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Robbing Screen – How to and Why – Wasp and Robbing Honey Bees – AFB?

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Beekeeping Equipment – Integrated Pest Management Program

Have you recently bought a ‘Robbing Screen' from kiwimana?

…if so, this guide is just for you!

The robbing-screen took a few years of field-testing in the Apiary at kiwimana HQ. Also inspired from ideas on the interwebs. Gary designed this to help us with Wasps which were causing loss of colonies within a matter of a few days …which is pretty devastating after all the work we put in to our colonies.

Please note: Entrance Reduction is not the same method as using a Robbing-Screen (see more further on in this article about entrance reduction.)

…if not, this article will explain how one of these will be useful to you and your colonies.
So what is a ‘Robbing Screen' ?
A robbing-screen is a screen which can be placed in the front of the honey beehive entrance – Its purpose is to help save your colonies from Robbing Bees and Wasps !

The robbing-screen frame is made from wood (pine). The robbing-screen has an insect mesh securely-inserted within the frame of the robbing screen. The frame has two circle hooks onto which a bungy cord is attached around the hive-box to hold the robbing-screen in-place. (Our current robbing screens have a 90cm orange-bungy cord.)

This screen has a stainless steel mesh
This screen has a stainless steel mesh
Robbing screen attached to hive box with bungy
Robbing screen attached to hive box with bungy
Wide Access gives perfect Bee Space Bungy-Cord to hold in place
Wide Access gives perfect Bee Space Bungy-Cord to hold in place

What is the robbing-screen used for ?

The robbing-screen is designed to give the Honey Bees a ‘fenced-area' which, from within, the guard bees use to define their ‘patrol-area' the ‘hive-box perimeter'. The worker bees can use it as a resting area and a drop-off pollen zone. This is the first-line of defence and an ‘****Entrance Reducer' can be the girls second-line of defence. A robbing-screen is very different from entrance-reduction – see more further-on in this article.
How does it work ?
What we found in our field-tests, is that the ‘fenced-area' is propolised by the guard bees. We understand that this method used by the girls is so that the guard bees define their ‘patrol area' or the ‘perimeter' and they appear to understand it is part of the hive.

Why do the bees propolis it, you ask ?
We established that by using the propolis, they were making it smell of the scent of the colony whilst also disinfecting.
What we saw is that within the screened area, if anything enters and DOES NOT smell like the colony – its ATTACKED !!

Handy Hint:
To make sure the girls can properly ‘scent' the screen we leave the screens un-painted / Unoiled

Older Robbing-Screen natural wood
Older Robbing-Screen natural wood

NOTE:
It's important to be patient with your girls when a robbing-screen is introduced because it does take them a few weeks to recognise it, then to ‘scent' it with propolis, whilst also allowing the guard bees time to work out the perimeter from where the propolis scent has been added.

When should I put the robbing-screen on?
Basically, we use our robbing screens all year round. It's important to understand that the robbing-screen has several functions and also relies on your observations for ‘proper use'.

What we found is that the bees needed more protection from wasps in Autumn early Spring, so its designed to have two opening sizes with 3 functions. We found that at the end of Summer, robbing-bees are a threat and coincidently, AFB does appear at this time of the year. We think that perhaps there maybe a link with reducing the risk of AFB transference when using a robbing-screen, we think – and please know that we don't have any scientific research to back this up – that the robbing-screen may well help in stopping that transference of spores straight into the hive through the application the propolis within the screened-area which also makes it difficult for robbing-bees to get direct access into the hive.

Handy Hint: tangent….
By leaving your girls with plenty of honey, it may also help them with focusing on foraging, not robbing!!

What are the functions ?

Function 1 – Wide Access

This is the wide access - this is placed against the wall of the hive-box
This is the wide access – this is placed against the wall of the hive-box

Function 2 – Small Access – By rotating the screen you create the small access

This access is small and requires the plastic-cover to be turned to open position
This access is small and requires the plastic-cover to be turned to open position

Small Access with plastic cover open
Small Access with plastic cover open

Function 3 – Closed Access / Exit

Closed access for moving a Beehive or for heavy attack
Closed access for moving a Beehive or for heavy attack

why has it got a plastic cover thingie and what's that for ?
This ‘cover' is so that you can close off the screened area for HIGH-RISK periods of robbing and wasp attack we call this – the Small-Access. It can also be used to close-off access to the bees while moving the beehive without them overheating the colony while moving/travelling – less stress for the girls – we call this CLOSED Access (Function 3).

See photo of hive below all ratchet-tied, access closed ready for transporting to new apiary. (still has its corflute A-Frame rain cover)

Robbing Screen attached and CLOSED Access
Robbing Screen attached and CLOSED Access

what are the hook roundie thingies used for ?
These are for the bungy end-hooks to go into when attaching the robbing-screen to the hive. One for each side to hold the robbing-screen on in case of wind or disturbance.

Hook on each side to attach the bungy to
Hook on each side to attach the bungy to

The bungy cord wraps around the hive box to keep the robbing screen in place
The bungy cord wraps around the hive box to keep the robbing screen in place

side view of bungy holding robbing screen in place
side view of bungy holding robbing screen in place

When do I use the different ‘functions' ?

Function 1 – Wide Access
This function used when the population is at its highest
– After Spring treatments are completed (start treating 1st August and if it's a 4 week treatment aim to open to wide -access by 1st September in preparation for Spring populations build-up)

Function 2 – Small Access
This function at high-risk periods when robbing-bees are about and wasps are building-up their queens.
– When end of Summer treatments are being done ( start treating 1st February and if it's a four week treatment aim to open to small-access from there through Winter to the end of August.

Function 3 – Closed entrance – for Extreme Risk and for moving the beehive.
This function closes off the access to leave but still allows bees to patrol the perimeter or gather outside of hive to aerate the hive.

Note: ….if you want to paint your robbing-screen – to match your hive-boxes, only paint areas where the screen touches the hivebox / bottom-board.

Beehive with Robbing-Screen and corflute Aframe cover
Beehive with Robbing-Screen and corflute Aframe cover

When do I NOT use the Robbing-Screen ?

At kiwimana we pre-empt swarming by splitting our colonies, this means we can keep our older genetics.
Important – There will be TWO colonies once the split has been made – both need DIFFERENT management through the SPLIT period:
– OLD Original Queen = OLDER QUEEN COLONY
– New colony = NEW SEASON QUEEN COLONY

Background:

Older Queen Colony is moved away – she'll thinks she has swarmed – make sure her entrance is on the SMALL ACCESS for 16 days, while she gets on with laying and re-building her Bee-population. On-going fortnightly inspections should take place after the 16 Days – normal hive-management resumes ie: checking space for laying, nectar flow checks, adding hive-ware, Varroa monitoring, etc.
Important – do not treat until 30 days after the split has taken place.

New Season Queen Colony remains in the original spot ( or existing position ) – this allows foraging bees to return here to keep the colony population-up, fed and warm.
So for this NEW SEASON QUEEN COLONY – when we split, we leave the robbing-screen on the SMALL ACCESS for 16 Days after the 24hour move to enable the Queen-cell to be built.
Then on the 17th day she hatches and is ready to mate, so we remove the robbing-screen completely for 12 days – as it takes about 10-12 days for her to go out and mate on-the-wing.
Why do I need to do this for this NEW QUEEN COLONY ?
– The reasoning is that the new-season queen can move out easily to go on her MATING FLIGHT and then easily return without obstruction.
Note: If the weather is bad, wet, windy removing the robbing-screen for her to return safely straight into the entrance is key.
On the 30th Day – add the robbing-screen back on with the SMALL ACCESS and then undertake an inspection to check for the NEW SEASON QUEEN and that she is laying, all things beeing equal the colony is on its way so normal hive-management resumes ie: checking space for laying, nectar flow checks, adding hive-ware, etc.
Important – do not treat this colony – treating will interfere with the pheromone of the NEW Queen taking-hold of the colony – there has already been a break in the Varroa breeding cycle because the colony has had no eggs for approximately 30 days.

ENTRANCE REDUCTION (Reduced entrance)

What does this mean ?
This method has been long-used by beekeepers for reducing the entrance width, usually it has been applied to the hives in Winter when the cluster or population becomes smaller therefore guard bee population also declines.
Why ?
With the cold or wet, the guard bees will also stay longer with the cluster and the entrance is often less of a focus for the girls – at these times the goal of the girls is to protect the queen and the brood and bee part of the cluster.

Reducing the hive entrance still enables Robbing Bees and Wasps to get straight in to the hive
Reducing the hive entrance still enables Robbing Bees and Wasps to get straight in to the hive

SADLY and Unfortunately the entrance reduction will still enable whatever threat to get straight into the hive, it has not proved successful for us and by following this advice we still lost colonies despite reducing entrance size.

****OUR ANSWER to entrance reduction ?

The design and building of the robbing-screen!
Handy to know that …you can still ‘entrance reduce' behind the robbing-screen if you feel you need to.

HELPFUL HINT about WASP's:

Point to remember – is that WASP's generally hunt early morning or early evening because that's when the Honey Bee is generally within cluster within the hive. Guard bees are usually still with the cluster so the entrance is more vulnerable to penetration.
If there is no protection at the entrance the wasps can go straight-in.
…remember… entrance-reduction still enables the wasp to get straight into the hive with a robbing-screen it at least gives the girls that good-line of defence.
Other way to get-rid…
..locating the WASP's nest and killing it, is one of the other ways to help your honey bee colonies.

HELPFUL HINT about OBSERVATION:

Its really helpful to observe what is going-on at the entrance of your hive, because it tells many tales, and what tales are beeing told ?
…well, you can see if Bees are…
– fighting = robbing
– if the wasps are attacking = they are hungry and raising wasp-queens
– dead bees = varroa or wasps or disease, over-heating
– bearding = overheating
– mating flight = small cluster out front = Spring queen flights
– large quantity of hovering bees with louder buzz = preparing to swarm/swarming
– angry bees attacking when you are in the front of the hive = thirsty bees or lost their queen
– going back and forth on the bottom-board = bee hygiene activity (referred to as ‘wash-boarding')

Well, we hope that you find this as ‘INFORMATION GOLD', and that it helps you with managing your colony/ies.

This article was put together by Margaret, especially for you.

Margaret Groot

Margaret is an avid 'Bee Enthusiast' who manages the Apiary, the Bees and their hives, she also provides Beekeeping Services and training for Beeginner Beekeepers.Phew...if that's not enough... she also works in the workshop assembling Beehive products for customers and the Apiary. (and delivers orders as well : )She loves to BLOG and chat about Bees, nature and Beekeeping.
She loves New Zealand native flora and fauna, her fav is the Kowhai...with Manuka honey close second ; )
Some of you may know that Margaret is a qualified Life Coach, she trained through the Coaching Academy in London and holds DipPC.Adv.

4 thoughts on “Robbing Screen – How to and Why – Wasp and Robbing Honey Bees – AFB?

  1. Can I buy one of those wasp guard tgingys pleas. I cannot see them in your shop. If you could help I would appreciate it. Cheers

    1. Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Sorry we are sold out at present, we will be making some over the winter season.

      Add you name to waiting list on the product page HERE, and we will email you as soon as we have stock back.

      Thanks…Gary

  2. Hello

    My National hive in North London is being plagued by wasps getting in. I have tried to find a robbing screen to fit a BS National hive brood box entrance, but can only find suggestions where the front of the hive is flat. Can you help? Please e-mail me to advise.

    1. Hi Martin,

      Thanks for the message, Sorry for the slow response.

      We attached our robbing screens with a bungie cord, I would have thought something like that could be done. Perhaps you can email us a picture of the front and I will get back to you.

      Our address info at kiwimana.co.nz

      Thanks…Gary

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