Few topics in beekeeping circles seem to provoke as much argument as whether or not to use queen excluders. Vocal proponents exist on both sides of the issue. It shows how philosophies can differ among beekeepers who are all using good common knowledge about the insects they manage. The excluder is designed to allow the average-sized honey bee to pass through, but not the larger queen.
An eminent educator with a good deal of experience in apiculture once said that many times the philosophy of bee and beekeeper are different.1 As an example, he brought up a topic dear to many beekeeper’s hearts, preserving the woodenware of beekeeping equipment. Although it may mean a lot to the beekeeper, he concluded, the bees don’t care whether their hive is painted white, some other color, or preserved at all.
Although the speaker may have exaggerated the case, it emphasized an important point. Does a management technique stem from some human perception of what bees need or want?
A prevalent idea by those who condemn use of excluders is that engorged bees are bigger and so will not fit through the carefully measured slats of the excluder. The logic follows that a good deal of honey is thereby prevented from entering the super; thus, the term “honey excluder.” Management procedures by these beekeepers apparently avoid problems that queen excluders are designed to eliminate, such as the presence of either brood or queen present in honey supers removed for extraction.
It is well known that once a layer of ripening nectar is deposited above the brood nest, the queen will rarely cross it to lay eggs. Beekeepers who don’t want to risk losing the queen or contending with brood in partially filled supers at extraction time, however, stick strictly to excluders. And they argue that excluders do not adversely affect honey production. Confining the queen to certain areas of the nest is also standard beekeeping practice in many queen rearing operations. This would be impossible without excluder technology.
The inevitable answer, therefore, to the question of who’s right about excluder use is that both sides are. The decision whether or not to use the technology stems from its perceived utility in specific operations. Queen excluders come in many flavors according to contributor Dave Cushman.
Learning to manage honey bee populations takes time and a willingness to listen. Perhaps the best way to gain the kind of knowledge necessary is to train under a master beekeeper. Another way to become informed is to attend bee meetings. Your state and local bee association can usually provide ideas to improve your beekeeping.
1 W.W. Clarke, Ohio State Beekeepers Association, 1979.