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 )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.