Robbing can teach us about honeybees 1

Part 1:  Robbing is a Problem.

1517 - January 2016

1517 – January 2016

First thing’s first. Robbing sucks, but, IT’S NOT A REASON TO FREAK OUT! Take a deep breath…. Count to TEN. I remember when I began beekeeping. I read of all these alien things that could happen in my bee yard. My paranoia only increased after I went to bee meetings and heard the horrific stories told by seasoned keepers. It’s terrible when it happens and once it begins it is very hard to stop. Beekeepers can start robbing by their things they do. If you notice this after certain specific tasks look into changing procedures. In the event you didn’t do anything to cause a robbing event, many methods used to abort them point to reasons it may be happening in the first place.



The days are beginning to get noticeably shorter and the nights VERY much cooler here in Indiana. The Goldenrod is starting to attract bees. Here on my farm I saw it first on 9/16/16. Unfortunately prior to that nothing had been blooming for a quite some time and some grim, animal behavior has been taking place. Strong colonies have been testing their neighbors. One way that others are tested is through…  You guessed it.  One of my poor performers (1517) has been under siege.  I do not look for them to be around in 2017, but bait combs they provide will help the apiary continue to grow.

I sit and think about the many tests occurring through the nearby feral population.  It’s no wonder why they are so persistent and do so much better for me.  Many paths could lead to robbing of a colony. Here’s a few non-beekeeper related causes of robbing as I see it.  Some chose a poor cavity size and cannot get large enough due of space constrains. Maybe the overwintered queen from primary swarm was not superseded successfully. Perhaps a queen bred poorly and didn’t start laying properly. This list could go on for ever.  The basic message is, if for any reason a colony is weak and lacks the population needed to defend the hive AND gather resources the long term future is bleak, for treatment-free bees.  Robbing occurs at several of my sites when strong colonies discover weak ones.

Why is this happening?

1517 was a very large swarm

1517 was a very large swarm

What I’ve seen recommended to stop robbing consists of as the key component, entrance reduction, followed by several other steps like removing the tops from nearby hives if likely offenders.  I’ve even seen where water is used in several different methods to abate robbing.  What does this tell us about robbing?

A need for entrance reduction indicates the colony cannot defend itself and is an indication of poor overall health. Reducing the entrance in the long term hurts the colony further, because the things are already tough and they need to have a workforce large enough to defend the colony while gathering the resources required for overwintering. Entrance reduction helps with defense, but increased congestion for foragers is a side-effect.  Removing the lids of nearby colonies disadvantages good colonies at a time when robbing is going on.  Water falling from the sky makes bees think it’s raining and it’s time to go home, but they can’t make honey in there!

These solutions treat flare-ups, but do little for colonies long term prospects.  Conventional treatment of robbing adds burden and worry to the beekeeper.  Now you have a hive to care for instead of a healthy productive bee hive doing it’s job.  So what do you do?

Next time:

I get a lot of questions this time of year about it. I think I have a different perspective on robbing. Over the next several posts I hope to generate some discussion. I’m going to talk about something called PermaCulture.  I’ve never mentioned it before, but it’s really influenced the way I address robbing as well as other bee issues.    Look into it.. It’s an interesting philosophy.

Have you experienced a robbing event or the aftermath?
Have you found a way to successfully overwinter colonies that were victims of robbing?


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