Almost every beginning beekeeper has a queen excluder that came with a kit – and almost everyone is anxious to deploy it so that they can get a super or two of nice pristine honey without any brood to worry about. To everything there is a season, and your first year with bees is not the time to use your excluder – at least not like that.
Every year I get a question or run across someone who is wondering why their bees won’t go through their queen excluder – to get to the super of bare foundation sitting on top. Well the short answer is that they probably never will. Bees don’t really like to go through a queen excluder anyway, but if there isn’t anything above it that they want (bare foundation) then they almost surely won’t – unless the hive is absolutely cram packed with bees, in which case they are more likely to swarm than to go through an excluder to get to foundation.
As a general rule don’t use a queen excluder until after you have enough comb drawn out to fill your brood boxes and at least 1 honey super. Then you can put the excluder between the brood chamber and the honey supers – with drawn comb in them – and the bees are much more likely to co-operate. Although even then they make the hive more likely to swarm.
If you do want to use them so that you don’t have brood in your honey supers you can wait until most of the honey flow is over to add the excluder – say around May 20 or so, after the poplar and locust bloom are about over. Then any brood above it will emerge and the comb will get back filled with honey. As long as you get the queen below it that is.
If you use a queen excluder during the honey flow it will be more work to keep your bees from swarming. But it will also make it so that you have fewer boxes to inspect for queen cells.
It seems that a lot of hobby bee keepers don’t use them anymore – but commercial honey producers mostly do – I think. If you use an excluder it won’t really make your bees produce less honey – not so you would notice anyway – but they may store more of it below the excluder therefore you won’t have to feed them as much.
As long as they are not out of room below they will be very reluctant to go through an excluder – which is kind of alright, because they will get the brood boxes fully stocked with honey before they go up into the supers. Which is actually a good thing about the old tried and true method of using deep brood and shallow honey supers with an excluder always between them – if there is any honey in the supers that is yours, all honey below the excluder stays with the hive. It made it an easy call for new bee keepers and also results in pretty white honey combs that don’t have brood cocoons in them – for what that’s worth.
Queen excluders are just a tool, and like any tool can be useful if used correctly, but can be counterproductive if misused. Because of this many people call them honey excluders, but research indicates that is not really the case.