How to Make a Simple Robber Screen

 

As the nectar flows taper off at this time of year robbing sets in.   If you only have one hive and you know that there are no others nearby then you don’t need to worry about robbing – but the rest of us do.  Robbing is especially a problem when you have strong hives near small, weak or queenless hives – such as splits or mating nucs.  Especially if you are feeding those weaker hives.  There are lots of ways to manage robbing, but in my opinion, except for robber screens they all just nibble around the edges of the problem.  Robber screens work when nothing else will.  Even so, robber screens work much better if deployed before robbing sets in, so don’t wait.  BTW, if you want to you can leave robber screens on all year long – they won’t hinder a strong hive from making a honey crop, and they make excellent mouse guards in winter.

You may not realize that when nectar forage gets scarce robbing goes on all the time – it is stealthy and at a low level most of the time.  It only turns into the classic robbing frenzy under certain conditions – but even the stealth robbing that is much harder to spot can starve a nuc to death and add unnecessary stress to any hive.  I am convinced that it is a much bigger issue than most people think it is – and often why one hive does so well (expert thieves) and another fails to thrive (docile victims) – and is almost inevitable if you have Italian bees (notorious for robbing) in the same yard as Carniolians (famously docile.)

Robber screens work by separating the entrance to the hive from the smell which comes out of it – and since robbers find the entrance by homing in on the smell they go to the wrong place and are kept out by the screen, even though they can smell it.  The home bees will always be confused when you first add a robber screen (unless you do it when you first establish a hive in a new location) but they will figure it out if you give them about a week.  For a few days they will look pretty pathetic, so just try not to look.

Get Started Building a Robber Screen

As woodworking projects go they don’t get much easier than this – almost anyone should be able to build a robber screen like this with a bare minimum of tools.  A hammer and nails, any kind of saw, and a stapler are really all you need.

You can use pretty much any kind of scrap lumber for robber screens, but if you only have hand tools 1×2 furring strips ($3.14 / 8′)  from Lowe’s are really easy to work with.

A robber screen only has 2 critical dimensions – the width…

A robber screen needs to fit fairly tight between the sides of the bottom board – in this example that is about 12 5/16″ but yours will almost certainly differ.

and the height…

A robber screen needs to be lower than the bottom edge of the lid on a single box hive – or the hand hold cleat on a homemade hive body. In this example 5 -5 1/4″ would be about right.
Robber screens can be fitted to any size hive. In this picture the actual entrance is a round hole, and the home bees go in and out over the top of the screen. The bees on the outside of the screen near the entrance hole are robbers.

You don’t even need a tape measure you can just hold your material up to a hive and mark it…

These dimensions will vary depending on what size equipment you have.  Cut two sticks to your width, and 2 sticks the height that you want your screen to be.  You want to be able to use your screen on a single hive body – and don’t forget to take into account cleats that may be on home made hive bodies – your bees will go in and out over the top of the screen so give them enough room for that.  In other words, make them at least 1/2″ short of the lid or cleats when used with a single hive body.

Now that you have your sticks cut to length you will need a piece of screen – I am using aluminum screen wire for this example because it is easy to get and easy to cut with plain old scissors.  Hardware cloth or any kind of mesh will work as long as bees can’t go through it.  Cut your screen a little bit smaller than the finished size of your robber screen.

Staple the screen to one of the long sticks…

Use the side sticks to get the other long stick in position and staple the screen to it.  Now attach the sides.  A dab of exterior grade wood glue will make it more durable, but is not at all required…

Drive only one nail in each corner, and then check the frame for square…

Then finish nailing the corners and stapling the screen.  I suggest that you go ahead and drill two holes (if you have a drill) in the sides so that you can attach your screen with screws if needed…

And that is all there is to it.  Now you can get all the way through until winter without worrying about robbing.

 

1 thought on “How to Make a Simple Robber Screen”

  1. My cousin is looking to start a small beekeeping service and wanted to make some robber screens. I had no idea that hive robbing was such a huge contributor to the success or failure of a hive! Anyways, I’ll be sending this guide to my cousin as soon as possible. Thanks for the help!

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