August is a wicked month and the bees are at their very worst: the major summer flows have dried up and the ivy is weeks away. The bees will beg, borrow or steal to build themselves up for winter.
Of course neither begging nor borrowing is open to them but they know how to steal!
Once robbing has started it is very difficult to stop so the best thing to do is try and prevent it from starting.
How to Prevent Robbing
- Close entrances down to a couple of inches (or less) as soon as the summer flows have stopped. The smaller the entrance the easier it is for the bees to defend it. The wider the entrance the easier it is for robbing bees or wasps to slip in unnoticed and a habit is established ;
- Set up a wasp trap but set it up well away from your bees or it will just attract every wasp in town – don’t bait it with honey or you will find it full of your bees;
- Keep all doors and windows to your honey house tightly closed!
- When you feed your bees, feed in the evening so that more bees will have discovered the exact location of their feed during the night and have stopped hysterically doing the round dance;
- The round dance is the dance the bees do to tell each other that there is a huge quantity of this thick nourishing 2:1 syrup really really close to here. When bees witness this dance and receive a sample from the dancer they immediately rush out the door and try and get in next door or the door of the weakest hive;
- It’ s bad practice for disease prevention reasons – but if you deliberately set things out to be robbed make sure it is more than 100m from your hives or the bees will do the bloody round dance and all go robbing each other instead of the thing or things it is you want cleaned;
- Don’t go slopping feed about the place;
- Don’t go to the apiary with an open bucket of oozy beeswax scrapings all reeking of honey – the bees will go mad in quicksticks. Get a cover for your bucket and keep it covered;
- If you have weak colonies – turn them ‘the cold way’ for the robbing season and narrow the entrances to about half an inch. This way robbers at the entrance are facing down the centre frames of the nest – and all the bees are looking back at them! A weak colony set up ‘the warm way’ will not notice robbers slipping in through the entrance and running up the inside of the front wall;
- The cold way is where the box is placed on the floor so that the frames are perpendicular to the entrance block;
- The warm way is where the box is placed on the floor so that the frames are horizontal to the entrance block.
How to Stop Robbing
Once robbing has started your haven’t really got many options.
- You can bung the hive up and take it away;
- You can let the bees rob it out completely – then when they’ve stopped, quietly slip in some frames of feed from elsewhere before they starve;
- Using your imagination and whatever materials you may have at hand – build a little tunnel just one beespace wide and a couple of inches deep at the entrance. Robbers hate the thought of a long dark corridor. Seriously, this can work but only if you have the time, you like a challenge, have a particularly precious nuc and no other options.
If you’ve got something there I’ve missed – please add it here because it really is a scourge – there’s a contact form at the bottom of the page.
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