Good news, bad news, robber screens and bee stings

Hello All,

Well its been an interesting time indeed. First of all my hive was robbed of honey in less than two days by bees from a group of 5 hives placed on the farm near me. I am told they are Italian although I am not entirely sure. I do know that they are busy and aggressive and show no fear. So I had to take some remedial action. Closed off two of the three entrances, reduced the third so only two bees could pass at once. Sprayed the robbers with water and flour as they floated around the entrance. I had checked that they were not my own bees. They in fact were bigger, very shiny and had the classic legs down approach with a certain amount of hesitant lurking around the hive. They also did a lot of searching around for other entrances to the hive as well despite there being a perfectly acceptable entrance at the front.
There were also hundreds of dead bees on the floor below the entrance and on numerous occasions I watched death fights with mainly my bees winning the tussle. One even carried a bee away across the garden to the other side. I have absolutely no idea why it did that but maybe someone can explain the motives.

The initial measures taken didn’t work and they simply kept coming. So after consulting with the group (ie fellow ONBG members) I decided to put up a robber screen (thanks to Lynne I think or it could have been Helen but I can’t recall which as I inadvertently deleted the email) and a dummy hive (thanks to Gareth for the dummy hive idea which was included in the same email chain).

Behind the screen two of the entrances are closed off and one is much reduced.

So far all is well with the robber screen but on Saturday I notice that a lot of my bees were struggling to find the way in, which is obviously at the top. With no visible sign of robber bees around I decided to quickly remove the screen. Usually there is no problem but this time a bee decided I was a threat. After removing the screen I was standing watching the bees when a couple of minutes later one decided my right arm was a legitimate target and I got my first bee sting.

Then when I was checking the hive later in the day to make sure the Queen was still active I got stung on the right hand between the thumb and forefinger. Again my fault because instead of wearing my usual two pair of gloves, one thin pair and another thicker winter pair of gardening gloves, I decided to wear just the thick pair. Big mistake. 😦

As a result I now have a lump on my right forearm and a bigger lump on my right hand. Sore and feeling bruised is how I can describe the damage. Thankfully I am not allergic to bee stings if you can call not falling down in a heap of mushiness being a good indicator. Unfortunately my hand and arm have what can only be described as red swollen lumps with a hard tissue centre in them. Quite large too. Double ouch! It will teach me to be so complacent  about the bees. I should have realised that they would be cranky after the ongoing robbery.

The wasps have suddenly appeared in droves as well which is another worry to contend with. I also found a large Queen Wasp drowned in one of the beer traps. However no sign of any Hornets yet although I did see one a couple of months ago fly across the garden oblivious to my hive thankfully.

Although the Ivy has now erupted in bloom (as per Paul’s observations) and a lot more red and white pollen being brought in, I still found the robbers returning to the hive so the robber screen was quickly replaced only a few minutes after I initially removed it (when I got stung the first time). The dummy hive (the old nucleus hive I got the bees in) has not attracted the robbers once so far and I can only presume the attractive odour of the broken bits of comb from the main hive and some syrup is insufficient to overcome the equally attractive but more intense odour from the main hive. This is despite it being placed slightly to one side of the main hive. I will have to experiment unless someone has a suggestion to make which I will be willing to try.

Finally some good news. Not much though. During the inspection I noted that the colony has lots of fresh brood (a bit spotty but not as bad as to cause worry and also with no drone cells), a queen cell on its own up high on a frame above the pollen line and a small amount of honey/nectar stored in the two outer frames. This is encouraging but still a long way from the honey stores held earlier and still insufficient in colony numbers to survive the winter if all the text books are anything to go by. Apparently from one BBKA posting a minimum of 15 frames of honey and bees are needed to survive and anything less is a waste of time because they will die. I do love the BBKA for their positive thinking and encouraging insights. 🙂 Food is not the problem as I can still feed them as a last resort. Its the numbers and even if I halve the number of frames to between 7 and 8 I am still well down on that.

I also noted that they still have not migrated/expanded from the frames to any of the top bars. This is disappointing and not easily rectified at this late stage of the year. But at least the bees have got over the chalk brood infection they had earlier in the season. I know they are making efforts as there were small chalk brood mummies on the landing board behind the robber screen. Thanks to Gareth (again) for pointing me in the right direction with the photo links showing the chalk brood exactly as I had found it.

Now its all simply a matter of waiting for the dearth to end.

Bit like waiting for a train. None for ages then a load all at once.

Kev C

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2 Responses to Good news, bad news, robber screens and bee stings

  1. Paul says:

    That sounds like a really bad sting reaction. I have been finding out more about allergies – I will shortly be commencing a desensitisation course myself. I urge you to ask your GP for a blood test to check for allergic response. Basically, although I generally have almost no reaction to stings on my skin these days, and the pain generally fades in 2 minutes, I had a really bad reaction a few months ago and the tests showed that levels of [some chemical involved in the immune reaction specific to bee venom] were way above the levels of “no response”. So under the surface, I’m approaching a threshold where I have a significant chance of anaphylactic shock next time I get a bee sting, so now I carry an epipen. That gives an ambulance an extra 15 minutes or so to get to me if I find my airways closing. My point being, perhaps we macho blokes should take these sting things a tad more seriously. I do not extend the “no chemicals / low intervention” philosophy to my own biochemistry 8)

    Stings are always more likely when the colony is disturbed by some factor. I’ve been stung almost as many times AFTER opening a hive as during – I’ve learnt some simple gardening gloves and a veil aren’t enough even if you’re just tidying up, if you did something drastic like examine the brood comb within the last few hours. Yet if the hive is happy, you can even mow next to it without trouble.

    Concerning winter stores, 15 frames of a normal hive is probably half that number of TBH combs. And Black bees are famously able to overwinter with some ridiculously low level of stores – less than half the normal I think. So I’m not too worried about your bees surviving the winter IF you can solve the robbing.

    Like

    • itsonlyausername says:

      Here is another idea regarding the reaction I had.
      Imagine you went to the doctors for a tetanus booster injection or simply any injection that may be needed for a holiday overseas. What does the doctor do? He swabs your arm (or other part of the body) and sticks a sterile hypodermic needle into you. Now you may or may not lose your marbles due to an allergic reaction to the vaccine but you will be hard pressed (provided the doctor has followed hygiene protocols correctly) to get an infection.
      However the bee has had its backside in every flower and other source of nectar. Its been bumming around the garden along with the flies and wasps and all manner of other creepy crawlies who you cannot say have been exactly following hygiene protocols themselves. Wasps are often around the dustbin along with the flies and the rotting veggies and meat and along with all the other dodgy critters that you can mention. Oh and the flies have been sniffing around the heaps of dog poop on the pavements, cat poop in your flower beds and the sewage works nearby. Then there are the carcases on the roadside which you mowed down that morning on your way to work. Yes of course the rabbit had a swollen head. We introduced that bug too. Wonder what effect that actually has on humans?
      .
      What I am saying is the venom didn’t cause me any problems that I am aware of but the rest of the hypodermic needle in the bees backside was probably carrying a load of dodgy bacteria and viruses from just about every source that we don’t want to get too close to, and that is probably just as likely what actually caused the lump on my arm.

      Bet someone says I’m totally wrong? 🙂

      Like

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