How to Make a Simple Robber Screen

 

This article has been previously published but contains seasonally relevant information.

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.

 

Be Careful with your Queen Excluder

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.

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.

Easy Nuc

A nucleus hive like this is a valuable piece of bee keeping equipment.

This article has been previously published, but contains seasonally relevant information.

If you have bees you need a nucleus hive, but we’ve already talked about that.  This is about how you can build a nucleus hive easily and economically – for about $15.   This is a 5 frame medium nuc, which I made from one 10′ 1×10 plank – bought at Lowe’s for about $12.50 – and which you can build with only a circular saw, hammer, nails, glue, tape measure, square, screw driver, and a pencil.  BTW, you can hurt your self with any of those tools – even a pencil can put an eye out, so follow all safety rules. Especially wear safety glasses when using a Skil saw.

Thou Shalt Not hold me or Cookeville Bee Keepers responsible for death, dismemberment, mayhem, boo-boos, loss of property, life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness which might result from your attempt to do anything – contained on this web site or not. Agreed?  If so we may proceed, otherwise turn back now – don’t even peek at the pictures.

The main criteria for this nuc is that it can be easily built with nothing more advanced than a Skil saw, so if you are a woodworker you will no doubt spot things that you would do different, and I agree.  But, despite being simple to build this is a solid design.

Step 1

Cut a 56″ piece from your  10’x1x10 and then rip the 56″ piece down to 8″ wide – you don’t actually have to mark out everything before you start.   Save the long scrap – you’re going to use it too.

This nuc has about  1 1/4″ of space under the frames – which is kind of a lot, but I have found that extra space under there is not much of a problem, while too little is.  Also that is enough room for you to emergency feed in the winter by simply pouring some sugar in there – it also allows plenty of room in the winter for dead bees that sometimes build up during long spells of bad weather.  If you want less bottom space then simply adjust this dimension.  You can go as small as 1/4″.

If you want to build a nuc for deep frames you will have to use a 1×12 instead of a 1×10, and you will need to leave the 56″ piece the full width of the 1 x 12.  You will still be able to make your deep nuc from one 10′ plank because The small pieces (handles and whatnot) that are made from the rip can be made from the end scrap instead.  The top and bottom will still be the same dimensions though.

Step 2

Caption

Next – from the half that you previously ripped down to 8″ cut off a piece about 15 1/4″ long which will end up making both ends – but don’t cut them apart yet!

Step 3

Cutting the frame rest is the only part of this project that is even remotely difficult.

This is the trickiest part of the entire project – and it isn’t really very tricky.  Cut the frame rest by setting your saw to cut only 3/8″ deep and make a cut at 7/8″ down from the top – this is a little bit deeper than standard frame rests, but it allows you to use a CD jewel case as a Small Hive Beetle trap on the top bars of the nuc.  After you very carefully make the first 3/8″ deep cut at 7/8″ down make several more cuts close together above the first one, and then break out the waste wood with a screwdriver, chisel or strong knife.  It’s easier to do than it is to describe.

Step 4

The entrance can be a simple notch like this, or you can drill a hole if you prefer.   I like to drill a hole in both ends and then cover one of them with screen.  Tip – 1 1/8″ hole is the same size as a bottled water or twist off metal cap – in case you want to cork up the hole. 

Cut a notch in one end to be the entrance using the same technique that you used to cut the frame rest.  You really need to clamp the piece in a vise or something to safely make those cuts.  You can see in the picture that I haven’t broken out all of the waste yet.

An easier way would be to just cut off one of the corners, which would work just fine, but would look a little different.

I made the entrance 3/4″ x 3/4″ because I think that small hives do better with small entrances – especially during robbing season.  If you want a larger entrance then go for it.  If you have a drill you can also drill a hole anywhere that you want it – but if it is close to the bottom they will have an easier time removing dead bees and trash from the hive.  However if it is up just a little bit from the bottom you can actually feed in the spring by squirting syrup in through the entrance.   I never have, but I know that it is done.

Now you can cut the two ends to length.

Step 5

Cut all of the other pieces to length:

  • Sides – 2 each – 8″ x 19 7/8″
  • Ends – 2 each – 8″ x 7 1/2″
  • Bottom – 1 each – 9 1/4″ (full width of 1×10 lumber) by 19 7/8″
  • Top – 1 each – 9 1/4″ (full width of 1×10 lumber) by 23 1/4″
  • Top Stiffeners – 4 each – 9 1/4″ by about 1 1/4″ – or however wide your long scrap is.
  • Handles – 2 each 9″ by about 1 1/4″ – or however wide your long scrap is.

Step 6

The top is especially vulnerable to weather damage – so either cover it with something (aluminum trim metal is especially nice)  or give it a good coat of exterior paint.

Assemble everything using plenty of water proof glue – I like TiteBond 3 and nails or screws.  Do the best job you can fastening the stiffeners to the lid because lids have a strong tendency to warp.  Use a wet paper towel to wipe off excess glue as you go. If you use screws you will get much better results if you pre-drill the holes first to prevent splitting your wood.  Other wise small gauge nails work just fine.  As a matter of fact the holes around screw heads are quite prone to rot if they aren’t caulked and painted – so plain old nails may be just as good.

The turn bolt closure over the entrance is optional, but it sure is handy if you ever use your nuc to catch a swarm, or want to move it while full of bees.

With a good coat of exterior grade paint this nucleus hive  will last for years.

Disclaimer – the main reason that I built this nuc out of a pine 1 x 10 plank is that this material has more appeal to some people – but I build lots of equipment like this out of construction scraps – plywood and Advantech (a great, durable material for all kinds of equipment in my opinion)  and the bees don’t mind at all. I have some that are in their 4th year that are still solid as when new.    If you can get scraps for cheap or free then I say use them – it will save you money, and it’s recycling.  If you actually bought a sheet of 3/4 advantech it would cost you about $22 – $25 and would make 4 of these little hives – less than 1/2 price – and would be less likely to warp.  But it wouldn’t be as pretty.

Here is another easy nuc designed to be really economical – the pictures tell the whole story.  This is for a deep nuc.