What’s to be done about robbing?
“How do I stop my bees from getting robbed?” It’s the question I get, after an account of the some brutal insect behavior. In the spirit of PermaCulture the answer this question is a “slow solution”. This will NOT be a band-aid on a robbing to get you through, what you need is a solution. The best way to prevent robbing is to NOT have weak colonies prone to robbing pressure. Why is your colony weak? Where are the robbers coming from? Do people keep bees nearby? If you locate the robber’s hideout you learn where a stronger is living. That’s what happened to in my case.
I started beekeeping in 2010 just like many others following the established beekeeping protocols, get packages, feed, planned on treating, etc…. There were 2 packages installed in April, 1003 and 1004. They were fed a while and seemed just fine. About a month later a cutout whiskey barrel brought 1005 to the Apiary. These bees were NOT fed after being CUT-OUT with MUCH brood being damaged or destroyed in the transfer, 1005 built up to 2- Deeps quickly! I know my lack of experience set them back, but they had 3 full supers by August 2010. The packages were doing OK, but the Whiskey Barrel colony was making beekeeping seem easy. It’s not easy, but 1005 was a great acquisition. (see: How it all Began) 1005 showed me the difference between feral bees and the ones I was buying.
My first robbing experience
In September 2010 I came home to a grizzly scene. There were thousands of bees flying around sounding agitated. I could hear them when I opened the car door after returning from work. The front of the hives looked like a gladiatorial battle had taken place. There were dismembered bee carcasses on the bottom boards and the ground around the hives. I’ll admit, I was rattled when I saw it, but instead of getting caught up in the moment, scrambling to SAVE-MUH-BEES!!!!, I began making observations. What I saw made me think of robbing differently. This and other witnessed robbing sessions makes me believe that strong colonies beat up on weak ones selectively.
It was obvious that 1003 and 1004 (packages) were being targeted, while 1005 (feral) was not. Bees flew up to 1005 from time to time, but guards were there to greet them. Sometimes a robber would even land on 1005 but would be pursued by guards. The attackers would retreat, then refocus their efforts on either 1003 or 1004. They were met with much less resistance. The package colonies had not built up as well as 1005 and lacked population. 1005 had more guards stationed around entrances. Another thing, the attacking bees looked different than 1003 and 1004.
What did I do?
After about 3 or 4 minutes, I did like everyone else and restricted the entrances. This stopped the bees from getting into the hive as easily. I kept entrance reducers on them the rest of the fall, but 1003 and 1004 were doomed. They both failed to overwinter. 1005 started flying in the Spring 2011 and had a good year.
Have you seen a robbing event?
If you have witnessed it, what were you thinking?
What did you do?