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Fighting Bees Can Equal Robbing

I am really glad that I did not split the Albo hive now. Things have turned drastically dry in my area of Virginia (just to the east of Richmond, in Henrico County – aka Varina) and, I believe, the bees have really been driven into a survival mode. Yesterday, I noticed a bit of fighting at the Blue Cottage Hive. For me, the signs always look like a training flight from afar, but with more bees then normal (for the Blue Cottage Hive, anything more then a dozen or so bees in orientation mode is abnormal.) Once you get up close, you watch the landing board and the bees are more agitated then normal. Watching a strong hive, like Geronimo, a bunch of bees (well, a ton) will be on the landing board and hanging all above it and below it (they call it bearding), but they are not very agitated. They just move back and forth (a rhythmic motion), like they are scrubbing the place or something. But, when bees are hauling all over the place and you occasionally see one or two jump on another one and actually tumble to the ground in front of the hive, you typically have robbing going on (it should be noted that a bee will sometimes rake one another to get the pollen off of their sister’s bodies, which might appear to be fighting – but it is not – rest assured, when robbing is going on, you will not doubt it or question it.)

As mentioned previously, I do not baby my established hives (unless an emergency, like something that I accidentally do to them). They are on their own. No food, no protection from robbing. I like to think that any established hive in my apiary is a proven gene pool. But, the Blue Cottage Hive is in its infancy (year 1) and small to boot! They receive my full attention. I do not tolerate any fighting on their landing board, so I immediately put up one of my homemade robber screens. Within moments, it became pretty clear who the robbers were and who were the hometown girls. I checked today and fewer robbers were about, although they were still about looking for a free meal.

I think that a dry period like this, matched with the normal end of the Spring nectar flow, is going to provoke robbing (my guess is that the culprits include the Albo hive, the Geronimo Hive, the queenless split (tons of bees there) and some feral bees.) But, I am definitely asking for it with the feeding that I am currently doing. They say that feeding syrup increases the likelihood of robbing and I can believe it.

While watching the Queenright split, I did not see any robbing, but there really are very few bees on the landing board. Just a few feet away, the QueenLESS hive sits and it is thick with bees. I do not believe a robber screen hurts, so I went ahead and put one on the Queenright hive too.

I also want to get one on the Southside hive, as they also do not appear to have a lot of bees on the landing board. It’s been 15 days since I dropped the eggs (from the Westover Hive)  into that queenless hive. It’s been 11 days since I noticed a capped queen cell. Basically, if things went smoothly, I have a new queen in that hive (they are very docile, which is a positive sign) right this second! She may have made her mating flight, but maybe not. It definitely has not been rainy, so the odds are in her favor (I have noticed lots of drones on all hives, another positive.) Although I really do not like opening hives in this mess (bees from other hive seem to take notice very quickly), I will be checking for some eggs this Friday (or maybe Saturday.) I also want to remove some of that old comb, so I am hopeful of a lot of things. But, if I see eggs, it means we have a laying queen (assuming it is not a laying worker!) and that will be enough for me.

The last new hive to mention is the Berkeley Hive. They had drawn out 7 frames at the last check and might be nearing an 8th (although that would really surprise me, given the dry spell and lack of nectar – it would be driven totally by the syrup feedings). At this point, they are still on the largest opening of an entrance reducer. I know some folks completely remove the entrance reducer on a hive this size, but I am definitely glad that I did not do that (smallest entrance reducer up to 6 frames, largest entrance reducer from 7 to 10 frames and no entrance reducer once the top Deep goes on). They are guarding that entrance perfectly (even fiercely!) About 8 sit along the edge, fanning wind back into the hive (ventilation.) They look like real guards. Every bee that comes by them (and all have to come by them to get into the hive) gets checked. I waited for a good 10 minutes and only saw one get the business (and boy did they gang rush her – two fanning guards and one who had been acting innocent on the landing board jumped some stray wanderer, took her to the ground and stung the daylights out of her!)

Results? No robber screen needed.

On a final note, I am still getting harassed a bit when I go around the Westover splits. I take Doug’s suggestion very seriously in his comment on a recent post. I cannot have a hive in the apiary that is too mean for a multitude of reasons. But, I will not pass judgment on them until they have a queen. I have not personally experienced it (up until now, maybe), but many folks say that a hive gets testy while it is queenless. It seems natural to me that they would be on hyper alert. They cannot afford to lose the queens that are current developing in the hive (there are no more eggs being laid to produce new ones.) One of these have to make it. So, if it were me, I would rush at anything that came within 30′ of the hive. I am hopeful that this is all that I am seeing. I definitely did not have a problem with them (outside of when I opened the hive) before the split.

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