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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