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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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