beekeeping equipment

How to use a queen excluder: safe and practical ways

A queen excluder above a brood box.

How do you use a queen excluder that came with your beginner hive kit, and when? To answer the question, think about what a queen excluder does.

What should you do with the queen excluder that came with your beginner hive kit? It’s a good question. A number of new beekeepers have written this week asking how exactly they should use a queen excluder. For example:

What should I do with my queen excluder?

  • Does the queen excluder go above the brood box or below it?

  • I put the queen excluder above the inner cover and then added the lid. Is that right?

  • My kit came with one queen excluder, but don’t I need two?

  • Should I put the queen excluder on before I release the queen?

  • Can I use a queen excluder to prevent swarming?

In order to answer these questions, you need to think about what a queen excluder does. Simply put, it’s like the bars on a jail cell: large things cannot fit through the openings, but small things can. In a jail cell, people cannot pass between the bars, but small things like mice and rats can easily pass. Okay, bad example.

In your beehive, a queen excluder prevents queens and drones from passing through but allows the workers to pass through. I consider a queen excluder to be an advanced piece of equipment because it’s easy to make a mistake. If you accidentally exclude your queen from a place she needs to be, you can doom your colony.

The usual purpose of a queen excluder

If you are getting bees for the first time, you can leave your queen excluder in the shipping box, at least for now. The usual purpose of a queen excluder is to keep the queen from laying eggs in the honey supers. Until your bees draw out most of the frames in the brood boxes, you have no use for honey supers and, therefore, no use for a queen excluder. If you are new, I recommend keeping the excluder with the honey supers until you need them.

In addition, you should never put a queen excluder on a hive unless you know exactly where your queen is. It can be a mistake to assume her location because queens have minds of their own and they don’t always play by the rules.

And before using any excluder, make sure it is properly made and not bent or warped. If any of the openings are too large the queen may be able to get through. Or if they are too small, they may shut out the workers. So before using an excluder, always make sure it is in good shape.

Answers to the common questions

Let’s look at some of the questions I listed above:

  • “Does the queen excluder go above the brood box or below it?” In nearly all circumstances, the queen excluder goes above the brood boxes. Sometimes a beekeeper may place a queen excluder below the brood box for a few days, especially when hiving a swarm or a package of bees in a brand new hive. The reason for this is that sometimes a colony is uncomfortable in a new box and will abscond. If you can hold the bees there for a few days until some comb is built and the queen starts to lay, the colony will usually stay put.

    However, you must remove the excluder after a few days so the drones can come and go. I consider this type of use to be questionable for someone who has never kept bees and doesn’t know what to look for. Otherwise, it’s a great tool and something for your beekeeper’s bag of tricks.

  • “I put the queen excluder above the inner cover and then added the lid. Is that right?” A queen excluder between the inner cover and the lid isn’t doing anything except keep the queen out of the lid. Yes, I have found queens exploring the lid, but that is unusual and, in any case, she’s doing no harm. As I said earlier, if you don’t have honey supers in place, you can take off the excluder.

  • “My kit came with one queen excluder, but don’t I need two?” I’m not sure what the beekeeper is thinking here, but perhaps he wants to keep the queen in the brood box by using an excluder above and below the brood chamber. This won’t work because the drones need to be able to come and go. Also, if the queen dies or is superseded, the new queen needs to be able to mate.

    I suppose you could keep excluders on the top and bottom if your bees had an alternative entrance, say a hole drilled in the brood box. But an arrangement like that would result in unnecessary congestion, especially during a nectar flow. In any case, if you have an alternate entrance, the queen won’t be stopped if she wants to leave, so the excluders serve no purpose.
  • “Should I put the queen excluder on before I release the queen?” There is no point in excluding the queen if she’s still in a cage. And if the colony is new, the bees won’t be storing surplus honey very soon. For your own convenience, keep the excluder off the hive until you need it.
  • “Can I use the queen excluder to prevent swarming?” For the reasons listed above, a queen excluder cannot be used as a long-term solution to swarming. You may be able to forestall swarming for a few days, but if the colony is determined to swarm, it will. If the queen can’t leave the hive, the swarm may leave with a small virgin that can fit through the excluder, or with an intercaste queen. In any case, you still have a problem with drones not being able to come and go.

Love ‘em or leave ‘em

Like many issues in beekeeping, people tend to have strong feelings about queen excluders, either loving them or hating them. For many years I always used an excluder. Then I went for a long period when I never used one. Now I use them selectively, if and when they will help solve a problem.

I have used them for some of the reasons mentioned above, including holding a swarm in a new box for a few days. I also use them for the base of my no-cook candy boards, not to exclude the queen but to support the candy and still allow the workers to get it. I’ve used them to support baggie feeders for the same reason. And right now, I’m using them in my double-queen hive to keep the queens separate from each other while the workers mingle in the honey supers.

On the other hand, I often do not use excluders above the brood box when I’m using section honey supers. I find that queens are reluctant to lay in square or round sections, so they don’t. Bear in mind, I said reluctant, not completely opposed. I’ve had some sections ruined by brood, so it’s a gamble.

Queen excluders are not honey excluders

Many people think queen excluders should be renamed “honey excluders” because the bees seem reluctant to pass through them. I used to believe that too, but not anymore. If the bees don’t work the supers, it’s usually because they are not ready or the nectar flow isn’t strong. When things are right, the excluders won’t stop the worker bees from entering the honey supers.

The key to honey production is raising large and healthy colonies that peak in time for the major nectar flow. All the rest is noise.

Honey Bee Suite

About Me

I backed my love of bee science with a bachelor’s degree in Agronomic Crops and a master’s in Environmental Studies. I write extensively about bees, including a current column in American Bee Journal and past columns in Two Million Blossoms and Bee Craft. I’ve endured multiple courses in melittology and made extensive identifications of North American bees for iNaturalist and other organizations. My master beekeeper certificate issued from U Montana. I’m also an English nerd. More here.


    • Tony,

      I know you don’t. In fact, you’re the one that got me using them again. They served me well last year!

  • Hey Rusty,
    Thank you!!! Am Truly Honored!!! Not to endorse a particular brand but, over the years have tried many, by far the best was the Brushy Mountain wooden-bound metal queen excluder.

    Critical spacing is taken into account. And I think you had mentioned it as far as cleaning
    off the burr wax using a heat gun after excess is scraped off. Works perfect!!! And a queen excluder is NOT in any way a Honey excluder.

    Thanks again.

  • I have never see bees go above an excluder during a nectar flow if all of the frames are undrawn comb. Good way to get honey bound in the brood box and bees swarm on you.

  • As a first year, let me know if this is bologna. After reading your adventures Rusty, I figured that the queen excluder is seen as a honey excluder because the bees have the tendency to naturally build up and down. So without the excluder they would fill frames 3-8 in 3 boxes. However since they don’t like going through the excluder they build out before they go up. Thus with an excluder they would fill frames 1-10 in 2 boxes before working the third box. (Excluder between box 2 and 3). This seems to show why everyone who harvests honey hates them, but also that the bees aren’t bringing in any less honey. I think that using an excluder, then, is a good thing, because you ensure that the bees have 2 full boxes before storing “for you”. It helps prevent over harvesting. In that vein I figured I would use them for my, now 3, hives. Also, I caught my first swarm on Monday! (Swarm removal call)

    • Adam,

      You are absolutely correct about this. I have a post explaining this somewhere (although just now I can’t find it) but you’ve stated it perfectly. The excluder encourages them to built out before up, which is very helpful for overwintering. Once the lower boxes are full, they will go up.

  • You are a better and more patient woman than I am Rusty. To be asked questions that are easily answered by actually reading a book, would drive me insane.

  • Hello Rusty,

    I find the best use for a queen excluder is to sieve the soil in my vegetable patch and not much else!


  • This is letting my little secret out, but, I always use a piece of a plastic excluder strapped in front of a small size entrance reducer opening. Held with a piece of twine wrapped around the hive box when moving a hive a short distance. I suspect it encourages most of them to do an orientation flight? Oh! of course I plug the hive prior to moving.
    Only three separate attempts so far but all have been successful.

  • Will a frame of brood from one bee race be accepted by other race? I have two hives (different races) apis cerana (asian) and malifera (europian). I want to raise new queen from asian bee hive, can I do it?

    • Muzafar,

      Races can generally interbreed, but it sounds like you want to cross two different species, A. cerana and A. mellifera. That is something you probably cannot do. I doubt they will even raise a queen to maturity.

  • I always wanted bees in my backyard, I got some lemongrass oil online, and put up 3 cardboard boxes at different places, spiked it with lemongrass oil. I went overseas for two months, When I got back all boxes have swarms. I built wooden hives, and transferred the bees, I enjoy now watching them fly in and out, very active crowd. Waiting for the honey next year

  • Had brood in the honey supers mainly drone cells, decided to try queen excluders for the first time. I left the hives for three weeks then went to do an inspection. There were no live bees above the excluders, only hundreds of dead ones and the combs were untouched. I removed the excluders to look below and found the hives to be extremely honey bound in the brood chambers. I believe that either my bees are of a large variety and could not negotiate the excluders, or the spacing’s on the excluders were incorrect. Anyways I now have a heap of excluders for sale, once bitten twice shy. I will work around the brood in the future.

    • Stan,

      I’m guessing you didn’t have an upper entrance above the excluder? An upper entrance allows bees to come and go depending on what they are carrying. Pollen bees go directly into the brood nest and nectar carriers can store up top. Works like magic. See “Surplus Secrets.” My honey production tripled with this method.

  • Hello Rusty and all beekeepers,

    Hello Rusty,

    A lot of times when I read about whether to use an excluder or not, all of the things you covered are discussed except the issue of an excluder causing damage to workers which (allegedly) shortens their life. I would like to hear your opinion on that. Thanks.

  • Just a late comment: As a first-year break, I used the excluder when I got my two nucs at the end of March as I used the top feeders to start my girls off. We missed the early dandelion flow due to cold, rainy weather but by mid-April, the second brood box went on with the excluder and the top feeder above. I think that way the girls were pretty much used to going up through the bars. In mid-May, I added the first honey super but while bees checked it out, they didn’t build any comb. On June first, both hives (10 frame medium super) had built out 80% capped and I added super to both which also built out fast requiring me to buy two more supers, added them and we were thinking about harvesting this weekend but temps are going to be in the upper 90’s So we’re going to wait a few days. Maybe I live in a magical land, but don’t let anyone tell you first-year hives don’t produce honey. The bees will pass through when they’re ready.

    • Mike,

      First-year colonies started with nucs frequently produce lots of honey, but those started from packages seldom do.

      • Rusty,

        A question I have not been able to find a clear answer on, when adding the super above the queen excluder does it have to have drawn comb already? Or can I add a supper with bare foundation and the bees will draw them out above the queen excluder when ready?

  • Rusty,

    It is early April in south-central PA and upon inspecting one colony I found a lot of brood with larvae in various stages in the one super I had left on over the winter with capped honey. The two deeps were largely empty (they had had brood, pollen, honey in the fall). There was an upper entrance but no queen excluder on. Can I assume the bees ate their way to the top over the winter and the queen started laying in the super? I gave them fondant just to be sure they weren’t starving as the apricot and cherry trees had just started to bloom. So, now what? Will the queen move down on her own or do I need to force her down?

    Thanks very much!

    • Pam,

      Yes, that’s what it sounds like. The bees can’t tell the difference between a brood box and a super, so they have no reason to think they are in the wrong place. It’s only wrong from a beekeeper’s point of view. Such annoying problems are the reason queen excluders were invented!

      You can put the queen below a queen excluder and some of the workers will go down with her. The others will go down after all the brood is hatched. Just be sure the nights are not too cold because the bees will be split over two boxes making it harder to keep everyone warm.

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