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By Bernhard Clauss
Beekeeping research and extension persons in Botswana and Zambia have been familiar with queen includers for several years.
I would like to add some of these experiences to Kwame Aidoo's article "Queen includers" in Bees for Development Journal 25.
The queen includer can be a valuable tool for beekeepers, when they want to make swarms or broodless "wild" colonies settle in new homes. However the application of queen includers must be accompanied by attractive, "bee-friendly" measures like feeding and/or the introduction of a (mainly capped) brood comb.
Before we start recommending the queen includer to our target group, the rural beekeepers, we have to make sure that it is available and affordable at any time.
As queen excluder grids keep up the dependence on costly importation and unreliable internal supply, the search for substitutes should be encouraged.
Here is an encouraging example. In 1981 a Motswana Primary School teacher recommended paper clips with the inner measurement of exactly 4 mm. We still recommend these in the Zambian beekeeping handbook (1992)
But let us be careful
Our experiences in southern and central Africa show that queen includers should be used for a few days only. As soon as the colony indicates the acceptance of the new home by foragers bringing in pollen the includers should be removed. Otherwise they may obstruct certain vital activities within the colony and cause stress, which often has the opposite effect.For example, if queen includers trap drones or virgin queens that are ready to mate, or if they become obstacles for scores of heavily loaded workers during flowering peaks, the readiness of absconding may increase, especially with the small entrances recommended for top-bar hives
It sometimes happens that small-sized queens can pass through the includers. Long-standing beekeeping experts discourage the use of queen includers as a means of colony management.
When bees have decided to go, they go.
A queen includer fixed during the swarming season will not change the natural urge to swarm. Even worse: a stressed colony may decide to abscond, even without the queen, a shocking experience we had repeatedly in Botswana. Generally speaking a sensible beekeeper has less trouble when following the principle -
Manipulation without compulsion!
If at all possible, only assist a newly hived swarm or wild colony with capped brood and food. And watch out for ants!
Encouraging a swarm to stay
If no brood and food combs are available for your newly hived swarm you should fix queen includers in front of the entrance holes with soft wax.
The paper clips reduce the size of the entrance holes allowing only the worker bees to pass in and out, thus preventing the queen (and drones) from escaping. If the bees do not like their new home they will try to abscond and will cluster nearby, but as the queen is unable to follow them they will return to the hive.
Take off the queen includers only to remove drones blocking the entrances in early evening.
You can be sure that the bees have accepted their new home as soon as you see them bringing in pollen loads.
Watch the situation for one or two days, not more! After this time the queen includers must be removed.
[Bee for Development Journal #26]