I’m having a very uncomfortable evening, at least mentally uncomfortable, thinking about my bees. The problem is wasps, as has been the case, at this time of year, for the last three years. Part of the problem is the fact that my property has become a great habitat for wasps. Lots of trees, banks, fruit, vegetation, and masses of insects. Allowing lots of nests to thrive through to Summer, at which point they start to try to get into the hives.
Theoretically, a strong hive should be capable of defending itself, but I have watched the wasps gradually strip the guards from the entrance, over time, and then gradually rob and kill. Normally, it’s the weak hives that go first. In my case, I had two hives that were always going to fail. One was queenless, with laying worker bees, who had managed to get back to the hive, despite being tipped out some distance away. The other had an emergency queen, in a hive with very few worker bees. A conventional beekeeper would have got rid of both, or intervened in some other way, but I left them to their fate, which turned out to be wasps.
What is troubling me is that a formerly healthy hive, is now struggling, and I think that it is just too close to a very virilent wasp nest(s), that I cannot yet find. If I had acess to a car over the next 24 hours, I could move it, and hope that it recovered, but I don’t. Last year I spent weeks trying to save a small hive from wasps, all day knelt in front of the entrance, squashing wasps, blocking the entrance at night, and opening it in the morning. If you read the posts from last July and August, it will give you an idea of what it was like.
The uncomfortable part is that I am having to leave this hive to look after itself. I have reduced the entrance to about an inch in width. I have put out dozens of traps, and have destroyed every nest that I can find, and still the wasps are getting in. Given the option of spending all day, every day trying to keep them alive, or having a relatively normal time, I’ve chosen to leave the bees alone, but am struggling not to just go up and see how they are getting on. I know that if I go, and they are having problems, that I will be drawn into a pointless attempt to save them, which is only likely to delay their fate. If I was more mercenary, I would probably take out the frames of stores, and extract the honey, but it feels wrong somehow.
One thing that I have tried, is to leave some of the jam traps open for a while, to draw more wasps to feed, and then close the lids, which seems to work. This ties in with my observations last year, which showed that wasps recruit other wasps to a good source of food, and single wasps soon become pairs, or trios.
Of the many thoughts that all of this has produced, two stand out. The first is does getting into a weak hive encorage the wasps to try harder with the other hives? The second is, that whilst the artificial swarming, and recombining of bees in hives seems artificial, and cruel to the old queen, it does produce large colonies of bees, which should be able to defend themselves. Compare this with my natural system, which allows a single hive to become three smaller hives, through swarming. If the hive swarms late, or they build up slowly, they could be much smaller by the time that the wasps start to build up, putting them more at risk.
The earlier that a hive swarms, and the faster that they build up, the better, which is just like beekeeping before the advent of hives with frames.
For now, all I can do is hope that in the morning, the hive will have continued to hold its own, and that another batch of young bees will have hatched to join the battle.