Should I use a Queen excluder in my beehive?

Recently, while attending a field seminar in beekeeping, I realized there was a controversy regarding Queen excluders and whether or not to use them. While most of the beekeeper attendees did use Queen excluders, there was a small but passionate group of beekeepers that did not use Queen excluders in their beehives.

I decided to research this question of “whether or not to use Queen excluders” further and this is what I found:

Should I use a Queen excluder in my beehive?


  • Keeps the Queen bee from laying eggs in the supers designated for honey production only.
  • Easier to find the Queen.


  • Can limit space for the Queen to lay eggs thus increasing swarming potential.
  • Wears out the worker bee’s wings and can shorten working life by up to 50%.

PROS of using a Queen excluder:

A Queen excluder designates a specific area of the hive that is accessible for the Queen to lay eggs.

Most beekeepers become beekeepers to be able to harvest honey. In that pursuit, they will not want anything but pure honey in the beehive frames that they are going to harvest for honey.

If a queen bee is not excluded from laying eggs in a newly added super, by the use of a queen excluder, the beekeeper will find the extracted honey with brood in it will not produce the pure unadulterated honey that most beekeepers strive to attain.

In the extracted honey from a brood frame, the beekeeper will find pollen.

When a queen bee lays eggs in a new frame, the worker bees will start to designate part of that frame has an area to deposit pollon. Pollen is a necessary nurturant to metamorphis a newly laid egg through the larval stage and emerge as an adult bee ready to work straight out of the birth cell.

Most beekeepers will also be worried that the harvested honey will contain remnants of cell debris from the newly hatched larva.

Researching this birth-cell contamination concern further I find that most beekeepers agree that a brood cell is completely sanitized after the birth of the bee, therefore, there will be no debris in the honey harvest from a brood cell.

However the brood cell, even after cleaning, will have a darkened wax structure which most beekeepers attribute to larvae excrement during the development of a larva into a fully functioning adult bee. There is no evidence that this darkened wax cell foundation adds any contaminates or changes the flavor of the extracted honey.

Learn more about what a brood frame looks like…..

A Queen excluder makes it easier to find the Queen

One of the primary purposes of hive inspection is to be sure the hive has an active laying Queen bee.

A Queenless hive will collapse as the worker bees die off and are not replaced by the next generation of newly birthed bees.

Even though seasoned beekeepers can easily find the Queen with their well trained eyes, it is sometimes difficult to spot the Queen bee, even for these beekeepers.

It becomes even more difficult to spot the Queen if she is slimming down, a very early warning sign of impending hive swarming.

Many beekeepers, even seasoned beekeepers, mark their Queen bee with a special color “paint” to make it much easier to spot the Queen bee.

Many beekeepers also annually change the color of the Queen marking “paint” to identify what year that Queen was born. Some like to re-queen the hive if they feel the Queen is becoming too old.

CONS of using a Queen excluder:

Using a Queen excluder contributes to the potential for swarming.

The biggest reason for not using a queen excluder is the real possibility that the queen will lay so many eggs in the brood boxes below the Queen excluder that she will run out of room to lay more eggs.

The Queen can lay up to 2,500 eggs a day in early spring. She needs to build up the workforce of bees to gather the nectar and pollen that will be available for a few weeks in spring. It does not take long for the Queen bee to overcrowd a two brood box configuration that most beekeepers use.

This limitation of the Queen’s egg laying capacity presents to the bees as an overcrowded hive scenario, and overcrowding is the primary reason bees swarm. Swarming will decrease the population of bees in the remaining hive by about 50%, and they will take as much honey as they can carry with them as they live the hive in search of a new home.

Another “Con” to using a Queen excluder is the wear and tear on the foraging bee’s wings as the return to the hive with the nectar they have gathered. They must pass through the Queen excluder to deposit the nectar they have gathered in the honey supers above the Queen excluder.

The general consensus is that this narrow passage into the honey supper scrapes and damages the foraging bee’s wings and can shorten their working life by up to 50%. The main reason a foraging bee’s life comes to an end is because they have worn out their wings and can no longer fly.

The perfect conditions for swarming are:

  • The beginning of the spring nectar flow.
  • The beehive becomes overcrowded.

Learn more about early swarming signs…..

How can I harvest pure honey and not use a Queen excluder?

The best way to harvest pure honey without using a Queen excluder is to add a third brood box using the checkerboard technique.

Some beekeepers opposed to using Queen excluders use a technique called “checkboarding” to add a third brood box in the spring to prevent brood from being laid in their honey supers they will add later in the season.

Using the checkerboard technique to add a third brook box, thereby giving the Queen plenty of additional space to lay eggs, will prevent the beekeeper’s bees from swarming. Most seasoned beekeepers agree that adding a third brood box will prevent the bees from ever swarming because the beehive will never become overcrowded.

The reason the beehive with three brood boxes will never swarm is because the “Dearth” limits the amount of total bees any hive can ever sustain.

A dearth is a time between the spring nectar flow of flowers and the fall nectar flow in the fall. The several weeks period between these two nectar flows is called a dearth. During the dearth the hive size will decrease because the Queen bee slows down the pace of egg laying, adjusting the size of the foraging bee population to match the amount of nectar that is available to gather.

So, in the beginning, the Queen lays LOTS of eggs preparing for the spring nectar flow. Then egg laying is slowed to accommodate the dearth. Towards the end of the dearth the Queen begins laying LOTS of eggs again in anticipation of the fall nectar flow. As the fall nectar flow ends the Queen again decreases her egg laying task in preparation of surviving the approaching winter.

Because of this increase and decrease of egg laying activity, the hive will never exceed the need of more than half of a third brood box, therefore most beekeepers believe the potential for swarming is reduced to near zero.

Because the Queen rarely, if ever, would move into a forth super to lay eggs, the supers the beekeeper adds to this three story brood box will be pure honey and not contain any contaminants, which is the reason to use a Queen excluder in the first place.

Plus it reduces the beekeeper’s need to inspect the hive to the bottom board as frequently, saving the beekeeper’s time to maintain the hive.

An additional benefit of checkerboarding a third brood box onto the beehive is that it will become a very strong hive with a huge workforce. The foraging bees will fill the honey supers the beekeeper will add to this hive very quickly.

And these newly added supers to the three brood boxes will produce pure honey with no contaminants.

Checkerboarding is a technique that requires a great deal more information. Because of the volume of information, and its relationship is more connected to swarm prevention than harvesting pure honey, it will not be thoroughly covered here.
Learn more about checkerboarding…..

Related Topics:

Can a Queen bee pass through a Queen excluder?

A Queen bee can pass through a Queen excluder if particularly small or has slimmed down preparing to swarming.
The slim Queen preparing to swarm has no reason to pass through the excluder, she is preparing to build a new colony, not contribute to the old colony.

Can all honey bees except the Queen pass through an excluder?

No. Many beekeepers report they find oversized worker bees as well as drones that have attempted to pass through the Queen excluder, gotten stuck in the excluder, and died being trapped in the Queen excluder.


May your beehives live long and prosper.

Paying It Forward

Robert Donaldson

I am Elizabeth's father, a physical therapist, and someone who has completely landscaped our family home's nearly 1/2 acre lot after losing our home and landscape to the Thomas wildfire in 2017. All landscaping was done to accommodate our wildlife friends, especially the birds and bees.

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