Beekeeping Equipment: Excluders!

The options for beekeeping equipment are seemingly endless. Lids, hive tools, suits, smokers, pallets or bottom boards; even backyard beekeepers need a lot of stuff. But how much of this equipment is really necessary? The answer is probably not much, but it definitely makes certain aspects of beekeeping easier. Today I want to look at one piece of equipment in particular, the excluder. Over the years I’ve heard many views on whether or not they are necessary, financially worth it or good for a hive (and of course the only thing beekeepers have more of than equipment is opinions). Called honey excluders or queen excluders (depending on where you’re from and what type of operation you run), excluders are used to restrict the queen to the bottom of the hive, usually one or two hive bodies, called the brood chamber. There are several reasons why a beekeeper would use an excluder. The first is for honey production. When removing honey supers you don’t want to worry about pulling a box of brood to extract. The comb in honey supers is much lighter because it has never had brood (and light colored wax fetches a higher price). An excluder also makes it significantly easier to find the queen.

queen excluder

Excluder. This one is plastic. I prefer metal as they last longer as long as you don’t gouge them with your hive tool.

I personally run excluders on my bees as my operation is generally for solely honey production. One of the thoughts I’ve heard regarding the use of queen excluders is that they make more honey and swarm less without them. After hearing many strong feelings on the subject, several weeks I decided to conduct a mini experiment on my own bees with three (very related) questions in mind:

  1. Does the use of an excluder encourage swarming?
  2. Is the queen more productive without an excluder?
  3. Do bees without an excluder make more honey?

The gallberry honey flow was about to start in North Florida so I figured this was the best time to start. I run all 8 frame 7¾ boxes and usually use two as the brood chamber and have two supers above the excluder. One week before the major flow came on, I removed excluders from 40 randomly selected colonies. 12 days later I came back to undersuper and check on the progress. In terms of honey production there was no significant difference each had made about two boxes. Of course the queen had moved up to lay in the top two boxes but fortunately the most of the pupae in the original brood chamber had hatched out so she moved back down.  I wasn’t too worried about the brood up top because it would be at least several weeks before I pulled honey providing ample time for hatch out as well as backfilling the empty cells with honey. At this point I realized exactly how big a mess I had on my hands and how much extra work I’ve put on myself. I panicked and put the excluders back on with the queen in her rightful place 7 days later I returned to undersuper again and noticed a definite difference between colonies that had excluders removed and those that didn’t. It was immediately apparent that the colonies that had excluders the entire time had a much higher incidence of swarming. In fact, none of the excluder-less hives had swarmed. There are two more weeks of honey flow with no “weigh-ins” but it looks like excluder-less bees will win. Not only did they not swarm, the queen had on average 5 more frames of brood so the populations will be greater. Whether or not it will be worth the additional work is another question.

swarm

I watched it, helpless, as it flew in to a very, very high branch 🙁

gallberry hives

My bees makin’ honey! (well some of them at least)

Summary:

  1. Does the use of an excluder encourage swarming? From my experience, an excluder can definitely make the bees feel plugged down. Bees seem to prefer to swarm after a major honey flow rather than during it but if a hive does swarm, you can bet it won’t make more honey, so not only have you lost half your bees, you also lost your honey crop. Rather than allowing the queen free range of the hive, perhaps temporarily increasing the size of the brood chamber will make the bees feel less congested.
  2. Is the queen more productive without an excluder? With more space to brood up, the queen can lay significantly more if she has a larger area, boosting hive population.
  3. Do bees without an excluder make more honey? Excluders don’t seem to be an immediate hindrance to honey production. Factors such as swarming behavior and hive population are much more influential on overall production.

So as you can read, this little experiment was in no way very scientifically executed but still telling nonetheless. The decision to use excluders is entirely relative to the needs of the beekeeper. A backyard beekeeper with a couple hives in the backyard may want to use excluders to make finding the queen easier but a commercial beekeeper who works almost solely in pollination rather than honey production may not want the hassle and expense of excluders. I’d love to see your comments and questions, so post your take on excluders below!

Written By: Liana Teigen

Liana Teigen has written 6 post in this blog.

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  • Skip

    Could using 3 brood chambers before the excluder and the 2 honey supers work for the prevention of swarming?

    • Liana Teigen

      Hi Skip,
      I don’t know that it would prevent swarm altogether, it may make them feel less congested and supress the urge slightly. The only problem I see with using 3 brood chambers (because I thought about it too) is you would lose a lot of honey below the excluder unless you took the time to pull out and shake honey frames and replace them with empties before harvesting.

      • jay houk

        Here’s my two cents. I don’t use them. Too much hassle. If there is any brood on the honey frames I just leave it for the bees. They gotta have some you know. Often the outside frames in the brood box is solid honey. So no big deal the way I figure it. They don’t like the langstroth hive already why make it hard on them. I don’t have 50 hives so just my input. Tried it both ways. Don’t use them. Even sideways.

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  • Steve P

    You are correct, it does not appear to be scientific. What were the age of the queens which swarmed versus the ones which did not swarm? Not that the age of the queen is a tell all indicator.

    • Liana Teigen

      Hi Steve,
      This was a quick and dirty “experiment” I did personally on my own bees that I thought I would share. The queens were all Ontario Buckfast that went into the colonies the first week of November2013.

  • Miroslavo Yuvich

    Honey, clearly you haven’t been beekeeping too long!! Keep it simple: stick to gallberry and oranges. And, remind you and your southeast friends to stop coming to almonds. Your bees are BAD!

    • Miroslav

      I really wish BIP would use people with at least some REAL beekeeping experience! Discussing he efficacy of queen excluders is a waste..

      • Doug N

        Wow, Miroslav, you should take a break from beekeeping and work on your grammar and spelling. Clearly you aren’t taking the experiment for what it’s worth. Stop bashing people who are trying to help and learn some English !!!
        Thank you Liana for taking the time to do this and to share the results. Very informative.

      • Markus

        And I wish that miserable people such as yourself didn’t post negative crap here simply to bash people who are contributing to the conversation and trying to spread information. If you’re not interested, move along. It takes a really miserable person to go to the trouble of posting such drivel attacking another person. I don’t see anything helpful or useful or “non-wasteful” posted by you, an expert with REAL beekeeping experience…

  • Wayne

    Hi Liana, The experiment needs to be repeated over several years with only one variable being changed per year. I suspect your brood chamber is too small. Try it next year with 3 medium brood boxes and please report back. Personally, I use excluders on all of my honey producing hives (50+) and haven’t had any problems. Brood area = a deep and medium. Honey super = medium. I never remove honey from brood area. At every harvest I swap with a clean excluder. I use my solar wax melter to clean it up for the next time. Wayne

  • With such a small sample size, this isn’t statistically or scientifically relevant. Which I am sure you realize. thank you for demonstrating a huge problem with bee research here: which is that a lot of it is anecdotal. Your experience with your 20 or so hives doesn’t hold up weight against any long term quantitive statistical analysis.

    • Markus

      She noted that it wasn’t a scientific experiment. I still find her experience interesting and useful, and appreciate her taking the time to write it up. It jibes with the one scientific study that I do know of: http://www.beesource.com/point-of-view/jerry-hayes/queen-excluder-or-honey-excluder/

    • John

      In medicine we call this a case study. Relevant, yes. Statistically significant… maybe not but its always the first step. Thanks for publishing this. Hopefully someone with more resources will further the experiment.

  • pgayle

    Two 8-frame mediums for a brood chamber? You are setting them up for swarming! And they can’t make enough foragers for a good honey crop.

  • Terry Melle

    Thank you for taking time to set up your experiment and for sharing your results. This is a challenge facing all rookies, as I am. I have decided to try excluders and see what happens.

  • Swampfox077

    You are right on target with your experiment because did that too.The whole colony swarmed not good.The excluder will make them swarm.

  • Zeno

    Indeed, an excluder is an important part of any beehive.

    http://beekeepclub.com/getting-started-beekeeping/bee-hive-kits-inside-and-out/

  • danny gosdin

    being a neweb I am about install my 1st nuc and had planed to uas excluder,IO was going to use a top feeder,my bee guy said yes but put it under the feeder so my queen would not get to feeder and possible drown Not to use in hive?

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