honey bee behavior

Coaxing them through the excluder


­Last time I promised a list of ways to encourage your bees to travel through an excluder even though I don’t think it’s a great idea. Anyway, your choice.

  1. The first point was mentioned several times by readers, and I will repeat it here. Wire excluders seem to work better than plastic ones, probably because of tolerance issues. If the slots are too tight, the bees won’t squeeze through. I’ve successfully used both types, but not everyone has had good results with the plastic, so bear that in mind. Also, whichever type you use, keep them clean. I switch the wax- or propolis-filled ones with clean ones to avoid a barrier.
  1. Sometimes, a spray of sugar syrup, especially sugar syrup laced with Honey-B-Healthy or essential oils, will entice bees through the excluder. I find that if you spray anise oil, bees will follow you anywhere. You can spray it on foundation or on the frames themselves.
  1. Another method is to put a frame of honey above the excluder. This usually works, although I’ve also seen bees go through the excluder, get the honey, and bring it down again. They march to their own drummer, so this is a try-it. Might work, might not.
  1. More convincing yet is a frame of brood placed above the excluder. The bees will go attend the brood, and while they are there, they may begin to build comb. However, this method has several drawbacks:

–First, you want to make sure you don’t accidentally move the queen up there, so check carefully.

–Second, if drone brood hatches above the excluder, the drones can’t get out unless you have an upper entrance.

–Third, sometimes an excluder provides enough separation between boxes that the bees above it try to raise a queen from the brood you put there. So if you’re going to try this method, pick a frame with lots of capped brood and not too much larvae (so it’s hard to raise queens) and no drone brood (or just cut it away).

  1. Another popular method of encouraging bees through the excluder is to reverse the brood boxes. This is particularly effective if the upper box has a “honey barrier” along the top. This strip of honey acts like one of those rope barriers you see at banks and airports, and it makes bees think they should stay below it. If you reverse the two boxes, instead of the honey barrier being next to the excluder, you will have brood next to the excluder, and the bees will walk right through it.
  1. A sixth method is to wait until the bees start building comb in the supers before adding the excluder. If the queen beats you to it and lays a few eggs, just scrape them away or let them grow. Either way, know where your queen is before you add the excluder.

But here’s the big caveat to any method that allows brood above the queen excluder: any combs that ever contained brood or pollen will attract wax moths in the future. Wax moths need pollen and brood debris to survive, so inviting brood into your honey supers will also invite wax moths.

The best way to use an excluder

Now, all that said, using an excluder has been perfected by Tony Planakis, whose system I posted a few weeks ago. Rather than having his bees go through the excluder, he has them do a little work-around. If you recall, Tony puts entrances in all his honey supers, so the bees can come and go through the upper holes without squeezing through the excluder.

Tony’s system also has the benefit of lowering congestion at the main entrance and saving lots of travel time through the hive. The bees receiving the nectar can just turn around and store it without having to go up and down a half-dozen flights of stairs. And the system distributes the workforce throughout the hive which allows for huge numbers of bees to work comfortably in a small space.

Tony reports that he harvested 540 pounds of honey from his four active hives by using two brood boxes topped with a queen excluder and as many supers as he needs, each with an entrance hole and a little porch. As he puts it, “Brood chambers are for brood supers are for surplus.” Why get them all intermingled?

So right there’s my plan for next year. The only difference? That stack of supers will contain sections—both rounds and squares—for comb honey. Can’t wait to see if it works.

Honey Bee Suite

Time to get those boxes ready.

Time to drill holes in next year’s supers. Photo Credit: Todd Mecklem via Compfight cc



    • David,

      Robbing and wax moths are problems that plague weak hives. Strong and vibrant hives have no trouble controlling them. Since you wouldn’t pile honey supers on top of a weak hive, it’s not an issue.

      Also, robbing is unusual during a nectar flow because honey bees would rather be out foraging than robbing. Once the nectar flows are over, you take off the supers before a dearth sets in. Dearth times are when robbers are out in force.

      Remember too that wax moths are looking for combs that once held brood. They are not much interested in wax that has only contained honey. Yes, occasionally you will find some, but not often. In any case, with as many bees as are in Tony’s hives, no wax moth will survive, and keeping the queen out of the honey supers further protects your honey from moths since no brood can get up there.

      • I am just reading about the holes drilled in the honey supers. I was just wondering if you did drill the holes and if you noticed a big difference in your honey production?

  • It would be nice to have paired comparisons of traditional one entrance hives and multiple entrance hives in different places/climates to ascertain if the multiple entrance hives are in fact more productive and if that applies everywhere. We would have to recruit as many beekeepers as possible around the US/World, define rules for enrolling in the study (sounds more pompous that it would need to be) and try to find out! That would be cool, ah?

  • “So right there’s my plan for next year. The only difference? That stack of supers will contain sections—both rounds and squares—for comb honey. Can’t wait to see if it works.”

    I didn’t understand this bit. Round and Square Sections?

  • We are here in Florida and have been thinking of ways to keep queen in so she won’t leave. Are first thought was to use a queen excluder on top and bottom of brood box and then realized that they can’t get the dead drones out. Second idea was pretty much what you have stated about smaller entrance on bottom brood with excluder and then larger entrances on supers. You pretty much have confirmed our thoughts. How has this worked for you? Do you notice a difference in less swarming and more production of honey? Your site is a huge knowledge base. Thank you!

    • Steven,

      I don’t use a small entrance during the spring, just during a nectar dearth. This is to discourage yellowjackets and robbers. A queen excluder shouldn’t be used under the brood box because you want any supersedure queens to be able to mate. If you lost a queen for some reason, you want the bees to be able to replace her.

  • Hello Rusty,
    As a new beekeeper I am always seeking advice from fellow club members. My hives consist of 4 medium boxes each. Above those is a shim with an entrance hole. That shim is topped with an empty medium and a second shim with screened ventilation holes. I’m feeding sugar syrup and pollen patties which sit on top of the uppermost frames. I won’t be harvesting any honey. One club member suggested that a queen excluder be placed between the 3rd and 4th boxes. Another said that since honey will not be harvested, an excluder is not necessary. What do you think? Thanks.

  • I wonder whether bees raised on Rite Cell foundation, being smaller, more readily will traverse a queen excluder. Or perhaps are these bees simply shorter but have same cross-sectional dimensions as the larger bees.

    • Paul,

      All workers—those raised on Rite Cell or not—should fit through a queen excluder. They go through them went they want, but not before.

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