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A queen excluder is an optional beekeeping equipment and can be purchased from a wide variety of manufacturers. When you do not want to buy a queen excluder, you can make one by yourself. This article details how to make a queen excluder and highlights its main features. It also looks at the importance of this beehive component as well as the reasons beekeepers choose to use or avoid a queen excluder in their beekeeping operation. While queen excluders are used in both Langstroth and top-bar beehives, the one discussed in this article is mainly that which is used in a Langstroth beehive.
What is a Queen Excluder?
A queen excluder in beekeeping is a selective barrier. It is used inside the beehive and allows worker bees to go through it. The larger drones and the queen bee cannot go through the barrier. Queen excluders are also used with some queen bee rearing methods. In autumn, queen excluders are sometimes removed from beehives. The queen bee can then move with the winter cluster of bees through the beehive.
A top-bar hive queen excluder can be made in the same procedure and using the same materials as the one used in a Langstroth beehive. The difference between the two comes in the way they work. In a Langstroth beehive, the queen excluder works to prevent vertical movement of the queen bee. In a top bar hive, it prevents horizontal movement of the queen bee.
The Purpose of the Queen Excluder
The main purpose of a queen excluder in a beehive is to limit the queen bee’s access to honey storage. In a Langstroth beehive, it prevents the queen from reaching honey super boxes and laying eggs. A queen bee has a larger thorax and abdomen than all other bees in the colony. Beekeepers do this to harvest clean honey that is without eggs or bee brood. This is especially necessary for honey that is sold for human consumption. A queen excluder makes the management of the beehive during honey flow season easier for the beekeeper.
Beehive frames with comb containing brood is more susceptible to pests of honeybees. This is especially seen with wax moths whose larvae has a preference for comb that has brood or which has previously held brood. Using a queen excluder to prevent brood from being reared in honey super boxes, helps with keeping the frames from being quickly attacked by wax moth larvae in case an infestation happens.
Caution when using Foundation Queen Excluders
Foundation used in beekeeping determines the size of worker bees produced in the beehive. It does not often affect the size of drones. Honeybees build a few larger cells for drone bees as needed even when a specific type and size of foundation is used. Drone bees are for mating with virgin queens to ensure continuity of the honeybee colony. Beekeepers using foundation that leads to larger sized worker bees being produced in the beehive should consider the size of their queen excluder mesh very carefully. Before using foundation in beekeeping, you should consider reading up on the advantages and disadvantages that are linked to the different types of foundation. The few minutes you spend reading will help you make a decision that is informed and suitable for your honeybees.
Materials used to make Queen Excluders
The typical queen excluder is a sheet of metal or plastic perforated to allow worker bees through it. A wire grid can also be used. The wire frame, plastic or metal sheet is enclosed in a frame to keep its edges safe for bees and handling by the beekeeper. The queen excluder you use can also be made using a hardware screen cloth. A #5 hardware cloth is the most commonly used. The important thing about queen excluders is their mesh size. Any mesh of 4.1 mm to 4.2 mm is enough for most worker bees to go through.
In the past, queen excluders were made using any metal or plastic sheet available to beekeepers. The beekeeper cut the sheet they had to size and perforated it themselves. This resulted in differently sized meshes on the same excluder and possible harm to bees. The different sizes of holes also proved to be ineffective sometimes, since some of the holes let the queen bee through the queen excluder. In modern beekeeping, this is no longer an option beekeepers should pursue.
When making a queen excluder, go for the material that you feel is most friendly to your honeybees. You should also consider how much you are willing to spend on the queen excluder so you work within a budget. Some beekeepers have an aversion to using plastic in their beekeeping. Queen excluders are generally inexpensive items, but the issue of durability should also be considered before settling on a final decision.
How to Make a Queen Excluder
Making a queen excluder is a very rewarding process for DIY beekeepers. You only need a few tools to get the job done. Of course, if you cannot make one, you can always buy one from a beekeeping supplies retailer.
You will need:
- A few small nails
- A hammer
- Some wood glue
These tools work for all the different primary materials that are used to make a queen excluder.
- To make a queen excluder, start by cutting the sheet of plastic, metal or cloth to the required size. This is the size that is enough to cover either your 8-frame or 10-frame beehive box.
- Prepare the wooden pieces for binding the mesh material. For plastic and metal mesh sheets, you may cut a groove into the inner surfaces of the wooden pieces. For fabric mesh material, you can do away with the grooves.
- Lay out the wooden pieces and stick them together with glue and nails to make a frame. Spread your cloth material over the frame and nail the mesh onto the sides of the wooden frame. You can also use some glue for additional strength of the queen excluder.
- When using plastic or metal for the queen excluder, join two pieces of the wooden frame first and insert the mesh material. You should then add the other pieces of wood, making sure to properly insert the mesh material into the grooves in your wooden frame pieces.
Making a Top-bar Queen Excluder
- Making a top-bar hive queen excluder requires you to shape the excluder into a broken wedge shape. It should follow the profile of your top-bar hive for maximum effectiveness. Additionally, make sure to match the queen excluder to the height and width of your top bar hive’s cross-section.
Why are Queen Excluders Removed in Autumn?
Honeybees cluster in the winter season in order to keep warm. Removing the queen excluder in autumn allows the queen bee to cluster together with the other bees in the hive. If this was not allowed, the queen bee would die of exposure to the cold. The honeybee colony would then enter spring without a queen bee. You should be ready to winter your bees to help them survive the cold season when food resources cannot be obtained from the environment.
Introducing a new queen bee to a honeybee colony is an exercise that can fail. The bees often reject the new queen if she is not properly introduced. This slows down the progress of the honeybee colony in spring and leads to losses for the beekeeper.
How to use a Queen Excluder
In a Langstroth beehive, the queen excluder is placed horizontally between your uppermost brood box and the lower super box. It limits the queen bee from accessing the super boxes but she can move freely within all brood boxes. Queen excluders made of metal and frames using wood are the best to use. They last longer than the plastic ones. Wood around the edges makes handling and removal of the queen excluder easy without risk of damage. For metal excluders, the wooden frame prevents injury to the beekeeper when handling.
Metal queen excluders often feature wire underneath the metal sheet to add strength to it. When placing your queen excluder, make sure the support wire is facing the brood boxes. You should also make sure that the queen excluder you use is suitable for your Langstroth beehive setup. The excluder for use with 10-frame Langstroth beehive setups is larger than the one for use with 8-frame Langstroth beehive setups.
Arguments against Queen Excluders
Beekeepers researching about queen excluders are likely to find some arguments against its use with honey bees. These arguments are largely based on observations, preferences and assumptions of beekeepers. There are no documented studies that have proven queen excluders to be injurious to beekeeping. Even then, it is important that we look at these arguments so you can make an informed choice.
Some arguments against include:
1. Less efficient beehives
Some beekeepers argue that queen excluders are a recipe for reduced efficiency in beehives. They propose that honeybees with nectar are reluctant to go through the queen excluder. These bees are said to see the excluder as a barrier and end up storing more honey in the brood nesting area which may encourage swarming.
Queen excluders have not shown any direct reduction of beehive activity. As long as it has properly sized mesh, worker bees in the honeybee colony will go through the excluder. Additionally, the use of upper beehive entrances allows worker bees returning to the beehive with nectar to avoid having to go through the excluder.
2. Injury to honey bees
Queen excluders are accused of causing harm to bees. This is by the excluder rubbing on the wings of bees as they go through the mesh.
Honeybees come into contact with many surfaces in a day. Within the beehive, there are wooden, metal and possibly plastic surfaces. Rubbing their bodies or wings against these surfaces has not been proven to be injurious to bees or to shorten their lifespan.
3. Killing drone bees
Drone bees are larger than worker bees, yet smaller than the queen bee. These bees in the honeybee colony may try to get through the queen excluder and get stuck. The drones eventually die while stuck.
The number of drones that die due to getting stuck in is too small to have any significant impact on the honeybee colony numbers. Drone bees do not contribute to the foraging or defensive power of a honeybee colony. Additionally, a honeybee colony is able to replace dead drone bees in the process of normal brood rearing. Drone bees cannot be said to be useless in a honeybee colony, but they serve very little purpose in the beehive. They are for mating new queen bees only.
How to get Reluctant Honeybees to go through a Queen Excluder
Honeybees can sometimes show reluctance going through a queen excluder. When this happens, you risk having very little in the way of honey yields. The bees will rear brood but not store honey in the honey super boxes. This is however a rare occurrence. Using foundation on new frames in your honey super boxes may increase the chances of honeybees not going past the excluder.
Check if the mesh is large enough
Should this ever occur in your beehive, first check if the mesh is large enough to allow worker bees through it. Sometimes, the beekeeper may use a queen excluder that limits worker bees. If this is the case, try using a one with a larger mesh size. In most cases, this solves the problem.
Lure the bees
In the event that using a queen excluder with bigger mesh size does not solve the problem, try luring them out. A few frames of honey from the boxes currently in the Langstroth beehive stack will do the trick for you. The frames have a familiar smell that the bees know is from their beehive. Put the frames in the upper boxes to attract bees onto them. In reaching the frames, the honeybees have to traverse past the queen excluder. After a few weeks, the honeybees will be used to moving through the queen excluder and you can switch the frames back to their original beehive box.
Install the excluder after the bees have drawn comb
Due to the difficulties encountered when working with new frames with foundation and a queen excluder, it is best to use one of these items at a time. Allow bees to work on new frames and draw comb on the foundation before adding a queen excluder. Once the honeybees have drawn comb on the frames, they will be eager to pass through the queen excluder and reach the frames.
Use an upper entrance
You may also explore the use of an upper entrance for your honeybees. The upper entrance does away with the need to go through the queen excluder. This should however be done with caution. Adding an entrance to a beehive increases the openings that honeybees must guard. Fewer entrances are guarded more effectively. In a weak honeybee colony, poorly guarded entrances result in easy attacks by predators of honey bees and robber bees.
Cleaning a Queen Excluder
After some period of time in use, your queen excluder gets dirty with debris. A few bees may get caught in the queen excluder and die. During your beehive inspection, remove the dead bees from the queen excluder. You should also periodically clean it to maintain best beehive hygiene.
Cleaning the excluder is not a difficult task. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can do it with ease. You need some water, a dry piece of cloth, a brush or a queen excluder cleaner and a few minutes of your time.
- To clean the queen excluder, take it out of the beehive first. DO NOT try cleaning the excluder while there are bees on it.
- After removing the excluder from the beehive, use water and a queen excluder cleaner on it. Commercially made and sold queen excluder cleaners are very effective at removing dirt and debris.
- The water you use for this purpose can be a little warm. For plastic queen excluders, make sure that the warm water does not warp the plastic sheet or make it lose shape in any way.
- When you are satisfied that the excluder is clean, rinse it well and dry it up using the dry cloth you brought with you. Once it is dry enough, it is ready to be used again in the beehive.
Queen excluder cleaners
Commercially made and sold queen excluder cleaners are very effective. If you cannot purchase one, you may use a brush to clean the queen excluder. Make sure the bristles of the brush are strong enough to remove dirt and debris. At the same time, the bristles of the brush you use should not be too hard such that they damage the excluder.
Alternatives to using a Queen Excluder
When you do not want to use a queen excluder in your beekeeping, you can explore alternative methods. These methods allow you to minimize honeybee eggs and brood in honey supers. One alternative method used by beekeepers exploits bee behavior in a Langstroth beehive. Honeybees like to have their brood in one general area. The brood is not often distributed around the beehive. Ensuring that brood is only in the bottom beehive boxes is possible. This is done using the principle that a queen bee will not often cross large areas with honey to lay eggs.
A frame with at least 2 inches of capped honey across it is enough deterrent for the queen bee. Before adding a honey super box on top of a current stack, make sure that the top box has a honey barrier. All the frames in the lower honey super box of your Langstroth beehive stack should have this honey barrier or honey crown. The queen bee will not cross it and the bees will store honey in the newly added beehive box at the top of the Langstroth beehive stack.
This alternative method however is not very accurate. It gives less accuracy than using a queen excluder. This might leave you with honeybee eggs in your honey supers when you do not want them. Honeybees eat honey in a beehive every time. If they eat the honey in your honey barrier, the queen will have no qualms about accessing upper beehive boxes and laying eggs in them.
A Final Word
A queen excluder is a useful tool in beekeeping. Beginner and experienced beekeepers can use one in their apiaries with great success. The value of clean honey cannot be ignored for profitable beekeeping operations. This makes the advantages of using one in a Langstroth beehive outweigh the possible disadvantages. With proper use and beehive management, a queen excluder gives you great value and returns on the investment you make. Use this guide on how to make a queen excluder and the accompanying review of the beehive component to enjoy bountiful harvests of honey that is free of honeybee eggs and larvae.
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