, people that don’t know a lot about the produce bees make and the way in which bees work, might not like the idea of eating larvae and we think it’s fair enough.
Good, clean, edible honey is easier for beekeepers to collect
By eliminating the possibility of the queen laying her eggs in the honey super it makes life easier for beekeepers to collect clean and edible honey without harming any brood in the harvesting procedure.
A lot of the honey we eat comes from cells in which eggs have been previously laid, but if the hive is working efficiently, the queen generally lays her eggs in the bottom of the hive where beekeepers don’t tend to collect honey from.
Collecting honey from the honey super should be an easy process that doesn’t harm any eggs, larvae, and pupae needed to continue the lifespan of the bee colony. If the brood cells aren’t allowed to go through their hatching period, all of the bees in the colony are at risk of dying off.
Combs that contain brood could also contain contaminants that aren’t appealing to human eyes or taste buds.
If purchasing Grade A honey this might not be an issue because of the pasteurization process the honey goes through – filtering and heating the honey to kill all bacteria and impurities while reducing/eliminating all the nutritional benefits honey can offer us in the process.
Better quality wax from beeswax combs that haven’t had much brood in them
Beeswax has numerous handy benefits. Everything that bees make can be used for something great and sometimes even creative.
For example, wax wraps instead of cling film are an eco-friendly and creative way to use beeswax. Making candles, cosmetics, hair, and body care you name it.
Brood combs are a lot darker than honeycombs and their wax quality isn’t as great.
Brood frames contain pollen and other unappealing “impurities”
While pollen is an excellent and tasty nutrient-filled food for bees, it’s quite an acquired taste for humans. Yes, you can eat pollen and it does have some health benefits that you can check out here.
Brood combs tend to have pollen in them for the larvae to eat and grow big and strong and we want to keep it that way. The brood needs the pollen more than we do so taking from their stores isn’t generally a nice thing to do.
Having raw pollen in the honey can also result in changing the flavor and sometimes not for the better.
Speedier honey production process
By keeping the honey super separate from the brood comb with the use of an excluder, the honey harvesting process is much speedier.
This is beneficial for large-scale apiary’s that have a larger honey output for commercial use. If the queen lays her eggs in the honey super, beekeepers need to allow for extra time for the brood to hatch before harvesting the honey from the new brood comb.
Here are the disadvantages of using a queen excluder:
Worker bees can be harmed while trying to fit through the queen excluder
Worker bees are the only bees in a hive that produce honey. These female bees are quite literally the feeders and suppliers of the hive.
Worker bees need to be able to get through the queen’s excluder easily to bring pollen and nectar for feeding the queen, the drones, and the providing for the larvae.
Unfortunately, the holes in the excluder can sometimes and often damage the worker bee’s wings and legs while trying to crawl through. This can result in other worker bees no longer providing for the extra weak moth to feed and leaving them to die.
The queen then also needs to reproduce more worker bees and until they’re old enough and ready to leave the hive for work, current worker bees need to pick up the slack.
Overall, every bee in the hive is now working double time to collect enough food for winter and reproduction for the hive to survive.
Excluders are easily damaged and will need to be replaced
The queen excluders will need to be replaced over time.
They can become dirty, contain fermented honey if not cleaned periodically, will stack up with injured and dead bees, and the metal and plastic frames become damaged and worn with age and use.
Hive tools can also damage the excluders.
There are benefits to using metal, and there are benefits to using plastic, but either way, both will need to be replaced. Read on below in “Metal or Plastic Excluders, Which Should I Use?” for further information about the types of excluders available for your hive.
Queen excluders can get expensive to keep replacing
With replacing the queen excluders come extra expenses to maintain your beehive. Although plastic excluders can come as cheap as US$10, they don’t last as long as metal excluders that can be costly for good quality metal.
Lower honey production turn-around
While worker bees are struggling or anxious to fit through the excluder, honey production is slowing down.
This might not always be the case, but in some circumstances in hives where bees have been known to not like the excluder, their honey production has decelerated right down.
Because the worker bees are also injured trying to fit through the excluder, their non-injured family members need to take over and work extra hard to keep producing enough honey. While the worker bees are getting injured and dying, less honey is being made overall.
Drones can get trapped above the excluder
If drones get trapped above the excluder – when returning the excluder to its place after winter – they slowly die off.
If drones aren’t being useful by attempting to mate with the queen, worker bees stop providing for them which results in trapped drones becoming weak and dying. The workers then kick them out of the hive, weak or dead, to be able to provide for the uninjured bees in the colony.
Metal or Plastic Queen Excluder, Which Should you use?
There are two different types of excluders that you can use; metal or plastic.
If you have decided that using a queen excluder is something you want to try with your hive, you should learn the advantages and disadvantages of both.
What I suggest in the way of good quality queen excluders is looking for something durable, long-lasting, allows for worker bees to pass through without harm, has smooth edging, and doesn’t have any crevices for unwelcome insects to hide.
Metal Queen Excluder
- The worst thing about metal excluders is they contribute to the temperature in the hive in extreme weather. If it’s cold outside, the metal is colder, and if it’s hot outside, the metal is hotter. This makes it harder for bees to regulate the temperate in their hive
- Metal is generally heavier than plastic and can be harder to handle
- Metal excluders are more durable and can last much longer than plastic
- Plastic excluders, if not made sturdy, will sag whereas metal sits flat on the frame and doesn’t affect the space bees in both chambers have
- Metal rusts and this can be an issue if there’s too much water or honey build up in the hive
Plastic Queen Excluder
-Plastic excluders can be cheaper than metal ones but they also don’t last as long as metal so you might find the replacement costs work out more expensive than purchasing a metal one.
-A huge benefit of plastic excluders over metal is that they don’t offer space for insects and pests to hide and wreak havoc in the hive.
– Where rust is an issue with metal, plastic doesn’t have this problem
– Easily broken and damaged by hive tools
– Plastic gets warped by age, use, and weather
– Cheaply made plastic queen excluders can have sharp edges and be made very brittle which means they won’t last long at all
– Plastic is lighter than metal so can be easier to handle by beekeepers
– Plastic doesn’t conduct cold or heat like metal can in extreme temperatures which could make plastic friendly to the comfort of the colony in the hive
– Lastly, plastic isn’t generally a very environmentally friendly product so if plastic is your choice, try to shop around for eco-friendly brands that keep the environment in mind
Regrettably, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to queen excluders. When it comes down to the final word on excluders, your bees should have the last say.
Bees may work well with the excluder, which you’ll notice almost straight away if they don’t have a problem fitting through and continuing their fruitful work without issue. But they may also reject the idea of an excluder and begin depleting in production.
If good quality honey manufacturing is important to you, an excluder might be the better option, but we highly recommend purchasing a good quality excluder that won’t harm any of your bees and their efficiency in the hive. You’ll only get good quality honey if you’re bees a buzzing happily.