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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I never realized robbers could pretty much wipe out an entire apiary. Usually I only have 2 hives but this year I have 4 and a couple nucs. Everytime I walked by the beeyard this summer the sweet smell of honey wafted through the air. I thought it was great. They'll have to plenty to overwinter on. I won't even take any because right now I just want to build hives.

Well, no more. This morning I walked down there and no more smell of honey.

I realized robbing was going on when I went into a strong Russian hive, from a spring package, to get 2 honey frames to set up my new nuc. I posted a thread here - where's the honey? The honey was gone. I thought maybe they swarmed. I couldn't find the queen. There wasn't a lot of brood.

Then I thought - not only will I feed this new nuc then, I will feed all the hives because something's wrong with the honey supply. For only 1 day I put syrup on all the hives. The new nuc was swarming with bees. Now I knew they were getting robbed. I figured it was my strong hives robbing it. But then I remembered all the bee activity around all the hives lately, I couldn't quite figure that out either but I thought they were awfully active. And this morning I went to take the sniff test in the bee yard, and sure enough, no scent of honey. I'll bet they have all been robbed. Maybe even by my strong swarm that left in June? Either some swarmed hive in the woods now has enough honey to feed an army, or some local beekeeper is bragging how their bees brought in 100 lbs. of honey this year....

SO WHAT TO DO?

In the future, I'm thinking one strategy might be to take honey on July 4th like some other folks do around here. That at least preserves it, either for ME, or in frames for the winter to put back into the hives.

OR, maybe everytime I run across a capped honey frame during inspections, snatch it.

Also, I think I will keep my hives smaller. 2 mediums for brood, 2 mediums for honey, when they build that out, I will take a super off and replace it with an empty one. Again, getting rid of excess honey and excess scent.

Do you all have organizational strategies to protect against losing all your honey to robbers?

The only plus to this is that it probably insures against bear attacks, because there's no honey to smell.
 

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Assuming you have decreased the size of opening in your entrance reducers, a healthy hive can defend itself pretty well from robbers. If robbers are totally wiping your hives out, they are too weak. Do an assessment and do what you need to strengthen the hives.
 

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Also do you have top entrances? As the colony moves away from the top after summer, top entrances leave them vulnerable to robbing.

Agree with Dsegrest though, if normal colonies are getting robbed, there is either something wrong with the health of the bees, or something wrong with the way the hive is set up.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
2 of the hives were from 50/50 splits from June, and one was a split from a capped queen cell, so they may have been less strong than average - but there are always splits building up in an apiary, no? There may have been too much space, too many supers on the hives, as I wanted to give them lots of room to expand, collect, and dry honey. They all had top and bottom entrances - mouseguards on the bottom all summer tho, so not a ton of space, and inner cover entrances on the top, which is a single bee size and then a round hole in addition. Maybe I should keep the round hole plugged up (it comes with a plug) and just keep the one bee size entrance. (Don't they need ventilation?)

I never considered them "weak" altho they could have been "building up" hives. But the spring package is a head scratcher, that should have been strong.

They couldn't have been all TOO weak I don't think because of the huge scent of honey all over the area.

Then again, I've had the feeling there was a dearth of nectar for a good 2-3 weeks now. They were thick all over the plantain every morning, which according to the literature, is a less nutritious source of pollen and a signal of dearth.

I'm thinking I should keep the hives smaller and more compact. Plug up the upper entrance large opening. And take excess honey out. Hmm.
 

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In the spring when they are bringing in lots of nectar and drying it, the air smells of honey. However, once the dearth starts and they cap the now dried honey, the air around the hives no longer smells like honey. Smells around the hives can tell you many things but be carefull how you interperate the smells.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
In the spring when they are bringing in lots of nectar and drying it, the air smells of honey. However, once the dearth starts and they cap the now dried honey, the air around the hives no longer smells like honey. Smells around the hives can tell you many things but be carefull how you interperate the smells.
Aha. Well, there's only one way to tell, and that's by doing a honey inventory in the hives. Think I'll go out and do that today.
 

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I suspect that there is more than weakness going on here. First of all, what causes weakness? These hives have probably gone or have been queenless for some time. Had the hives been strong at any time since nucs were installed, there is no reason, barring beekeeper mistake or disease, why these nucs could not have grown since installation.

If you can, take written notes while you are looking through your hives today and record how many frames have bees covering them, how many frames have lots of capped brood or little capped brood or patches of capped brood. Do you see capped brood or pupa stage bees or larva or eggs? Did you see the queen? Did you do a mite sample test and what results? Or did you uncap drone brood and find mites? More than one per pupae?

I think you are likely to have to start again next Spring w/ packages or nucs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
"why these nucs could not have grown since installation." and "I think you are likely to have to start again next Spring w/ packages or nucs."

Yikes! Not that drastic. 3 of these hives are full size, one is a 4 day old nuc with caged queen, and one is very small from a split.

I went thru the hives again today to take a closer look. While I didn't see much capped honey (barely any in the supers I looked thru), there were many frames with open nectar/syrup and a lot of brood. It doesn't appear any of the hives are queenless. There was a good population of bees in all hives, except the small split. That one never quite got off the ground, but I expected it to be further along than it is. I think that one was targeted by robbers (very little nectar/syrup, but a good amount of brood). I reduced it to a single bee top entrance and a single hole bottom entrance. I'm feeding that one now. It will rain all day Wednesday so that will give them a good break. There were bees with full pollen pockets coming into that hive while I watched, so it's trying.

The new nuc is still sealed up with screen, and there are still some bees trying to get in there, on the screen. The queen is out of the cage now. Tonight just before dusk I'll open that nuc up and let them get out if they want. I'll probably have to keep re-screening that for now during the daytime, and let the queen get started laying.

If there was robbing going on, and I believe there was, unless there's some other reason why I'm not finding capped honey, or a ton of nectar (could they have eaten it in the dearth?), the larger hives seem to be recovering, amassing nectar/syrup again. My main goal is to figure out how to get them thru a dearth without being robbed. Weaker hives are more vulnerable for sure, but isn't every hive vulnerable in a dearth to some measure of robbing?

I'm thinking about robber screens now. Those would have really come in handy. By late July when you know a dearth is in order, put them on. My goal is to give them the best chance to have a strong hive going into winter. And one of these years, I would really like to extract some honey.

I'm worrying out loud here, too. I worry a lot. It's called Helicopter Beekeeping and one of these days I'm going to write a book about it. "Have to have a nervous breakdown through hobbies"

Could it be they've just eaten through their stores?
 

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What's this "nectar/syrup" you refer to? Are you feeding syrup?

You never mentioned brood presence in any stage. Not eggs, larvae, pupae, or capped. Did you see any? I'd be more interested in seeing capped brood than capped honey. Though both should be present.

Bees w/ full pollen baskets on their legs can as easily indicate a queenless colony as not. A queenless colony will bring in loads of pollen and nectar, being as there is no brood that needs tending.

We, and you, are not in a dearth. A strong, well populated, colony can guard itself from robbing at any time, let alone a dearth. If you nucs or hives are being robbed that indicates the colony is not of sufficient population to defend itself and the entrance should be closed down to the size which a bee or two can come and go, not completely closed.
 

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Thanks, that's some more helpful information.

So other than the nuc, you have not actually seen any robbing happening?

Because these hives were split, whatever honey they had is now halved. add to that a dearth and it can be surprising how fast a hive in fall can chomp through a lot of honey. They may not even have been robbed.

However, there is a thing called passive robbing, possibly you could have that. It is where there is not the usual frenzy of activity associated with robbing, but rather a few bees manage to become accepted by the hive being robbed, and walk in calmly, load up with honey, and return to their own hive.

Whatever is going on, there are a couple of things you are doing that are very high risk during a dearth. One is giving the bees a lot of space, or supers on top I presume you mean, plus a top entrance. They cannot properly guard the top entrance and are robbing targets. The second is feeding syrup, especially with a top entrance at the same time this can equal suicide for the hive.

Without seeing the hives it's hard to know, but a good general course of action would be this. Stop all feeding of syrup (for now). Rearrange each hive so the brood nest is middle of bottom box. Remove all empty boxes plus ensure there is no honey stored where the bees cannot protect it. Shut the top entrances. Check mite levels, high mite levels are strongly associated with robbing. Make the bottom entrance in the middle of the entranceway not out to one side where there are less bees to guard it. Have it as small as the bees can tolerate.

Now leave the hives for a week to allow them to reject robbers and get control of the hive. After that you can consider syrup feeding but talk here first so we can check all is set up right.

The small nuc you are blocking. My advice, move it somewhere more than a mile away. You just need a friend, workmate or relative who would be prepared to babysit your hive in their back yard for a month. If you leave it where it is it will continue to attract robbing attention for some time, and this has a roll on effect, that hives are robbing the nuc, means they will also be patrolling the other hives and looking for any signs of weakness.

Some things about beekeeping are counter intuitive. And dealing with robbing is one of them. A common mistake people make when discovering their hive has been robbed down to very little stores is to feed syrup, while not addressing whatever it was that allowed the robbing in the first place, ie, poor entrance placement, or whatever. I have had these discussions and the person usually says - but I have to feed them or they will starve. But doing this is just like attempting to put a fire out by pouring gasoline on it & can end in the death of the hive. First, the bees have to be sorted out, no syrup can be fed until after this.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
"We, and you, are not in a dearth."

Are you sure about that? Because the only thing I see them on has been the plantain, and that's a pollen source, and not a great one at that. The study I read say they go to plantain if there is a dearth. I'm pretty sure the beginning of August before goldenrod comes in is dearthy, no?

Actually I did mention brood up there, but my posts are so wordy, I believe most people probably read every 3rd word, which I would do also. :) Yes, I saw capped brood in all the hives, except of course the brand new nuc, which I didn't check yet because the queen just got out of the cage since yesterday when I checked.

And yes, I did put syrup on all the hives when I put it on my brand new nuc, because I didn't want them to be tempted to rob the new nuc's supply, but that didn't really go as planned, so instead I screened in the new nuc, and took the syrup off the other hives. Still, they had syrup for probably a couple of days, so from that, it looks like that ended up in cells. Which is fine.

"So other than the nuc, you have not actually seen any robbing happening?"

Well, I noticed, before any thoughts of robbing occurred, a surprising amount of bee activity in front of 2 of the hives in particular, which is why, looking back, having seen my new nuc get swamped with bees, I came to the conclusion that the others were most likely getting robbed when that happened. When there are huge amounts of bees in front of the hive, it's hard for me to tell: is this robbing, or is there something else going on? I know what orientation flights look like, but this looked like 3 times that size. But, I'm not completely sure. Normally I don't like to feed syrup at all, but because I had the opportunity to get a great queen in late summer, I started a nuc and was advised to feed it heavily to build up quickly. Since I was feeding that, I thought I better feed them all so the nuc didn't get targeted.

It is good advice to go only bottom entrances at this point, no syrup, reduce extra space (I have kept an extra super on there "just in case"). You're right, it is all counter-intuitive, and hard to do. As a matter of fact, I put syrup back on my smallest hive today because I was worried about it. I still am.
 

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NewbeeInNH, if Michael Palmer says he is smelling goldenrod, then there is a flow on. It may not be a great one, but it is there. You and I may be far apart but we are somewhat parallel geographically. We are probably less than 150 miles apart. So, if I have a flow, you probably do too, discounting microclimates. Not always true, but w/ Michael's comments I'm somewhat confident.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 · (Edited)
Okay, I never really heard about robber screens before today, or at least never listened, so tonight I rigged an emergency robber screen up:
RobberScreen.jpg

That will go on my nuc first thing in the morning (it's only attached to the slatted rack). Brushy Mountain has them on sale for $13, I see. Hmm. I'd like to use these all around from now on. It's either go to the hardware store tomorrow and buy screening and half decent framing for the rest, or bite the bullet and get quality ones from Brushy Mtn...

I scrounged this material from spacers to assemble the slatted racks, and screen that came on old bee packages...

sqkcrk - guess what. According to your location listed, you're pretty far north of me! I'm near Portsmouth, almost to the Mass. line. But, I do see goldenrod starting now, so I do think we're coming out of it.
 

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Weaker colonies or recently started colonies all get very small entrances. I make my own entrance reducers. I put a 3/8 or 1/2 inch hole in them and that is all the entrance space they get. Once they start building up i will open it up to about 1 square inch. but that is for a strong colony that has the box at the entrance full of bees. NO hive every has more than 3 square inches of entrance space. Not even a full size 5 or 6 supers tall packed full of bees hive gets more than that. I may give a large hive an additional very small upper entrance.

In hard times I will also add a robber screen over that tiny entrance. So any robbers that figure out the robber screen are fairly easy to handle at the small entrance.
 

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>I never realized robbers could pretty much wipe out an entire apiary.

Sometimes in a matter of hours...

>Then I thought - not only will I feed this new nuc then, I will feed all the hives because something's wrong with the honey supply. For only 1 day I put syrup on all the hives.

Feeding is the leading cause of robbing. But feeding all of them is better than feeding the weak ones. Feeding the weak ones only right at dark and only as much as they can take at night helps. Feeding the strong and stealing for the week is helpful... If you can, not feeding works best.

>Do you all have organizational strategies to protect against losing all your honey to robbers?

I don't feed unless I have to. I reduce all the entrances anytime there isn't a flow (or all the time if I'm not going to keep up).

bushfarms.com/beesrobbing.htm
 

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Daniel, doesn't it get really hot in Nevada? How do you handle ventilation with such small entrances?
I am in Northern Nevada and no it does not get real hot here. It can hit 100 and a bit more a few days out of the year.

Regardless cooling of a hive is not best addressed with more ventilation and the higher the tmeps the more this will be true.

Assume the bees remain at about 92 degrees. How many hours a day exceed 92 degrees? If the air is below 92 the bees are heating not cooling. But we are talking abotu an enclosed box setting in tht sun. SO even at 80 degrees and full sun the bees could very well be cooling. At 80 degree outside air temp and 100 degrees inside the hive ventilation would help. But is air exchange the best way to do it. or the way bees do it?

What happens to the ventilating idea when the air temperature gets to 93 degrees? I suspect the bees have a more sure fire way to keep the hive cool.

So how do bees cool the hive? the same way a swamp cooler works. they evaporate water inside the hive and remove the heat from the air inside. Now if they worked to remove the heat from that air. is it a good thing to then exchange that air for hot outside air?

Keep in mind that box will be gaining a lot of heat simply because it is setting in the sun as well. But I think how a hive is actualy cooled by the bees is not that well understood. A highly ventilated coony may do perfectly well most of the time. but in those cases where the air gets really hot. it could be very bad. Get heat radiating up form teh gournd or soem other object and it could be unmanagable for the bees. I find bees do very well with small entrances as long as they have an adequate population to cool the hive.
 
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