When Good Bees go Bad

This article was originally posted in June 2011, but contains seasonally relevant information.

Whenever there isn’t a good flow on (like now and throughout the rest of the summer) strong honey bee hives will often rob weak hives – if it gets bad enough they will completely decimate the hive that is being robbed.

This is the best video that I could find that actually showed robbing going on. Notice 2 things 1) The robber bees are climbing up the hive to get some extra elevation before they take off – this is typical in a robbing frenzy. 2) Groups of bees wrestling on the landing board, and falling off the front in clumps – those distinguish a robbing frenzy from orientation or swarming.

To Prevent Robbing:

  • Don’t let it get started! Much easier to prevent than to correct.
  • Don’t spill syrup or nectar.
  • Don’t drop burr comb and leave it laying.
  • Don’t use entrance feeders.
  • If you feed one hive, feed them all.  A big strong hive that is hungry is highly motivated to rob – and they don’t want to break into next winters stored honey if they don’t have to.
  • Feed late in the evening – an amount small enough to be gone by morning.
  • Restrict all entrances to very small – if there is a traffic jam at the strong hive the robber bees can’t get in to unload and make another run.  If the entrance to the weak hive is small it can be effectively defended be just a few bees.  Think of one Marine blocking a doorway compared to trying to block a whole street.  Very large natural bee hives often go in and out through very small openings.
  • When you need to open hives do what you need to do and close it back up as quickly as possible.
  • Very important – make sure there is only one entrance – including that little hole in the front of the inner cover – block that off.  A hive that is being robbed has a very hard time defending the back door.
  • Don’t open feed close to your hives!  Some people have had success shutting down a robbing frenzy by open feeding 100 yards or so away – thus drawing the robbers off to easier pickings.

 

There will be some robbing.  It’s just what they do.  When it gets out of hand you won’t have to ask anyone if it is robbing or not – it looks violent, and chaotic.  If that happens  what has worked for me  is to suit up and thoroughly smoke  all hives that might be involved – both the criminals and the victims, and completely block up the entrances until about one half hour before dark – don’t suffocate them though. Then apply corrective actions.

Robber screens are my #1 way of preventing robbing – and I have many little bitty weak hives right next to big strong hives.

I would like to encourage anyone with tips, insights, or nasty remarks to leave a comment.

Queenless!!

Queenlessness is probably the main cause of hive death during the beekeeping season – but it doesn’t have to be.  A hive can lose its  queen for several reasons – swarming, supersedure, beekeeper error,  etc.  Any time a new queen flies out to mate there is a significant chance that she won’t make it back.

When a strong hive becomes queenless for any reason you have about 4-5 weeks to take action to save the hive, but the sooner you do something the better it will be.  This is one reason that we do inspections.

What to do when you are queenless.

Beekeeping tasks this month – May

It’s May, the poplars are popping and the nectar is flowing… what should I be doing as a beekeeper this month?

Tulip Poplar - one of our main nectar producing plants - just began blooming in our area.
Tulip Poplar – one of our main nectar producing plants – just began blooming in our area.

It’s May, the poplars are popping and the nectar is flowing… what should I be doing as a beekeeper this month?

The following list was published by Dr. John A. Skinner (Professor & Apiculture Specialist @ UT) in the Beekeeping in Tennessee publication from UT (PB 1745), and is available at the following URL: https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/documents/PB1745.pdf

Seasonal Management: May

• It is time to add another super when the honey super on a colony is one-half to two-thirds filled (six to seven frames). A few drawn frames can be moved up into an empty foundation super to encourage the bees to move up.

• Supers of cut comb honey foundation should be added on top of the honey super, which is on top of the brood chamber, to reduce the amount of pollen in the cut comb honey.

• Continue to check for swarm cells every seven to 14 days. Raise the super just above the brood chamber and check for swarm cells along the bottom bars of the frames. If developing cells (not empty cups) are present, a swarm is imminent. Either split the hive to artificially swarm it, or watch for an issuing swarm in coming days.

• Keep empty storage space in the supers on all colonies until the honey flow has ended.

• Remove and extract capped supers from your colonies if you need additional supers.