Every season has its trials and tribulations, its ups and downs, and late summer and early fall is no different. Now is the season for robbing. The nectar flow slows down for a time before the golden rod and other fall flowers appear and the bees go into survival mode.
What is robbing? This is when bumblebees, hornets, and honeybees from other hives fight their way inside your hive and steal the honey. If you do not keep an eye on your hive they can strip your hive bare. If you do not act quickly your hive may not have enough stores to make it through the winter.
What can you do to prevent robbing?
Your honeybees work hard all summer bringing in nectar and transforming it into honey. They are preparing for winter, those long months that they will be locked inside the hive with no more foraging flights. As a beekeeper, you want some of that honey. Taking the right amount at the right time is key.
August is a deceiving month. Its summer, there should be plenty of flowers for the bees. This is not always true; its at this time there is a nectar dearth which is a decrease in the nectar flow. If your bees don’t think that they have enough honey stored up they may
resort to robbing. This can be a problem if you have more than one hive as your stronger hives will rob from your weaker hives. Also, if your bees are thinking of robbing other hives, wild bees, hornets, and wasps are also thinking the same thing. If you are not a proactive beekeeper your hive could be robbed entirely of its honey before you notice anything is wrong.
It is important to do an exterior inspection of your hives frequently at this time of year. If there are a lot of bees around your bottom board, these are not your bees. Robber bees are getting into your hive through the gap in the screened bottom board. The solution? Pull the screened bottom board out, flip it upside-down and put it back in. There are spacers on this board so during most times of the year it creates a gap to allow air flow. By flipping it over, this creates a seal between your bottom board and hive blocking robbers from getting in. Remember to flip the screened bottom board back over again when closing the hive up for winter. Don’t worry about the gaps, the bees will fill these with propolis.
Another way to help your bees is to reduce the entrance holes. Throughout the summer you will keep all four entrance holes open, but when you see robbing happening reduce
this to one entrance hole. Your bees will have a much smaller area to defend.
How do you know your bees are being robbed at the entrance? Watch the entrance for a few minutes, if it is being robbed, you will see hornets trying to make their way into the hive. You may also see two honeybees fighting. If one is a drone this is normal behaviour because at this time of year the bees are removing the drones from the hive. If they are two worker bees, then one of those honeybees is not from your hive.
What do you do if your hive has been robbed and there is no more honey left?
Don’t panic. There is still time for your bees to forage the fall flowers for nectar; they will be able to build some stores of honey. It is also a good time to sugar feed your bees. Make a solution of 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of hot water. Allow it to cool and then fill mason jars to be used in the feeders that come with our top bar hives. Place the feeders inside your hive behind the follower board. There is usually a hole plugged with a cork in the follower board, now is the time to unplug this hole so your bees have access to the feeder. Check on your bees through the viewing window daily and refill the feeder as often as needed. Before you close up your hive for the winter check to see how many bars of capped honey they have. If they have less than five bars, you will need to add a sugar cake feeder, which comes with our hives. Fill it with a sugar paste so the bees can feed on it once they have eaten all their honey stores. Now you can close your hive for the winter.