Am I killing our bees?

Amelia and I spent two week in the UK in late October.  Before our departure we were so happy with our bees. They had given us loads of honey and all the frames of each of our five hives were either full of brood or honey reserve.  This was much better than last year at this stage, when we had to remove three empty frames from Violette and two from Poppy and place a partition in their hives.

The entrance of each of our hives is fitted with a metal strip that just permits the bees to enter the hive but is (in theory) too narrow to let the Asian hornets (Vespa velutina) and European hornets (Vespa crabro) enter the hive. (Grille d’entrée anti frelons )

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During the Spring of this year we had captured over a hundred Asian hornets – mostly queens – and as the result we had noticed very few attacks from the hornets during August, September and even October.  Despite that I had left several frelon traps not far from the hives.

On our return from the UK, we went to the hives immediately, even before entering the house.  What we found just broke our hearts.  The hives were being badly attacked even though it was late in the evening.  We noticed that the Asian hornets appeared to be smaller than the previous year and they were coming out of the hive we call Iris.  She was our youngest division from Violette and in October she had a large brood and all frames at the sides were full of honey.  She had even given us honey.

The next day I opened Iris as there did not appear to be any guard bees.  I noticed a very small brood in the middle two frames but only a small handful of bees on them.  I could almost cry!

We had already bought hive muzzles and decided to place an entrance reducer on some of the hives and the muzzles on others.  Maybe it is the case of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.  Maybe as far as Iris is concerned we have lost her.

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Just above the metal mesh, there is an entrance to the hive, but only some of the bees are getting used to entering through that entrance.  The problem in any case is that the metal mesh in front of the muzzle has 6mm wide entrance for the bees.  Theoretically they should be able to enter and leave, but some get stuck in the mesh, others do injure themselves or die.  Others try to remove their dead sisters which makes it even a sadder sight to watch.

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I cannot decide whether the muzzles are helping the bees or harming them.

My other problem is that I have fitted two of my hives with a small canopy which makes it even more difficult to fit the muzzle.  On Violette with her canopy I had to fit the muzzle above the canopy so it is really badly fitted.

violette-dead-bees-001

Fortunately during the last few days it has been raining and there are less bees coming and going.  I have not had the courage to fully inspect all the hives when it rains and disturb them even more, but I am seriously worried for at least three of the hives.

A few days ago we found eight Asian hornets had actually managed to enter the space within the muzzle of Iris.  Once inside the muzzle the hornets do not attack the bees and appear to panic.  Eventually they die.

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I watched Poppy’s guard bees actually attack two hornets inside her muzzle and eventually killed her.  But to be honest I am getting desperate.  Perhaps someone – not necessarily a beekeeper – can suggest a better design for the muzzle that would protect the bees without killing them.  For the moment I am not sure if I am hurting them more than protecting them.

Kourosh

 

 

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41 thoughts on “Am I killing our bees?

  1. I understand why you are distraught and I sympathize with your plight. We do not have these hornets, so I am not aware of any solution. I do know from experience that once a hive is weak enough to be susceptible to robbing, the robbers will be relentless. That’s true if they are yellow jackets (our chief enemy) or even other honeybees. There may be little you can do for Iris, but be diligent in watching/protecting the others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the sympathies. It is appreciated. Amelia and I have guarded the bees and have been attacking approaching hornets. So far, my feeling is that the muzzles do more good than harm. However, it can be modified and if so it might be a useful solution against your fight against the yellow jackets too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • So far, my impression is that the muzzles are actually doing more good than harm. It is a tough battle and sadly there are casualties with our bees, but it is preferable to letting them be eaten by the enemy.

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  2. This late in the year, I am not sure a weak hive will survive. I have zero advice about the hornets or the muzzle but maybe you should either merge your remaining hives to make them strong enough to survive winter (and maybe strong enough to repel hornets?) or try to “steal” bees from strong hives to reinforce weak hives. I’ve done this successfully in 2 ways:
    1) move brood frames (complete with nurse bees) from strong hive to week. The nurse bees have to come across as weak hives can’t tend a lot of brood themselves. The best brood frames to take are those with brood in every stage.
    2) Swap the locations of hives in the middle of the day. This works because the workers in the field return to the hive location where they left. The new hive will accept them because they come loaded with honey or pollen. For the next couple of days, bees that have already oriented will return to their home location (which is a new hive) and dramatically boost the numbers of the weak hive. The formerly strong hive temporarily weakens but generally has a good queen and good brood and is fine.
    I’ve tried both methods and both work. The first one takes longer and really works only if one hive is slightly weak, generally because of a swarm and a failed new queen. The 2nd one works almost instantly but your sacrificial hive has to be very strong if the weak hive is very weak.

    Good luck and keep us all posted.

    Laura

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laura… that is real, lateral thinking…. the moving of a brood frame is easily understood…. but to swap hives is a really “off the ball” move….so simple and logical!!
      I do hope one or the other works for K…. or possibly both methods? Could they be combined… to my mind as a naturalist…not a beekeeper… it would seem they could….

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you, the naturalist !
        Yes, Laura’s solution is do-able . For the time being we just need to have a little more patience in the next week or so. Hopefully, as the winter is setting, nature will take care of the hornet to some extend and the threat will be reduced.

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    • Laura,
      It is good of you to write. I agree with everything that you say. For the moment Amelia and I are doing our best to protect the girls in all five hives. Once we feel that the threat has been reduced and the weather is better, we shall open the hives and as you say we either have to combine Iris, or place them in a nuc. They are all being offered candy at the moment.

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    • Many thanks, Laura
      Your advice is very valuable to me. I’ll have to wait a few days for a dray warmer day to open up the hives and decide what to do next. Meanwhile, the muzzles do have some partial success. We are also using fresh fish as bait for the hornets. That too seems to work. I don’t want to feed the hornets, but draw them away from the hives. It is also easier to kill them there.
      Kourosh

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      • Let us all know how they look inside. I’m always hoping for the clever inventor to come up with a cheap way to look in hives without opening them. Drone technology must be getting close. I’d love to be able to see inside, find the queen, spy on the brood… whenever I want, not when the weather permits or the hive is ready or…

        Hopefully the hives are stronger than you fear and they can recover. And you keep those nasty wasps at bay with your stinky fish (the arsenal of beekeepers is surely exotic!).

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        • Laura…. can’t you use an endoscope… non-surgical ones are really very cheap… we got ours from Lidl [a European supermarket chain] for 45€…. I use it to check on wiring that the mice might have got at…. and to look inside birds’ nests… and check cavities in walls.
          For the bird nest, I have a hole drilled through the side…a swing flap on the ouside and a soft polyethylene, pushable one on the inside….the ‘scope even has a 45 degree mirror and a light…and the latest model has an SD Card slot to record movies!! [Yes, I am tempted to get another!!]
          But you would be able to do the same from the back of the hive and look down between each frame…. just a thought.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Laura,
          Thanks. My beekeeper friends advises me strongly not to open the hives now as the low temperature would surely kill any brood.
          He recommends looking inside by using an endoscope. Sounds clever. I will try to see if I can borrow or source a cheap endoscope for the purpose.
          As you understand, we beekeepers will do anything to save our poor girls.
          I will keep you posted on how we get on. – Kourosh

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  3. Have you tried getting in touch with Chris Luck? He keeps up with the latest developments in France and seems to have a sensible approach to beekeeping. His page on Asian Hornet is here. Other articles are here. He can be contacted via the link at the bottom of the page. Good luck.

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  4. Sorry to hear of your woes Kourosh…. so bloody annoying and upsetting after all your hard work!
    As for killing your bees… are the ones that have got stuck larger than the others… or is it just that they are trying to exit through the mesh. If it is the latter, can you get hold of the mesh used and half offset some more which would quarter the hole size….?
    I really like Laura’s methods…I do hope that one or the other…or both…work for you.

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    • Thanks for the suggestion. We are now fighting the hornets and killing them as fast as we can. At the same time we are trying various other ways of drawing them away from the hive, including offering them fresh fish bait, which does seem to attract them.

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  5. My heart goes out to you both; I know how much you care for those bees. You must feel so helpless. You have probably already read this post on the Honey Bee Suite blog by a French beekeeper giving tips on dealing with the hornets, but I’ll put the link here just in case you haven’t – http://honeybeesuite.com/beekeeping-with-asian-hornets/

    Combining like Laura’s suggestion is a good idea. Or if you’d rather not combine would moving the bees into a nucleus hive with plenty of fondant be an option? It sounds like the colony is tiny now so that might help them keep warm and build up again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Emily
      I appreciate the link. It is a good one. Amelia and I are trying everything at the moment. Using the muzzles has been partially successful. Certainly there are casualties, but better than losing them to the hornets. We also have been staying guard in front of the hives as well as placing fresh fish as bait. The latter has been good as it draws the hornets away from the girls. And it is easier to kill them there.
      All hives have been given fondants at the moment. It is interesting that the bees in some hives come out and attack the hornets and kill them; others stay indoor and hide.
      Once we do a full inspection, we do very likely have to take Laura’s advice and unite Iris or place her in a nuc.

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  6. We have lost our last beehive, unfortunately.
    A friend of us is trying a method with a tray. with fish.
    Asian hornets seem to prefer fish because it’s easier to pick it and bring it back to their nest than bees..He put the tray near the beehive, and progressively put it farther and farther. The hornets are interested in fish and not anymore in bees.
    You have to put new fish in the tray every 3 days. ( Ask for scraps to your fishmonger). He says it works ans tells us he saves his beehives..
    If you can read french, here is his website : http://anti-frelon-asiatique.com/
    It was too late for us to try this method ! .

    Liked by 2 people

    • Merci beaucoup pour votre commentaire. Je suis très désolé pour votre ruche
      Nous avons aussi essayé le poisson comme appât. Ça marche très bien. Dans notre cas, les frelons viennent encore aux ruches. J’utilise aussi des pièges avec de la bière liquide et du miel et ils attrapent beaucoup de frelons.
      Nous avons besoin d’essayer un certain nombre de méthodes différentes en même temps.
      —–
      Thank you very much for your comment. I am very sorry for the loss of your hive
      We have also tried fish as bait. It works quite well. In our case the hornets still visit the hives.
      I also use traps with beer and honey and they too catch a lot of hornets.
      We do need to try a number of different methods at the same time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m part of a study into a way to keep Small Hive Beetle out of bee hives. What we’re trying now is a lure of 250 ml water, 1 tsp normal bakers yeast and 4 tablespoons of honey. We put this in a normal fly trap you buy at the local garden centre (I think a plastic drink bottle with some holes in it would also work). It attracts small hive beetles and hornets (though we don’t have Asian Hornets – thankfully – so I’m not positive it would work for them). Bees aren’t interested. You need to top up the honey ever couple days to keep the yeast bubbling. I want to experiment with adding flour or some substance that the yeast can eat for longer than the honey so the lure doesn’t need to be touched so often.

        I suspect your mix of beer and honey is working on the same principle. That yeasty smell attracts a lot of insects.

        We beekeepers do work hard for our ladies!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Am I killing our bees? — a french garden | How 2 Be Green

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