Monthly Archives: September 2014

Learning Curve

I’ve been feeding a couple of hives for a several weeks to help them get ready for winter since they didn’t have enough honey stored. The problem with feeding sugar syrup to a weak hive is it attracts robbers, and that’s exactly what happened with hive five. Their neighbors in hive four were helping themselves. I found proof when I recently checked hive four and found a frame of newly drawn comb with perfectly white wax, which comes from being made with sugar syrup rather than nectar stores.

I had tried reducing the small entrance to the hive with grass or twigs t slow the intruders and allow the guards to better defend the entrance, but the bees would quickly push the objects out. So, it was time to get handy.

Robber screen

My homemade robber screen, made with an entrance reducer, parts of an old frame, and window screen.

Many beekeepers suggest robber screens, so I gathered some scrap frame, stapled a piece of window screen on to it, and attached it to an entrance reducer, which fits perfectly into the opening of the hive. The screen makes the entrance more difficult to find and because robbing bees aren’t familiar with the hive, they can smell the food, but they don’t know how to get in.

Robber screen installed

The screen fits over the entrance so the bees have to enter from a higher spot. But first they have to learn how.

The problem is the bees from the hive knew where the old entrance was when they went out looking for food, but couldn’t find the new entrance when they returned. It left them confused and me worried about the rains predicted for the evening. I decided to remove it until the sun went down so it would be in place when they started fresh the next morning.

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This afternoon, I went to see how the new entrance was working. Many bees had discovered how to climb the hive from inside the screen.

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The bees inside have learned how to climb up first and the returning foragers are beginning to learn how to go over the top to enter the hive.

They often have an orientation flight in the late afternoon, so bees were flying around the hive getting their bearings and discovering the new entrance. There’s still some confusion, but several foragers found the top of the screen and were greeted by guards.

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This has always been a calm hive. When we came near, the bees buzzed around us with curiosity, but none were aggressive.

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There’s still quite a bit of congestion on the landing board, but the bees are beginning to go over the top.

I asked on the BeeSource forum how long it usually takes the bees to learn how to enter and exit with the robber screen in place. One fellow beekeeper said it can take a few days. I’ll try to be patient and worry too much. I hope this puts an end to the robbing so the hive can enter winter strong and well-supplied.

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Royal Duo

For two months, I battled with hive six over the Buckfast queen. They were determined to replace her and I was determined they wouldn’t. Never argue with bees: there’s no convincing them of your logic. Every five or six days, I went into the hive and removed the few queen cells they had built. Finally after two months of that, I gave up and stopped removing the cells mid-August. I was sad to let my Buckfast queen be replaced, but I was clearly not going to win.

I checked the hive again two weeks later, since a new queen should have emerged by then. I was surprised to find eggs in one frame. Surely she hadn’t hatched and mated already. One week later, I saw the Buckfast queen! I thought they were trying to replace her, but there she was. I have read a number of bee keeper accounts of hives with two queens. I thought perhaps they were waiting for the new queen to mate.

It’s been a month since that new queen has hatched, plenty of time for a mating flight. Today, I checked the hive again and saw BOTH queens. The mother Buckfast with her bright blue dot and her unmarked daughter.

This has been a year of firsts for me: first angry hive; first hive shake-out; and now my first dual queen hive. I don’t know how long the bees will keep both or if they’ll simply wait for the older one to die naturally. But whatever they do, the hive at this point has lots of eggs, larva, and capped brood and they are storing pollen and nectar for winter. I thought I would have to merge them with another hive this fall, but I feel they are strong enough to make it through the winter, especially with the additional syrup I’ve been feeding lately.

Check back soon for updates on the other five hives and their progress on winter preparations. I’ll be harvesting honey from at least one hive this week.

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