Monday, December 6, 2010

The sound of stealing

It's a gorgeous day here - sunny and relatively warm. I've been whining about the gray, so this is a nice change. I trotted out back with the dog and heard something. Something wrong. The boxes out to be cleaned by the bees had a lot of bees flying around them, and the sound could have been just the increased activity (nice weather=more bees flying), but I didn't think so. A glance out in the bee yard suggested that I should probably worry.

One of the hives is slightly weaker than the other -- always has been. Different queens, different hives. That's the one that had the ants on it, and today they were better. One grass stalk was leaning onto the hive, and the ants had redirected traffic onto that, but it was easy to fix. It didn't sound much better, though. Angry humming, or irritated humming, not the happy bee sounds one wants.

It turns out that old coffee bags are terrific smoker fuel, and an 8" square is just about enough to last though a quick hive inspection. Since I'm a failure at keeping my smoker lit, this was good news.

Yay, smoke!

It's a little difficult to see in this picture, but underneath the questionable hive, there was a pile of little wax bits.

In addition, the front of the hive was showing a lot of activity, but it didn't look like a plain old active hive, in which lots of bees fly in and out. There was a fair bit of hovering which could be newly hatched bees going on orientation flights, or something more sinister. I assumed sinister.

So I reduced the entrance with a convenient stick. If, as I assumed, the hive was being robbed by interlopers, having a smaller opening to defend would help them.
Once I got the hive open, my assumptions were confirmed. See the little ragged openings? Bee jaws. They cut them open and eat the honey.

That's where the carpet of wax bits underneath had come from. On the frames, there were mobs like this:

What are they after?

Yep, they're eating the tiny bits of honey. Yum.

Some frames were like this:

After I pulled off those honey boxes I'd put on for cleaning, I took a quick peek down in the brood box, and there was evidence that at least recently, there was an active queen. I saw open brood (the little white grubby things in the top middle of that picture) and capped brood (under the bees) but didn't look through the hive enough to either confirm eggs or their lack.

Once I found that the hive wasn't actively dying, and the empty honey boxes were off and free of bees (much shaking and wrapping in sheets took care of that), I buttoned up the hive again and replaced the temporary entrance reducer with a stick that would actually fit:

With the ants gone, and the robbing either completed or stopped, this hive should cheer up a bit.

The stronger hive just got its honey boxes removed and shaken. True to form, they'd begun filling them with nectar from whatever's blooming out there. I figured I'll just store it and they can deal with it next spring. Now, dry ice and bags are on my shopping list. After the sun goes down tonight I'm going to bring in all of the other boxes. I know that having a source like that can stimulate robbing, as I'd worried about earlier, and it seems as though that's true. No sense prolonging it.

Maybe tomorrow I'll actually garden some, and more easily with fewer bees flying around.


meemsnyc said...

Wow, that is so fascinating!! They do look very active in those photos.

Kristin said...

I just commented on your post this morning. I came back to my Dashboard tonight to catch up on some other blogs, and there was another post from you already--so I had to look.

You had me going... I thought you had a robber in your backyard. Did you realize that the burlap with the light inside looks like a little hooded thief?

Nice explanation. Glad they are still hanging in there.

Lou Altamura said...

You make beekeeping sound so dramatic!

Stefaneener said...

meemsnyc, they are very active. Bees can forage pretty much year-round here, because it's generally so mild and in an urban environment, something's blooming almost all the time.

Kristin, that's funny. I hadn't thought of that. I did think I'd lost that hive, but it looks as though it will pull through. Probably time for a new queen!

Lou, beekeeping is pretty drama-filled. They're just so busy and interesting. Generally, there isn't the warring that I had today, but that was probably bad beekeeping. Tomorrow I should powder-sugar them!

Ribbit said...

Woohoo! Bee posts. Bee posts.

I just love bee posts.

BTW, a friend gave me some 'local honey' from a hive nearby. THey've got nothing on you. I tried to pass the honey off as yours and the boy called me on it. It's far, far too sweet and not earthy like yours.

You rule!

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

I love your bee posts. I hope your round of robbing is done, and that your hive catches back up. At a recent Santa Clara valley bee guild meeting, Dr. Eric Mussen from UCD was talking about the use of even a homemade, simply constructed, robbing screen at this time of year. Brushy Mountain sells one fairly cheaply, but you can make one for about $2. Have you tried using one either with or without an entrance reducer? We have lots of yellow jackets here, so I expect when we add bees next year, those (and ants) will become big potential headaches in the fall, so hopefully we can ward off a few thieving attempts with screens.