The Pros and Cons of Queen Excluders
In beekeeping, as in life, opinions are as varied as the people who give them. When it comes to researching beekeeping “best practices,” I, Matthew Davies, have often uncovered more questions than answers.
Take, for example, the practice of introducing queen excluders to a hive. Queen excluders enable beekeepers to keep the queen segregated from the rest of the brood. Even after conducting extensive research, I remain unsure as to whether using a queen excluder creates more or less honey. Likewise, I am still uncertain whether they are good or bad for the bees’ morale.
In this blog, I will share the research I have conducted to help you, the reader, make your own decisions about whether or not to introduce queen excluders to your beekeeping practice.
The Pros of Using a Bee Excluder
- It is easier for beekeepers. An increasing number of beekeepers today are practicing a bee-centric approach to beekeeping. Bee-centric beekeeping attempts to model as closely as possible the natural behavior of bees in the wild. However, having a queen excluder makes things a lot easier in the long run. When there is no queen in the mix, it makes honey a lot easier to harvest, as you don’t have to worry about the drone brood patch in the middle of your hive. Additionally, when you are checking your brood nest, you can skip over the honey supers and inspect the entirety of the colony with confidence. You don’t have to dig through all the boxes to see how expansive your queen has been.
- Finding the queen is easier. When you limit the movement of the queen, you make it that much easier to locate her. Keep in mind, you do not have to keep the excluder on all year to benefit from its job. Note that if you need to re-queen your hive, you will need to put the queen excluder on the week before, as this enables you to limit your search area of the new brood you have introduced to the hive.
- It controls the colony’s population and makes them less defensive. When you are working with bees, the number one problem is a brood turning aggressive. If you have a large brood, the workers tend to become more agitated with little provocation. While you do have personal protective equipment to prevent any harm from happening to you, the presence of a queen bee still tends to increase the likelihood of a larger and more aggressive brood. Excluding the queen will limit her brood and, therefore, will not attract as many worker bees. This will keep your hive at a manageable state with little to no problems.
The Cons of Using a Bee Excluder
- Using a bee excluder is not “natural.” One of the major arguments against bee excluders is that you will not find them in the wild. While that is true, there is another side to the coin. When in the wild, hives have significantly smaller nesting cavities. In other words, when left to their own devices, bees take up residence wherever they can. The location chosen might not be big enough to support a large nesting cavity. When humans are involved, we provide them with a large hive, and therefore nesting cavities grow exponentially. The use of an excluder can be a way of replicating this situation. Nevertheless, many argue against the use of bee excluders for the reason that they are considered unnatural.
- Drones get stuck in excluders. I am not talking about the new electronic flying drones. I am talking about drone bees. These bees are not the same as the worker bees. Their sole purpose is to mate with the queen to make more workers. Therefore, they have no stinger and will not collect pollen. Any attempt to mate with the queen will be thwarted by the excluder. They will kill themselves trying to get to the queen should they find themselves on the other side of the excluder. For this reason, it isn’t necessary to use an excluder year-round to ensure a productive hive.
- The brood nest may become honey-bound. Since there is no way for the brood to expand, you will have to pay special attention to the nesting cavity. If you are not careful, the nest can become overwhelmed with honey. This can result in inadequate space for your queen to lay her eggs, which can cause your hive to become overrun with mites. These mites look for bee eggs, and your queen will be laying them in large amounts in a single location, making it easier for the mites to find and infect your hive. For this reason, I like to rotate my hives in the spring to allow for the queen to have as much room to lay her eggs as possible.
After extensive research on the use of bee excluders, I, Matthew Davies, have come to one conclusion: it depends. It often comes down to personal preference, and can even vary from one hive to another. As an example, I have made hives in two different ways. One way is that I get my queen from a supplier, and the other is I get my queen from the wild. I find that when I use a supplier, the queen and her brood do not over-expand their nest cavity. However, when I use one from the wild, they tend to get a little amorous and expand beyond what would be considered safe. As a result, when I am using supplied queens, I don’t use excluders, and when I capture from the wild, I do. You will have to look at your particular hive to determine if using an excluder is right for your brood. You simply need to watch your hive and take detailed notes. Base your decision on the best approach for your colony. If you find that using an excluder benefits your brood, then, by all means, you shouldn’t discount one on the account of it being unnatural.