A few readers have requested information on our experiences with robbing bees this year. I have written about our problem in an earlier post but I would like to follow up on how the summer ended. Firstly, I would say that a large part of our problem occurred because of my beekeeping in-experience. In essence I don’t keep bees, they just put up with me.
I will start with what I did wrong. Our bee numbers were very strong in all four hives. All of our hives had “very large” populations. Since I take off honey panels (its called stealing) as the summer progresses, this relieves pressure throughout the hive and gives the bees more space. This in essence tells them that they still have work to do, i.e. make more honey. I am of the general belief that the more work the bees have, the less inclined they will be to swarm. In previous years, we have had swarms even in late August – early September. Also, taking honey off in stages is easier on the beekeeper in terms of lifting, extracting, lifting, filtering, lifting and filling jars… It is also easier on the pocketbook since we need less honey supers, panels, etc. This lessens the overall investment. But that was not a major factor in the overall hive problem sequence of events.
Error #1: At the end of summer, I removed the final supers of honey to extract since the nectar coming into the hive was slowing down. I should have waited until it had stopped, completely. The next week saw a large intake of nectar from the Golden Rod (verge d’or) flowers. The emptied (extracted) panels were placed in a super above the brood boxes with an empty super box between. The bees are supposed to clean any excess honey, leaving the panels ready for next year. Since temperatures were still in the high twenties celsius, the bees decided to fill all the panels in just over a week with fresh Golden Rod nectar. My girls are hard workers! I extracted another 60 pounds after that short period.
Error #2: I left those (2nd time) extracted empty panels outside (I didn’t want them filled again) to be cleaned out by the bees. I probably left them too close to the hives and each hive’s flight path crossed each other. Bees from all the hives fed on these panels, but once empty, they decided to visit each other’s hives in order to rob. This is a natural instinct: it’s always easier to take from your neighbour than to forage for hours on sparse flowers. I should have placed the empty panels at a greater distance from the hives. This would have allowed the bees to fly directly back to their respective hives without disorientation and cross-over flight patterns.
Error #4: I should have started feeding sugar syrup the same day as the honey supers were taken off. Its hard to imagine preparing for winter at the end-of-August beginning-of-September when temperatures are in the high twenties celsius. I have to remind myself that the bee-year cycle is based on light intensity and duration, rather than temperature. Our changing world climate is not helping much either. Starting the sugar syrup feedings at this time might have kept the bees in their respective hives and alleviated or prevented any robbing from such large populated colonies.
Error #5: Don’t worry about problems you cannot solve. This new problem was a confirmed report of a bear that had taken up lodgings in a local corn field. Since a bear’s sense of smell (so I’m told) can be very good, I was concerned about the possibility of this uninvited quest being attracted to the strong odour given off by the extracted honey panels which had been left near the hives. The health of the hives should have been my concern rather than Yogi.
All that to say that the robbing screens did in fact work. They don’t take long to build and I may put them on the hives again next year as a precaution in the fall only. It took the bees at least a week to separate and calm down, but the sugar syrup fed in each hive sped up the process. It may not be practical for those working many hives. Some guidebooks recommend closing off the hive entrance for three days or more so that the new bees lose track of where they have been during that time. This was not an option as they would have suffocated due to the unusually high temperatures in effect at the time. They were still bearding outside the hive even at night because of the heat. Lifting the robbing hives and transporting them five kilometres in different directions was another recommendation. This was not an option for us as we had no other site available and my back refused to participate. Something about Union Contracts, Labour Laws, etc…
I hope this will be helpful to your beekeeping endeavours and please feel free to add any other comments. Learning as much as we can makes it all the more fun…for us, and the bees.