I am not ready to give up on beekeeping, despite the challenges that I have run into. I am really hoping to find a way to peacefully coexist with the bees in our backyard. I just need to be creative when coming up with new ideas to try out. In search of harmony, we are moving on to plan bee!
One of the things that I learned about bees is that when there is something in front of their hive, when they come out they will fly up and then out. The top bar hive entrance did not have anything in front of it so the bees were flying low in the yard. I think that they are also feeling a bit territorial about us being so close to their front door. The bees in the Langstroth hive tend to fly up higher since there are some flowers in front of their hive.
The Langstroth bees are also flying low though since the hive has a piece broken off of the top of the second deep. So in the center of the hive is a hole that they have now made their front door. The plants that are in front of the hive are not as high up as the top of the second deep, so there is a bit of low flying traffic there too. However, the bees from this colony seem very docile and don’t seem to mind us at all.
There is also a possibility that the top bar hive is being pestered by skunks. I know that we have them and there has been evidence of them in our yard for years. The last several years they left holes all in the grass from digging up grubs. I can’t prove it yet, but it may be an issue. From what I have been told about skunks, they scratch on the hive entrance to get the bees to come out and then they grab them and eat them. If this is happening, it would help to explain why this colony is so grumpy with us getting near the hive. I will look at the hive more closely for scratch marks when I do my next inspection.
With all of these things in mind and with it being late in the summer I didn’t want to make any very big changes to the hive. The idea that made the most sense is to turn the hive around 180 degrees. Turing the hive around will mean that the bees are facing our six foot fence instead of our yard. That will mean that they will have to fly up higher than six feet to get above the fence and that should help to keep them out of the yard.
My husband and I got up at five am on August 4th and suited up. Our plan was to plug both of the entrance holes and then pick up the hive and stand at the same time to turn it. After we turn the hive we have make sure that it is still level. Then we can reopen the hive. We spent time discussing every step of the process before we started so that we would both be fully prepared and know the plan.
We lit the smoker to get the bees that were sitting on the outside of the hive into it. Some of them were reluctant to go inside, but we finally convinced them. Once they were all in we plugged the holes up. The hive was heavier than we had expected it to be and I had some trouble getting a good grip on the hive and the stand together. Once I was able to we turned it.
Everything went very well. We checked if the hive was level and we had to work with the ground a bit to level it out. It didn’t take long though. Once we were done we reopened the hive and quickly moved away. The bees were so confused that they didn’t bother looking for us!
Watching the foragers during the day was interesting. The were pretty determined to find the holes where they used to be. It took them much longer to get back into the hive. Many of them ended up landing on the hive and then walking on the underside of it to get to the entrance. By the evening there were a lot fewer bees hovering around the wrong side of the hive. It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to figure it all out.
The first three days were the worst for them. By the fourth day they were doing better and within a week they had it figured out. We did see some improvement with the amount of low flying bees, but there was a lot of confused bees hanging around. The confused bees didn’t seem to mind that we were in our yard, they were just looking for their front door. After about a week there were a lot fewer confused bees. We felt more comfortable in our garden and we were even able to get some work done.
As for the Langstroth hive, I called Best Bees and explained our situation to them. I asked them to bring a new deep box to exchange with the one that had a large crack in it. They agreed to do so and came out the day after we turned the top bar hive around. For the next couple of days we had a lot of confused bees around the hives! The colony in the Langstroth hive figured out their situation more quickly than the top bar bees. In less than a week they had accepted that their entrance had changed and adjusted themselves to that change.
The next plan was to encourage the bees to fly up higher when they come out of the hives. I had met a beekeeper that used tall trellis fences to encourage his bees to fly higher. I was reluctant to try anything too big because the hives are in the perennial garden and I still want to be able to see and enjoy the garden. One thought that I had was to have trellises just in front of the hives and plant trumpet vines to crawl up the trellises. I think that it would work, but it’s not ideal.
My husband came up with the idea to try a temporary solution first, to make sure the bees will fly up and out of the yard. He decided that we should put up some kind of screen across the front of the perennial garden. This would provide a barrier between the hives and the rest of the garden. We decided that a mesh screen would be best. It allows air to continue to flow through it so there isn’t any pressure on the hives if a strong wind blows and it allows us to still see the perennial garden.
We made a quick “curtain” to put up in front of the hives. It stretches from one end of the perennial garden to the other and it is about five and a half feet from top to bottom. We put this screen up around two weeks after we turned the top bar and fixed the Langstroth, so now we confused them again!
This time it did not take them long to figure out that they needed to fly up to get out. It was a little more difficult for them to find their way back into the hives. Again the Langstroth bees figured that out before the top bar bees. Once they all figured it out our yard felt like ours again. There were a lot less bees flying low in the yard. At this point, it looks like the screen is a success. We will have to figure out what we should do next year and on an ongoing basis.
For now, we are very happy with the arrangement. The bees are flying higher and we have spent more time in our garden. Which is very nice right now since there are lots of veggies ready for harvest.