THE PROS AND CONS OF QUEEN EXCLUDERS

Posted July 9, 2018
by Hilary

The Pros and Cons of Queen Excluders

I find myself constantly changing my position on the subject of queen excluders. Are they good or bad for bees? Do they result in more honey or less? How and when should they be used? I’ve decided, that like most things in beekeeping, there is no “right” answer to this question. Instead, the answer depends on the asker’s circumstances. Therefore, I will not attempt to make an argument for or against queen excluders, I will simply share the pros and cons and let the reader decide what might be best for them.

The Pros of using a Queen Excluder

It’s easier for beekeeper. For those of us who try practice bee-centric beekeeping, this is not a very compelling reason to use a queen excluder, but there is no denying that having a queen free super makes things a bit easier. You can harvest honey without having to worry about that little patch of drone brood hiding in the center. When you want to check your brood nest, you can skip right over the honey supers and inspect with confidence in the boxes below. There’s no digging through every box to find out just how expansive your queen has been.

Finding the queen is easier. With the queen limited to the lower brood boxes, you can find her more easily. You don’t have to keep an excluder on all year to get this benefit though. If you need to requeen a large hive, you can put an excluder on the week before and only search the half you find fresh brood in.

It controls the population of the colony and therefore the level of defensiveness. The more brood a colony has, the more worker bees, the more defensive it will become. This is especially true if you are in an Africanized zone. I have found that colonies with African genes mixed in mostly prefer to make brood over honey. If you let them, the will build a tower of brood boxes and become very hot and hard to manage. I like to use queen excluders on these colonies to keep their size manageable.

It may help controls varroa mite populations. Thomas Seeley has been researching the benefits of small-hive-beekeeping, you can listen to him discuss it in this video]. He has found that less brood means less mites and may help the bees to better manage them on their own, especially if swarming is permitted.

The Pros and Cons of queen excluders

The Cons of using a Queen Excluder

Using a queen excluder is not “natural”. It’s true bees in the wild don’t have queen excluders. It seems unnecessary to separate honey from brood by force. However, wild hives do have smaller nesting cavities and an excluder can be a means of recreating this nest structure. So, even though I have listed this under cons, I am not sure this point is really valid.

Drones get stuck in the excluders. If a drone is trapped above the excluder he will get stuck and die trying to get through.

Worker bee wings may be damaged when the travel repeatedly through the excluder. 

The brood nest may become honeybound. You’ll need to pay close attention to your brood nest to make sure it does not become crowded with honey. I like to rotate honeycombs up throughout the spring to make room for the bees to build new comb in the brood nest and to give the queen more space to lay her eggs. This makes management slightly more complicated, especially for new beekeepers.

the pros and cons of queen excluders

The Honey Debate

So does using a queen excluder result in more honey or less? Beekeepers like to argue about this, but could it be that both statements are true? I am starting to believe that this really depends on circumstance. Perhaps it comes down to the preferences of your individual colonies. Some colonies will refuse to work above the queen excluder and some don’t seem to mind at all. Therefore, I encourage you all to observe your bees, keep notes and make your decision based on what you see. For example, I have found that when I work with bees from my local queen breeder, the colonies will naturally keep smaller brood nests and build honey readily, but when I work with the wild-caught bees they will go overboard on brood production. I now use queen excluders on my wild colonies, but not on the colonies with bred queens. I also watch the behavior of my wild colonies closely because some do make modest brood nests with more generous honey stores and are not in need of an excluder. On the colonies where I do use an excluder, I try to include an upper entrance above the excluder to save some bees from having to travel through the excluder so often.

12 Comments

  1. Tom Clark

    When you have an extra entrance above the excluder… how big should it be? Are there guard bees at both entrances? Are robber bees an issue with an extra entrance?

    Reply
    • Hilary

      I usually do about a 1 inch hole and I leave a reducer on the lower entrance. There should be guards at both entrances. If your colony is weak, it can be an issue with robbers. If I notice the colony is not using/defending the upper entrance I close it up.

      Reply
  2. Ragnar Zetterberg

    I don’t use queen excluders. I don’t see the point and it is defenitely not natural. May cause stress to the queen and the bees collecting the nektar need to run up and down all the time They have better tings to do.

    Reply
    • Timm Ott

      I use an excluder JUST UNTIL about 2/3 of the first super is full, then pull it. Queens won’t typically go past a honey layer in search of empty cells. Put entrances in your supers so during the honey flow, the foragers don’t have to run up and down the hive. They can come in, deposit, and leave. Just save the cork so by the the end of the flow or during the dearth you can close them up if robbing starts.

      Reply
  3. Samuel Mast

    This is all very good information!
    Right now I’m not using excluders because I am in the multiplication stage and would rather have brood than honey, so I can make more splits.

    Reply
    • Michael

      I’m a total novice so bear with me. My first hive made it through the winter. I’m attempting to practice biodynamic farming and beekeeping.
      I grow forage crops for my bees. I never had to feed them.
      Question; How do I harvest honey without disturbing brood?

      Reply
      • Hilary

        What style hive are you using?

        Reply
  4. Alex T.

    Thank you Hillary,
    Your info is a great blend of pragmatism and local knowledge combined with a responsible eye to furthering bee health and protecting the genus. I am sensitive to a natural approach whenever possible and I appreciate the intention behind your careful considerations. Southern California has a unique micro-climate which has its own demands and advantages. I appreciate your thoughtful observations regarding the special circumstances therein.

    Reply
  5. LouAnne Smith

    With a new hive (1 brood box), is the queen excluder needed to keep the queen out of a top feeder? If not, I want to remove mine

    Reply
    • Hilary

      Not needed.

      Reply
  6. Michelle

    My hive seems to have a lot of drones. Can I use the excluder to prevent so many from getting back inside the hive at the end of the day?

    Reply

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My name is Hilary Kearney. I’m the author of the book, “Queenspotting” and founder of the urban beekeeping business Girl Next Door Honey in San Diego, California. I’m an artist turned beekeeper on a mission to help new beekeepers succeed and educate the public about the magic of bees!

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