My bees hate me!
Is it just me?? I bet at some point you’ve asked yourself that question. Join the club!
Honestly, if you’ve been keeping bees for any amount of time in ANY location, you’ve experienced nasty bees. Could it be you? Well…maybe. I know, that’s hard to swallow, but it could be true!
Our bees have pretty good memories when it gets down to it. They do remember the guy or gal in the big white suit! You’re the one that comes in and creates havoc every time you enter their home! I’d put money on the fact you’d remember that too!
There can be several reasons why bees have an attitude and knowing why ahead of time can help manage it before it even starts.
Going in too often – Once a week for a new beekeeper is fine for the first few weeks, but then I’d encourage you to back off and go in half that much as time progresses. Your bees will thank you for it.
How about that bee suit! No, not how dirty it is, but it could definitely be harboring residual “alarm pheromone!" Washing your bee suit regularly will eliminate not only the embedded stingers but the pheromone as well.
What about using smoke? Each time you begin your hive entry, puff several times at the entrance, lift the lid, and add a couple more puffs under the lid. Then, if while you’re doing your inspection, the bees begin to get agitated, give them a few more puffs. Staying on top of smoking will ALWAYS help keep their agitation level down.
Technique, Finesse, and speed are developed skills. Focus on proper use of your hive tool, pulling frames and the actual handling of the frames. Be gentle but confident in your inspections. Avoid banging around, bumping on the side, talking loudly and basically just being a “bull in a china cabinet.” It’s very important to use fluid motions while working your hives, but at the same time, work with purpose and speed. Go in, verify you are queen-right by checking for eggs and larva, check resources are in place, pests are under control and then close it up and go to the next hive!
Summer Dearth – Hot and hungry bees are definitely a reason for agitation. We need to minimize our hive inspections during dearth for that very reason. Feed your bees during dearth. Unless they are trying to backfill the brood nest, feeding can work wonders for giving them busy work and prevent them from going into their stores – give them a food source ready to eat and use for continuing egg production.
Predators – Consider installing a game camera if you find tracks or consistent agitation on what should be perfectly sweet bees. Sprinkling some cayenne pepper on the ground around the hives could be enough of a deterrent to keep them away, or, if worst comes to worst, use a small varmint trap to trap them and carry them off somewhere where they can live in peace. More like, your bees can live in peace!
Robbing – Stop robbing as fast as you can! Suit up, reduce the entrance or install a robbing screen, and if that isn’t enough, throw a wet sheet over the hive until morning. And if that still isn’t enough, turn on a water sprinkler at the hive creating a rain storm. One of these will work – then leave them bee! These girls have been through a very traumatic experience and will take several days to recover.
Season and weather changes – This can and WILL make bees a bit on the testy side. Bees aren’t much different than other animals in responding to not only barometric pressure changes but also seasonal changes. You know that achy knee or elbow when a front comes through? Same principle.
Photo credit: Cyndi Bormann - talesfromthehive.com
Probably one of the most common reasons our bees will show signs of aggression is because of queen issues. Whether it’s due to being queenless or bad genetics, the queen, or the lack thereof, can be the cause of mean bees. A noticeable low roar before even cracking the lid? Odds are, you’ve lost a queen! Bad genetics can also change the temperament of a hive within one brood cycle (21 days). It is very common for a colony to re-queen, and you not even know it. A locally mated queen has no guarantees. To ensure this never happens, always keep young, quality VSH queens. Requeening yearly can and will prevent this and a multitude of other issues.
Too many hives in one location – This can and will cause agitation. Too many bees + not enough forage = mean bees. As your bee yard grows, consider placing them in various locations to prevent an overpopulation of forage areas.
Lack of shade or sun – Your bees need a balance between both. In the summer, afternoon shade is great, and in the fall and winter, more sun will help. Scope out your bee yard and consider placing hives where these criteria are met year-round.
Living with Mean Bees
You may choose to live with your mean bees! Join the club! We’ve had many hives that have attitudes, but are so very good at producing honey and bees, that we’ve accepted the meanness. Proper handling of these bees is essential, however. Wearing full protective gear is also essential. Inspect them last so you don’t have them causing havoc in the yard before you even get a good start on inspections. With all that said, very rarely do we put up with mean bees for very long. In all reality, you can have sweet bees and good production with a well managed bee yard. Just don’t settle for less!
James and Chari Elam
What Causes Mean Bees and How to Fix it! Ask the Experts