By Gerald Przybylski
Jerry has been an East-Oakland beekeeper since 2011; local bees preferred.
Robbing! Robbing!! Robbing!!!
Some of our fellow beekeepers have lost hives in the last month because robbers wiped them out! During the “Dearth,” when few sources of nectar and pollen are available, our strong hives snoop around our weak hives, and nucs, with the goal of bringing home some of their surplus honey. The books tell us to narrow the entrances of our hives, and put “robber screens” on the entrances.
A number of commercial robber screens are available, but you can fashion something out of metal window screen or #8 hardware cloth formed into a “U” with ears that can be stapled to the front of the hive. Amazingly the robber bees can’t figure out how to get in, even though they utilize the robber screen entrance of their own hive.
Setting out your freshly extracted wet supers soon results in a yard full of bees competing to clean them up. This stimulation of the robber behavior can lead to attacks on small weak hives… like the ones you set up as late summer splits, or the nuc you set aside to save a queen for later.
Your bees, even relatively large colonies, can cope with an entrance that’s only an inch wide… or even as narrow as half-an-inch. The guard bees will thank you for making their castle more defensible. An inch or two is typical.
With the hot weather, air circulation is a concern. A narrow entrance with a solid bottom board doesn’t provide enough air circulation for bee climate-control unless the obstruction in the entrance is made from screen or hardware cloth that air can flow through. Screen bottom boards allow plenty of ventilation from below even when entrances are almost completely blocked by sticks or entrance reducers. (Leave the counting boards out of SBBs, or make sure there is a gap at the end of the counting board to allow air to flow to the screen)
To get wet supers cleaned up, place the box on top of the bottom board below the brood box. The bees will move the honey up, and won’t save any it in the cells of the super. Two days should be sufficient. Then remove the empty super from the hive.
Time for maintenance!!
For any empty boxes, like that clean, dry super; scrape the propolis from the sides of the end-bars, and from the ears on either end of the frames. Scrape the propolis from the rabbit at the top of the front and back of your vacant bee boxes.
Scrape the burr comb from the frame bars and inside of boxes.
Save the propolis! With denatured alcohol, and gum turpentine (90%-10%) you can dissolve (much of) the propolis into a varnish that can be painted on the inside of boxes, covers, and bottom boards. The propolis varnish suppresses mildew growth in winter, so your wood ware should last longer. It prevents water from soaking into the wood too. One of Marla Spivack’s students has shown that bees are healthier and produce more honey when their hive boxes are propolized inside.
Repaint the boxes that need it. If paint consistently peels, apply several coats of 66% paint thinner 33% boiled linseed oil to the trouble spots. Once all the pours and fibers are filled, and no longer tacky, re-prime and paint.
Smell your unused brood frames, especially from problem hives and dead-outs. If they look bad and smell bad (an offensive, acrid smell), strip out all the wax and scrape the wax from the top and bottom bars. (You can give those frames a coat of propolis varnish too)
Renew your foundation system, or convert them to foundationless.
Segregate the suspect equipment from your known-to-be-good equipment. Declare the suspect equipment “good” if bees thrive in it for a whole year.
Wax moth love to eat through the comb brood frames and frames full of pollen. They’re after the protein in the exoskeletons the bees shed while pupating. Freezing the frames for a couple of days kills the live wax moth larva and the eggs. Some have success storing the frames in sealed plastic bags after freezing. Some beeks store their brood frames in a freezer when not in use.
Wax moth does not like light and moving air. A stack of hive boxes topped with a rectangle of clear plastic with a solar powered boat/rv vent fan mounted in it can save your equipment from most of the wax moth problems.
The Australian Sap Beetle love to eat through pollen frames. Keep them frozen if you can, or keep them in a hive where the bees can keep watch on them.
Inventory your equipment. Plan your equipment purchases for next year. Have your bees buy you some boxes and frames as an early Christmas present. Bottom boards. Top covers. In your copious spare time in the next couple of months, assemble the frames, boxes, etc. Convert the retired boxes to bait-hives.