June 30, 2022

Queen Excluders - Love Them or Hate Them (080)

On today’s episode, Jim and Jeff Ott (from Beekeeping Today Podcast), discuss the value and use of the ‘love it or hate it” piece of equipment, the Queen Excluder. Queen excluders are included in almost every “Honey Producer Starter...

On today’s episode, Jim and Jeff Ott (from Beekeeping Today Podcast), discuss the value and use of the ‘love it or hate it” piece of equipment, the Queen Excluder. Queen excluders are included in almost every “Honey Producer Starter Package”, but why and how are they used?

Jim and Jeff discuss the multiple uses of a queen excluders (Did you know they will also exclude drones? Or that you can use one to help while uncapping frames of honey? Of course you did!) They discuss the types of queen excluders and why wood bound excluders are likely preferred by the bees.

When it is time pull honey, excluders make the process much faster, as the beekeeper can simply pull the honey supers above the excluder, blow out the bees and take them home to extract.

Some beekeepers don’t like them and call them “honey excluders”. Is this name justified? Or is it a management issue that can be addressed? But yes, many beekeepers produce honey successfully without ever touching a queen excluder.

Listen today as Jim and Jeff talk about the use of queen excluders. Afterwards, head over to the Honey Bee Obscura YouTube Channel to watch a special VideoMomentQueen Excluders - Love Them or Hate Them… or don’t care.

You can find different types and forms of queen excluders on our sponsor's website: https://www.betterbee.com

We hope you enjoyed today's episode. Please follow or subscribe today and leave a comment! We'd love to hear from you!


Thanks to Betterbee for sponsoring today's episode. Betterbee’s mission is to support every beekeeper with excellent customer BetterBeeservice, continued education and quality equipment. From their colorful and informative catalog to their support of beekeeper educational activities, including this podcast series, Betterbee truly is Beekeepers Serving Beekeepers. See for yourself at www.betterbee.com


Honey Bee Obscura is brought to you by Growing Planet Media, LLC, the home of Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Music: Heart & Soul by Gyom, Walking in Paris by Studio Le Bus, original guitar music by Jeffrey Ott

Copyright © 2022 by Growing Planet Media, LLC


Honey Bee Obscura

Episode 80 – Queen Excluders - Love Them Or Hate Them


Jim Tew: Jeff. Do you use queen excluders in your beehives?

Jeff Ott: Yes, I do, Jim. I have for quite a few years.

Jim: I do, too. They're a bit of a controversial piece of equipment to be so routine, so unexciting.

Jeff: Well, some people love to hate him and some love them.

Jim: Yes. Hi, I'm Jim Tew.

Jeff: I'm Jeff Ott from Beekeeping Today Podcast.

Jim: We're coming to you from Honey Bee Obscura where about once a week, we talk about really unusual stuff in beekeeping. Today's unusual topic is queen excluders where we talk about, do you love them, or do you hate them?

Jeff: Some people call them honey excluders.

Jim: No, don't be unkind.

Introduction: You are listening to Honey Bee Obscura brought to you by Growing Planet Media, the folks behind Beekeeping Today Podcast. Each week on Honey Bee Obscura host Kim Flottum and Jim Tew, explore the complexities, the beauty, the fun, and the challenges of managing honeybees in today's world in an engaging and informative discussion meant for all beekeepers, long-timers, and those just starting their journey with bees. Sit back and enjoy the next several minutes as Kim and Jim explore all things honeybees.

Jim: Jeff, I always found queen excluders to be in that fundamental list of equipment that beginning beekeepers needed. How far back did you go with them?

Jeff: Oh, like you said, my beginning years, I think when I first got my first hives, I made sure-- my first hives were purchased from some old-timers getting rid of them. That's another story in itself. I don't think they came with queen excluders, but if they didn't, I got them shortly thereafter.

Jim: Do you know for the longest time, we had a bit of a museum at Ohio state, a beekeeping equipment. There was some antique beehives there and a queen excluder was nothing more than a pine board with crazy number of three-quarter-inch hole board in it. You separated the brood nest area from the honey storage area with this board that required the bees to go through it. The queen could go through it, and I'm sure she did, but basically, it did serve as a separator.

Jeff: I would imagine there'd be a great opportunity to scrape off some burr-comb on that, too.

Jim: I'm sure there would be, too. Many times a queen excluder could be improvised. It would be not so much of a true excluder, but you could put a full deep of honey or something there would serve as a brood nest break between brood nest and where the honey was being stored. Since this is not really a completely natural situation for the bees anyway, to have this brood nest moved around, had to have the honey storage area moved around, it would catch them off guard and you could improvise and just provide these breaks.

Somewhere, I don't know the history of the queen excluder, the first person who came up with this thing. I wonder if those earliest excluders were zinc or did those zinc sheets come after the wire-welded excluders. Do you remember those zinc sheets?

Jeff: I have seen them. I've never had one. How about yourself?

Jim: Well, here's the deal, yes and yes. Since I inherited in a way, all of the Ohio states' previous professors supplies and equipment and whatever, 60 or 70 years’ worth of it, those zinc sheets were included. Now here's the sadness, and the hurricane at 2010, they all blew away. We had those and they were really nice because really with a pair of heavy-duty shears, certainly tin snips, you could cut those zinc sheets and to anything you wanted. You could improvise queen cages, introducing cages, nesting boxes for holding workers and queens. You could really improvise whatever you wanted just by easily cutting those zinc sheets.

Then secondly, Jeff, my dad, when I inherited his bee supply inventory had about 30 of those things there. As we speak, I have an antique zinc queen excluder on one of my beehives outback. What is this I'm talking about? It's a zinc sheet. It's this thickness of five sheets of newspaper and it has the holes punched in it that only workers can get through primarily and not the queen. That zinc was so soft; it was really easy to damage it. That queen will find that damaged spot and she'll get through.

Jeff: [chuckles] That one spot. Just for our new listeners, what is a beekeeper trying to accomplish with a queen excluder? Everyone sells them. You go open any catalog, go to any online store, you see queen excluders and different types. We can talk about those, but what is a beekeeper attempting to accomplish by using a queen excluder?

Jim: Well at its most fundamental level, what I'm trying to accomplish is to control where the queen lays. I want her to lay in this box and not in this box. Commercial guys are not as offended by queen excluders as you might think because you just go roaring into a bee yard and you take off everything above the excluder, blow the bees out, and you don't have to wonder where the queen is. That queen excluder primarily restricts the queen to whatever section of the beehive you wanted her restricted to. Let me ask you a question then, if this thing works so simply, so neatly, why the controversy? You've already given an alert out there that you have a reason for it but discuss that reason.

Jeff: Well, the queen excluder, in my experience and that of others, is if you put it on at the wrong time, tends to keep the foragers from moving up into the honey super to store the honey and the hive will have an empty super above and honey pack below and cause problems. That's been my experience.

Jim: Some of those problems could even be swarming in the worst-case scenario.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: Why would it restrict those bees?

Jeff: That is a good question.

Jim: I want you to say that the general argument is that with the full nectar crop, the bees have trouble squeezing through. That an empty bee could squeeze right through the excluder, and a full bee is all puffy and swollen, and indeed can't squeeze through that narrow wire grid. You'd think, "Well, hasn't someone looked at this? Hasn't there been an in-depth peer-reviewed study on queen excluders or not?" I don't have a clue, Jim. I'm sure someone's looked at it.

Jeff: [laughs] I never bought into that argument, but I could be proven wrong. There's it just added to the list of other things I'm wrong about, but I never believed that the worker bee was too fat to get through the queen excluder. I think is more a matter of efficiency and speed.

Jim: Alternatively, there are those, I don't argue with them. I don't know if they're right or wrong that are adamant that the queen will find any defect in the manufacture or in the handling of that device, and she will know right where that is. I think about the old, old experience I had on my grandfather's farm, where a hog would find a way out of the field that you had it in. Then that hog would know where that hole was and would go back and forth from it.

That queen like that hog, knows where to find that tiny blemish in that excluder and goes back and forth through it. I don't know about all this. I don't know. I used queen excluders because it allows me to be, boy, I almost said a sloppy beekeeper. That would've gotten some probably calls from listeners right now. We're not sloppy beekeepers. We're keeping our bees expeditiously. Having those queen excluders on lets me go out without having to worry about blowing off my $40 queen, and she have a pretty good idea I know where she is.

Jeff: The other textbook reason is to, well; keep the brood out of the honey supers for the purity of the honey. It looks better. There's less bee parts and larva parts in your honey as you extract it, and also keeps the comb nicer. You don't get the brown buildup of the cocoons and the honey supers.

Jim: A bit ago I told you that there's ways that you don't really restrict the coin, you just inhibit the coin. If you've got this honey barrier or this space barrier, the queen won't readily cross to put worker brood, but you'd be surprised how much she would readily cross to put drone brood up in that honey super somewhere and just enough, but then it's annoying. Then you got to filter it out. For the longest time, there was a little gauge, a little measuring device that beekeepers who had nothing else better to do other than sit around to measure the space in their queen excluder, to buy this gauge from the supply companies and check to be sure of the accuracy of their queen excluding device.

Jeff: All 200 queen excluders.

Jim: You really had nothing to do. Wouldn't that be a funny recommendation for managements, for protocol? "Yes in the spring of the year just before you put the queen excluders on, you should spend two days sitting around with your gauge measuring device checking every queen excluder to be sure that they are exactly the right dimension before you put them on."

Jeff: Yes, that's a good use of time. Let's move beyond the gauge because I don't even think they sell those anymore, do they?

Jim: Well, I don't have any idea. You'd certainly improvise one. I've forgotten the dimension, but you can make your own. That'll make you the famous guy, the popular guy at the bee meeting over the corner providing queen excluder gauges. I tell where you want to go with this. What other kind of queen excluder are out there right now? What's been the evolution of these things?

Jeff: Yes, what are the different types of queen excluders out there?

Jim: The big thing right now, the latest happening in queen excluders probably happened 25 years ago, was plastic. When I was talking about those zinc sheets a bit ago, it's now plastic. Everything I was doing with zinc, everything dad was doing and my old professors before him were doing with zinc, they're now using plastic.

Jeff: I liked the plastic excluders or at least I think I do. So far I've liked them. I haven't had too many problems with them other than you can't clean them off with your propane torch. [laughs]

Jim: Jeff, you know we have a sponsor who provides this kind of equipment for us. Let's take a short break and hear more from them.

Betterbee: Get your high-quality Lyson beekeeping equipment at Betterbee. As the United States distributor for Lyson, Betterbee is proud to offer honey extractors that range in size from holding two to 88 frames. Insulated polystyrene hives, and nuc box, wax, and honey processing equipment, and over 250 styles of Lyson highly rated and easy-to-use silicone candle mould. Visit betterb.com to learn more and shop for high-quality Lyson products.

Jeff: : Visit Betterbee today; your partners in better beekeeping.

Jim: I have plastic. I still prefer the few that I have. I still prefer the metal excluders. We need to say this for the benefit of the group who's just antsy to get their opinion in, "Yes, we know that one of the uses that many beekeepers have for these queen excluders is to put out in front of the hive to keep the grass from growing quite as much."

Jeff: [laughs] I haven't used that for an old excluder.

Jim: I hear that all the time at a bee meeting. That's always beekeeping humor that that's the primary use of a queen excluder is it suppresses grass growth in front of the hive. It's just all over the page. This device has been around as long as slatted racks and as long as reversible bottom boards and inner covers with a notch cut on the top. It's been the unloved, loved piece of equipment the whole time. You can cut those things up and make them into other things.

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: Have you ever used the drone traps? A simple device that just went at the entrance and it did nothing more than torment drones and queens that were trying to leave. All it did was jam up the entrance.

Jeff: That's right.

Jim: Then there's a queen and drone trap, the one on the front. It would let the workers out but it would force any departing queens or any drones up into a compartment where you had them there, so, in theory, you could stop a swarm.

Jeff: Those were a one-season purchase and then sat on people's shelves, I think.

Jim: Yes, they're usually in pretty good shape because they weren't used very much.

Jeff: [laughs] In good shape.

Jim: I as a younger man, a lot more energy. I would take queen excluders and cut them up and build a cage that would hold exactly one frame. Then in that frame, I would have emerging brood. I used it then to graft from. Anytime I wanted to, I could put the queen on that frame, hold her there, make her lay on that frame, and then every day go out and move that frame over one spot.

On day four, I knew exactly which frame had three to four days, or three-day-old larvae on it, or three-day-old eggs, or one-day-old larvae. You can make cages for controlling the age of the larvae that you're grafting from. All of these devices with this excluding characteristic where the queen can't get through but the workers can.

Jeff: Not only that. I know beekeepers have used it as the first stage of their uncapping process, or in their first stage of uncapping process. When they uncap the frames of honey, it drops down. The first thing the cappings land on is an old queen excluder and help separate the honey from the wax.

Jim: Oh, I have done that. You are exactly right. I have done that. Just tack a queen excluder to the bottom of a deep and then use that as an uncapping bucket if something gets through at first but it drains through.

Jeff: Many beekeepers have that double-layer stainless steel sieve where it clogs up real quick. If you uncap into the deep with the queen excluder attached to the bottom of it, it helps eliminate some of that early blockage of that sieve. I like tools or I like pieces of equipment that have double uses.

Jim: I do too. I like things that can be modified. I was just thinking when you were talking, put a metal cutting blade and your small jigsaw, and you can cut those things. Of course with the plastic, you can cut them with shears or tin snips, and you can modify, make cages, make devices, make entry-reducing things. It sounds like we're selling queen excluders, Jeff. That's not my purpose here.

Jeff: Well, it's good if you have them and they're not working because maybe there's a hole in one. It's not effective anymore, you can repurpose it. You don't have to throw it in the trash pile.

Jim: Yes.

Jeff: I do want to ask you before we move off to queen excluders. There's also the wood-bound queen excluders. What's your experience with those? Do you like those or you prefer the flat?

Jim: Let me tell you what I was told that bees really don't like walking on that metal. They really don't like walking on that metal. The old beekeepers were adamant to make the queen excluder as much as possible out of wood. There was only queen excluding strips and this wood frame of strips. It was as probably as much wood frame as it was excluding surface. Those frames were much more expensive to make. They were made differently.

I can't go into it, but they were much more expensive to make and they are antique now too. You basically get a flat metal grid and the bees just have to deal with it, or you pretty much use plastic and that's it. Is there anything we're not thinking of? There is no new electronic queen excluding device that we should mention at this point. There's nothing, is there? The queen excluders are at an evolutionary standpoint right now.

Jeff: Well, if you choose not to use a queen excluder. Let's talk about two things quickly is what do you do if you choose not to use a queen excluder? Secondly, if you choose to use a queen excluder, what's the best way and time to put it on the hive.

Jim: If you don't use queen excluders, you have to be prepared to look more closely for your queen when you take honey off. You probably need to pull out most frames and either blow them or brush them individually. You have to always be aware out of all of this confusion; I have no earthly idea where the queen is. Am I standing on her? Is she on the bottom deep? Is she on the super I don't know where she is? A queen excluder lets you be a little bit more relaxed. It's not a guarantee.

Not using it means you've got to be slower and more cautious. I have personally seen a stack of supers sitting in the extracting room awaiting extracting, and as you stood there, I saw a queen come out of one of the supers and walk down the side of it. You have no idea which colony has been de queened out there. There's that. What was the other question you asked?

Jeff: When's the best time to put on a queen excluder?

Jim: You take that. I'm talking too much. You take it.

Jeff: I like using last season's wet supers, honey supers. I tend to super early because if I don't, life gets in the way and I don't get them on in time enough. What I'll do is I'll put on a honey super or two above that's wet from last season’s uncappings and put them on before the flow starts above the queen excluder so that the bees are enticed up into the super with the wet honey, clean them up. By the time that the flow starts, theoretically, my thinking goes [laughs] that that's just a normal extension of their colony, and they're ready to use it for the honey flow.

Jim: I like it. I would not argue with you on that that wet honey would lure those workers up there. I don't know if they train them to go through the excluder or not. That works well. Put them on before you need them, not after you need them. We need to stop. We're going on too long, but I need to say that if you put an excluder on, you can trap the queen in the supers, in the wrong place.

Jeff: Along those lines is that queen excluders are used as one way of separating a queen from the rest of the colony when you shake them out, but that's a topic for another time.

Jim: Yes.

Jeff: There's many users for queen excluders.

Jim: To make a shaking funnel, we mean?

Jeff: Yes.

Jim: Yes. Well, we might have queen excluders too, when I find out there's been a later model or something. Right now this winds down why some people like queen excluders, why some people cut their queen excluders up, and why some people would never have a queen excluder anywhere in their operation. I wonder if we've covered all the aspects of all of this.

Jeff: If we haven't, we'll pick it up and Queen Excluders 2, a new day, the sequel.

Jim: [laughs] Queen Excluders 2, a new day, a sequel. All right, it's just nothing but one more exciting topic for Thursday morning here on Honey Bee Obscura. Listeners thank you. If you're still here with us, once again, we admire your toughness. I hope you'll be here next week. If you'd like queen excluders, I'd like to know about it. If you hate queen excluders, we want to know about that too.

Jeff: Thanks a lot for inviting me along.

Jim: All right.

[00:22:42] [END OF AUDIO]