It's normal to see a lot of action in the front of the hives and around the entrances.
It is NOT normal to see action all around a hive, under the hive, around the back, with bees trying to get in the seams, and bees fighting and dropping off the hive in clusters. That's robbing behavior.
The robbers will strip all the stores from a hive in no time flat and kill an entire hive as well. I knew that the worst of the robbers were other honeybees, joined with a few yellow jackets and some giant bumblebees. I just didn't know if the bees were from one of my other hives or from a feral hive or a neighbor's hive.
First rule of robbing: Stop It Now!
What to do? There are several options:
- robber screens
- wet blanket over entire hive
- set out feeder 100-200 yds away from the hives to lure robbers away
- close up hives completely
- open up all hives so that robbers go back home to defend
- something even more drastic if you can think of it.
I put out a feeder but that had minimal effect.
I tried wet blankets and that didn't work. The robbers went under.
I didn't want to open all the hives, because it looked like all the hives were getting robbed and that meant the robbers were mostly likely coming from another area and not my bees robbing each other.
The guys on Beemaster bee forums said to do something even more drastic, so I turned the hose on the bee yard and hosed all the hives down.
Then I suited up completely including gloves and screened off all three hives.
The next morning, the hives were covered with bees again and I knew for sure they were coming from outside my yard. I left the hives completely closed with screens for a couple of days until the robbers didn't come back, and then I took the screens off late one evening so my bees could have a bathroom break and get back in without having to worry about robbing. Robbers go home at dusk.
Note: Bees HATE flashlights, so if you go out and must use a flashlight around the hives, make sure you suit up completely. I was paranoid and insisted we suit up, and boy, were we glad we did.
A couple weeks later, I put sugar and quilt boxes on all the hives. I reduced the combined hive to a single box as fast as I could and using hive cloths to keep things covered as I worked. By the time I was done another robbing frenzy had started and I got the hose out and took care of it.
This time the robbing was mostly centered on the combined hive, so I closed that hive up completely with screens and left the other two alone with their robber screens on.
If there are robbers in a hive when you close it up, within three days, they either fight to the death or are forced to join the hive. If there are a lot of robbers and they join the hive, you've effectively increased the size of that hive, which would be a good thing in my case. So I left it closed for three days.
Things are calm now. All hives have robber screens, extra sugar and quilt boxes on for the winter.
Let's hope they'll make it through til spring.