As I'm writing this, it's raining.
So hopefully that will keep things flowering for a while yet. The mesquites are still blooming, have been for a while now, and this bit of manna from heaven might kick start the gallardias again. With forty acres of each here, the bees are plenty busy putting all that up. But if we don't get more rain, and it's not likely that we will since this one was quite the pleasant surprise, it won't be long before all those wither and die with nothing to replace them. That's the summer dearth, and that can spell real trouble if you're not ready.
Wintertime is a dearth as well, but that's a different sort of dearth than the summer one. It's less dangerous because in winter there may be just a few thousand bees in each hive and they're busy keeping the queen warm enough to survive through the cold. They huddle up inside, clustering together to produce warmth, using the stores of honey gathered last year for food. The only time they come out is on a warm day, above fifty degrees or so, and that's only to take cleansing flights (that's a nicely delicate way of saying "take a shit". *giggle*).
|Staple the small pieces to the sides of the hive, one on each side.|
By now, just past the summer solstice, they are at their peak population. There are literally tens of thousands of bees out there in my bee yard. Come to think of it, with six colonies at the moment, there are probably over a hundred thousand. And there are likely tens of thousands more in the wild. At the moment they're all busy collecting nectar and pollen, but imagine what's about to happen when all that dries up and ALL THOSE BEES are now out of a job. They're going to get cranky and desperate, looking everywhere for anything to bring back home.
|Bend them back to make room for the front screen pieces.|
It's only a matter of time before they find other colonies in the area. They can smell those colonies' stores, and with nothing flowering, that's just flat irresistible, so they'll attempt to get inside that hive and take it for themselves. If your colony is strong, they will likely be able to put up enough of a fight that the robbers will go elsewhere for easier pickings. But if there are enough robbers to overwhelm the guards, if an extra strong colony is in the neighborhood or even in your own beeyard, the smaller colony is doomed. The robbers will make their way inside through brute force, fighting and killing as they go, their prize being the stores they know are there. Once they find them, they rip open the wax cappings and grab all they can, then head back to their own hive, offloading and returning for another round.
Robbing screens stop that. They are screens attached to the front entrance of the hive, rerouting the actual entrance to another spot higher or to the side of the real hive opening. They work because the robbers will try to get in where the scent is coming from, so will keep trying to get straight in, but find the way blocked and give up. Your bees, the ones who live there, will know the secret key. It'll take them a bit to figure it out when you first put them on, but they will eventually. They don't give up because that is home, so they'll keep trying to figure out how to get in much longer than robbers will.
But if you see a frenzy, fighting at the entrance, bees walking back and forth along the cracks between your boxes looking for a hole, bees dipping a bit immediately after takeoff (because they are heavy from being so full of honey), and hear an angry roar like you heard when you dropped that brood box that time, you better do something FAST. It can take just a few short hours for robbers to completely decimate a hive, leaving nothing but a bunch of wax dust from ripping open the cells, a few dejected live bees, and lots of dead ones. It's really sad.
If you ever see this going on and panic because you still aren't ready even after reading this post, just remember this: grab a sheet off the bed and a sprinkler, throw the sheet over the hive being robbed, and turn that sprinkler on so it hits the sheet and the hive. That will buy you some time to calm down enough to think and round up your shit to make that screen. As soon as you uncover that hive though, the robbers will be back, so use that time wisely. And don't dilly dally - leaving them too long like this can make them overheat this time of year from all their ventilation being blocked. The longest I've ever left them like this was a little more than half a day (mad dash to the hardware store takes a while when you live in BFE), and I left the sprinkler on to help keep them cool, so do that. But hurry every chance you get.
|Bend the small piece you put on first so that|
it forms a tunnel for the bees to go through.
Robbers will try to come straight in the front,
but your bees will know the secret key
to get in.
This year I swore I'd be ready! Last year, my bee buddy Karina and I made a bunch of robbing screens, and I had them staged out there right next to the bee bench so I wouldn't even have to go get them from the bee house when I needed them. Today was the day. I was going to install those screens so I didn't have a repeat of last year. BUT! But of course there's a but! As I was trying to put them on all the hives, I realized that the new bottom boards I got from a beekeeping friend aren't standard, so the screens don't fit on a couple of them. Yeah.
Shit. Gotta' get creative then. At least I found out about this now, instead of later as I stand in the midst of a robbing frenzy in the beeyard. Another round of that and I might just be so disheartened I give up beekeeping. (Yeah, it's that bad when you experience it.)
If you find yourself in the same boat as me and can't wait for your Mann Lake order to come in, or just can't afford enough screens for all your hives, read through the photos on this page to learn how to make one quickly and easily on the cheap, no saws needed.
Buy 1/8" hardware cloth now because it's usually a special order thing, and most times that Mann Lake order will beat it to the post office. If you just can't afford that either, then use some window screen - cut one off your house if you have to. New window screens are about twenty bucks, and you know how much a colony of bees is$$$$$$. Or are you a crafter? I've used plastic canvas as a robbing screen before. Looked funny. Worked great.
About that staple gun - if you have one, look it up and make sure it works now. If not, get another one. And make sure it's loaded and you have plenty more staples in reserve. In an emergency, trim nails, duct tape, or even thumb tacks driven in WELL with a rock would work, but I'd secure it better later, as soon as you can.
Go ahead and cut pieces of whatever you're using so it'll be a cinch to put them on when you need them. Most window screens can be cut with regular scissors, though they won't be good for cutting anything else after that. Hardware cloth is a bit tougher, so takes wire cutters plus a lot of time, or sheet metal snips. Keep those pieces along with a staple gun and staples in a box near the bee yard, threatening anyone else with "NO HONEY FOR YOU!" if they use it and don't put it back. That's why I have a nuc box on my bee bench right next to The Asshole Hive just for storing things like this - even though I live alone, I have people over occasionally who help me do projects, but my tools will always be right where I left them, in that box, because no one's going near that. (Speaking of that, you know inside beehive tops is a great place to store important things you don't want stolen, or don't want prying eyes to see, right? Works great. Just ask Sherlock.)
Better yet, just go ahead and put those screens on your hives now. You won't regret it. But The Voice Of Experience here says you just might regret it, OH how you'll regret it, if you don't.
|One of my sweet Italian colonies, all zipped up tight! No chance of them being robbed out, heart wrenching crisis averted, no extra bourbon needed.|