Queen Excluders below your honey supers - always, never, sometimes? That was the question I asked beekeepers in two Facebook groups on April 1st. Out of twenty beekeepers that responded, a whopping 80% use a queen excluder - for one purpose or another. But when a queen excluder (QE) is used specifically to prevent brood in the honey frames, the beekeepers who do versus those who don’t was an even split. Some beekeepers start out QE-free, but eventually the inconvenience of brood in supers outweighs their reluctance to use them.
Lee Kunkel said, “I have been keeping bees for 61 years and have tried it both ways….I grew weary of having to cull frames at extracting time…and now use excluders on all hives when extracting supers are added.” Similarly, Maria Jones (no relation to author), a 5-year beekeeper said, “I’m trying them for the first time this year. Tired of brood in my supers.”
Beekeepers who don’t use a queen excluder (QE) accept that queens will sometimes move above the honey cap* and put brood in the honey super. They tolerate it because they prefer to let the queen lay naturally or believe honey production is reduced by a QE.
I’ve wondered if there is any factual evidence of QE’s having an effect on honey production, and I decided to learn more after reading E.T. Ash’s comment:
“… for a long time, I thought (with no evidence or experience in regard to queen excluders) … that queen excluders might in fact be honey excluders. Then I read Jerry Hayes' article in the ABJ titled ‘Is a Queen Excluder a Honey Excluder.’ After reading the article I tried his setup on one yard of bees and after that, began using excluders on most yards and in most years.”
The article E.T. referred to, was published in American Bee Journal in 1985 and summarized the author’s experiment comparing the honey yields of three hive configurations:
No QE, the control (No QE)
- Bottom Entrance with QE (BE/QE)
- Upper Entrance with (UE/QE), as shown in Diagram A
In addition to honey yield, Hayes also wanted to know if the placement of entrances and queen excluders had any effect on brood rearing. Brood was measured at the beginning, middle, and end of the season. Hayes found in the UE/QE hives, where the foragers entered directly into the supers, nectar storage was primarily in the supers and only enough for brood rearing and little surplus was brought below the QE into the brood chamber. There was no back-filling of the brood nest! This could certainly be used as part of a swarm-prevention strategy.
In Hayes' experiment, most of the BE/QE hives were plagued with skunk predation issues, which may have affected the outcome. However, based solely on the results as shown in Table 1 of the article, the No QE and UE/QE hives stored an average of almost 25 pounds more honey per hive than the BE/QE hives.
“These results are quite dramatic in this experiment. It appears from this limited test that queen excluders may well indeed also be honey excluders. From this data the use of queen excluders should be highly coordinated with an appropriate upper entrance. This may well help to maintain the queen in a designated brood area away from honey supers and perhaps maximize the amount of usable, extractable honey.”
In my opinion, it is unfortunate that Hayes did not also include the hive configuration of both a Bottom and Upper Entrance with a QE, as it would have been helpful to see how it compared to the others. I think many beekeepers use an extra entrance directly into a super, but not the sole Upper Entrance that Hayes used. Ironically, thirty years later in the December 2015 American Bee Journal, Hayes says, “I am not nearly as fancy now as I was in 1985. I just prop up the super above the excluder with a stick.”
If you have used a Queen Excluder without an Upper Entrance, give the additional Upper Entrance a try. I’m really intrigued by the UE/QE configuration for its potential to increase honey production as well as swarm-prevention. If you set up a few hives for comparison, please let me know your results!
My summary of Hayes’ article does not do it justice and I encourage you to read it in full. There is a link to Hayes’ entire article below.
* E.T. Ash described honey cap as, “…a SOLID box of CAPPED honey right above the brood nest.
Ash, E.T. Ash discusses honey cap. Facebook, 7 Dec. 2021, 10:18 am, LINK HERE Accessed 15 Apr. 2022.
Hayes, Jr. G.W. (1985, August). Queen Excluder or Honey Excluder? American Bee Journal, August 1985, pgs. 564-567. Retrieved April 17, 2022, from Beesource website. LINK HERE
Hayes, Jerry. (2015, December). The Classroom. American Bee Journal, December 2015, pgs. 1287-1291.
Retrieved April 17, 2022, from Bluetoad.com, redirected from American Bee Journal website. LINK 1 – LINK 2