The food supply starts to decline in July. Less food available and warm weather encourages robbing. On hot days when you can smell your hive across your yard, so can bees from other hives. They are attracted to your hive by that smell and will try to get in to steal honey. By the end of July, I would get a robbing screen on your hive.
Robbing Screens - Why?
Dennis vanEngelsdorp, Univ. of Maryland, did a study where they took hives that were crashing from mites and painted the bees pink. Then, they asked people to report if they saw the pink bees in their hives. The bees were reported in a 2 mile radius of the hives. It looks like when a hive is dying, the bees will flee and join other hives, carrying mites with them. When I heard about this a year or so ago, I decided to put robbing screens on all my hives. I put them on in July, intending to take them off in November. I continued to see bees trying to get in even in the spring, so I never took them off. Here is a video from last fall of bees fighting on the robbing screen. Here is another video at the beginning of August of the robbing screen.
The idea of the robbing screen is that your bees know how to get in, because they orient to the entrance by sight. Bees not from your hive, are attracted by scent of the hive, and that comes out through the screen. But the screen is not where the entrance is, the entrance is above, and so they are fooled and can't get in. Robbing screens also deter yellow jackets/wasps and skunks.
Put on a Robbing Screen at Night
You need to put a robbing screen on at night so that your bees will come out in the morning and reorient to it. Bees at night will just come out to sting, so some cautions about this:
- Do a practice run during the day. I usually do it at the end of an inspection when I have the whole hive back together. I make sure the robbing screen will fit easily at the entrance. If it doesn't, I modify it or the entrance, so it does.
- Wait for a cool night to put the screen on - 55 degrees or lower. Then, your bees should all be inside the hive. If it's 60 degrees, there will likely be a lot of bees on the porch.
- Get a red flashlight. You can shine a red flashlight at the hive entrance to see if there are bees out on the porch. The bees will ignore it. All other colors of light the bees will be attracted to and fly to the light and possibly sting you.
- If there are bees on the porch, you can use a smoker to smoke the bees inside first and then put the screen on.
- Have a second person shine the red flashlight at the entrance so you can see what you are doing. Then, put the robbing screen on your entrance.
- If it doesn't go smoothly (like I drop the robbing screen or bang the hive and bees start flooding out), I stop and try again in an hour or the next night.
- Of course wear your bee safety gear so you don't get stung and have a smoker lit, just in case. You can smoke the bees back in the hive, if they start coming out.
We sell two different robbing screens at our store - Brushy Mountain and Country Rubes. They each fit a different bottom board. If you take a photo of the front entrance of your hive, we can show you in our store which one will fit your bottom board/entrance.
FIX THINGS IN YOUR HIVE & GET BEESWAX DRAWN OUT
July is often the last chance (till next March) to get foundation drawn out in frames. You may want to add a box with new frames soon, so the bees have a chance to draw out the frames. You can also take out a few honey frames and add in frames with foundation so the bees draw it out this month. I've had bees draw out foundation in August too, but it depends on what forage is near you.
The bees temperament may decline in August and September when the food supply is low. If you have broken parts, e.g. a very old box you want to switch out, or you want to get a new hive stand under the bees, it's great to do that in July when their temperament is still mellow. Same thing applies to getting out wild comb, where you left a frame out or similar.
SUGAR ROLL TEST FOR MITES
From now through October, you will want to sugar roll test for mites every 2-3 weeks. If the level gets to 15+ mites, treat with Mite Away Quick Strips. I recommend just treating with 1 strip at 15 mites. If at 20+ mites, treat with 1 strip and then 7 days later, put 1 strip on again. My Orinda hive just tested yesterday at 5 mites, whereas last year on July 20th, it tested at 19 mites. Perhaps, mite levels were worse last year. TEST to be sure and let me know your mite levels, particularly if they are above 15 mites.
Some people have had their bees start bothering them in their yard - buzzing at their face. In most of these cases, the hive was very mellow, but then this started happening, so it is unlikely genetics. It is likely that something is bothering the hive and it has raised it defences. This could be skunks at night or something harassing it at night. At this time of year, it could also be the food decline and bees from other hives trying to get into the hive. A robbing screen will help.
I also recommend, just in general for the urban environment, putting up a see-through fence around the hive, as pictured to the right. Sun can get through to the hive. The bees however will not go through these holes. It forces them to fly up high and not through your yard. This will discourage those guard bees from harassing you. You can add chicken wire to the bottom part of the fence to keep skunks away from the hive too.
FYI - bees sting at sunglasses, black clothing, and wool, so wearing these around your yard may provoke them more than usual to be aggressive.
Do you have a bee question in general or about your hive? I will pick a few questions to answer once or twice per month.
Email your question to: email@example.com
May your bees thrive!
Jennifer, Beekeeper, BioFuel Oasis