When the days get shorter and the ferns turn brown, your bees want nothing more than to prepare for winter, kicking the drones out and centering the brood to be in the middle of the cluster. Whilst your bees are attempting to live peacefully, the yellow jackets are searching for easy food and they just might cause some trouble. If you notice agitated bees at the entrance of your hive, stay for a second and try to decipher what is causing the agitation. You may see a group of bees all attacking another bee, and you can safely assume that poor bee made the wrong decision to try and steal from another hive. Unfortunately, there are no judges or juries to decide the thief’s fate, she is swiftly dealt with in a brutal and relentless way. They will sting the thief to death and then head to the next criminal. This process can be easily dealt with by a strong hive, especially if you reduce the entrance to a small opening. Weaker hives, however, sometimes can be completely overtaken by either robbing bees or yellow jackets. In that case, every drop of honey will be removed and if yellow jackets are the culprit, all of the brood will be destroyed and partially consumed. Obviously that means the end to that struggling hive, so needless to say, you need to keep an eye out and take swift action when you suspect you have a robbing issue.
What to do when you have identified a robbing issue? First thing’s first, reduce the entrance. Whether with tightly packed grass and weeds or an entrance reducer, you must make the defending colony’s task easier, giving them less of an area to patrol. Just reducing the entrance can, and usually will, be enough for a strong colony.
Other precautions to ward off robbing are less integral than the reducing of the entrance but some beekeepers swear by them. Some people rub Vick’s Vapor Rub near the entrance of the hive, masking the scent of a colony full of honey. Some people install Robbing Screens, a device that re-routes the colony’s inhabitants and provides robbers nothing but an impenetrable screen. Some people drape a wet towel over the hive to confuse the robbers, while leaving the bottom entrance free for the colony’s inhabitants to come and go as they please.
If robbing is really intense, you can install a small diameter hardware cloth over the entrance, stopping all activity in and out of the hive. Only use this method if the robbing is so intense you feel you might lose the colony. Leave it closed off for a day or two, in the meantime the robbers, hopefully, will find another target for their nefarious activity.
Take those methods into consideration when figuring out your plan to combat robbing and come up with a plan of action customized for your particular problem. Before robbing becomes an issue, remember never to use entrance feeders in the fall, it is as good as inviting the robbers to come and take what they want. Also, if you think a hive is struggling in population, install an entrance reducer in the fall before any issues arise.