Ok, my apologies to the Beastie Boys, there will be no rhyming going on here. But there will be lots of stealing! More precisely, honey robbing. Honey robbing by wayward, wrong-side-of-the-tracks, jerk-bees.
Sarah and I had noticed some odd behavior from the bees a while back. Sarah scoured the internet and the predominant theory was our bees were being robbed. Symptoms included seeing bunches off bees all balled up near the entrance, bees climbing the hive before taking off and other bees hovering near the entrance, bobbing up and down as if looking for a way in. Odd behavior, indeed.
A closer inspection showed that some larger, darker bees seemed to be trying to gain access (and often succeeding) to the hive entrance. Measures had to be taken!
You may be wondering, "Yo, Foulmouthedbeekeepers, how did you wind up with little flying assholes robbing your hive?" Well, let me draw your attention to a picture I have posted before:
Yeah, this was a bad idea. Most beekeepers that provide sugar water for their bees do so with entrance feeders or internal feeders. I couldn't figure out how to do that with the top bar hive. Instead I filled a cat waterer with the syrup mix. Then I positioned the feeder a few feet from the entrance.
This worked great for feeding our bees... and every other insect in the neighborhood. Once the "foreign" bees figured out there was a food source here, it wasn't long before they figured out that sugar water may be nice, but honey is nicer. It was a short trip from there to the hive entrance.
Sarah's awesome blog hunting powers found us a couple of remedies.
- Narrow the hive entrance so the bees can better defend it
- Place a wet sheet over the hive: robbers won't be able to find the entrance and our bees will be just fine
We narrowed down the entrance to the top bar hive until only about five bees could fit through it, and covered it with a wet sheet.
It looked pretty sad, like the sheet you drape over a corpse, and both Sarah and I commented on feeling like we had failed.
While the Langstroth hive was not having as big a problem with the robbers, there were some. We did not cover it with a sheet, but we did narrow down the entrance way a bit.
Around four or five bees could enter at a time.
We kept the sheet on the top bar hive for a couple of days. During that time, it didn't appear that activity was curtailed all that much. We could still see bees swooping around looking for the entrance.
On the third day, we removed the sheet. Before we removed it, things seemed tense, with bees dive bombing and swooping. Weirdly, though, as soon as we got the sheet off, things calmed down. We speculate that some of the agitated bees we saw swooping were our hive bees trying to figure out how to get back in.
We noticed that there were still a few robbers around, but not nearly as many. I narrowed the hive entrance to the point only two bees could enter or exit at a time.
There was always a nagging feeling in my head that I had cut this entrance larger than it should have been. This sees to confirm it.
As it stands now, we know there are robbers in the area. Either someone else is raising bees nearby, or a feral hive survived the winter. The measures we've taken seem to have helped.
We'll next be out at the hives on Wednesday. Hopefully, we will find the bees happy with full larders.