Sunday, May 20, 2012

Small Hives are Vulnerable

Beekeepers can establish or expand their bee yards by purchasing hives from other beekeepers, purchasing nucleus hives, dividing existing colonies, catching swarms, or raising bees in queen mating nucleus hives. Beekeepers trying to expand their bee yards start with small populations of bees. Often nucleus hives smaller than full-size hives are used for expansion. These hives are especially vulnerable to a number of pests. As each of these new hives builds in population it is subjected to attack from numerous pests. Weak hives are regularly approached by wasps, yellow jackets, hornets, wax moths, small hive beetles, and mammals. However, the most persistent attackers of bee hives are often worker honey bees from other colonies in the area that attempt to rob honey stores. The best defense against bee hive pests is a strong population of honey bees. Bees can drive away intruding wasps, yellow jackets, wax moths, dogs, and other mammals. They remove the larvae of wax moths, and drive adult small hive beetles to the corners of the hive. Guard bees trap small hive beetles in propolis “traps” that the workers build. Small hive beetle traps often line the ends of bee hive frame top bars. Here, many beetles die of starvation. The bee populations of expanding colonies often fare better in small-sized hives because there is less open space for small hive beetles to move freely and lay eggs.

Our experience in rearing queens and expanding colonies at Peace Bee Farm is consistent: We have considerably greater success in rearing bees in nucleus hives than in full-size hives. Today’s photo shows worker bees returning to their small, expanding colony in a queen mating nucleus hive fitted with an entrance reducer and a screen to restrict robber bees. Bees from the colony learn to negotiate the space between the screen and the hive entrance. Robbers are attracted to hive odors and fly directly toward the screen where they are challenged by guard bees poised on their hind legs.

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