Beeyard Thoughts

by James E. Tew

Thievery – of any kind anywhere
Robbery is truly hard to consider in just a short discussion – or even a long discussion. What is the thought process behind one (human or otherwise) deciding that they are in a position that justifies taking – through subterfuge and sneak – the belongings and resources of another (again, human or otherwise.)?

Bee Robbers
Last month, in detail, I described the onslaught that a queen cell starter hive experienced when I established that unit within a yard of populous colonies. My intent was to use the small unit to experiment with various aspects of queen cell production for the backyard queen producer. Naturally, I would photograph the process and then you and I would discuss various successes and failures that followed.

Robber bees changed all of that. As I recently said, the robbers were stunningly committed to taking every last iota of stores that I had given the small unit. Ultimately, they destroyed both the colony and the project (for this season).

But in the world of robbery, robber bees are somewhat justifiable. In reality, they are robbing, but in the natural world, it could be said that they are simply aggressively foraging during a time when the neighboring hive’s resources are the only nectar flow that is available. At all costs, these “robbers” work to provide resources to their own colonies, and they do this at great peril to themselves. Robber bees have a difficult and dangerous job in their hive life. Most do not survive very long.

Beehive Robbers
This human group is in no way noble or pure, but they have surely been around for a long time. Yes, in the bright light of objectivity, the human beehive thief is stealing to provide for his clan in much the same way as bees are robbing for the support of their clan. I am not presenting a moral lecture at this point. As usual, I am writing far beyond my expertise and training; so I write from a perspective of emotional response and experience. I have just a bit of history being the one who was robbed, so I think I have some empathy with beekeepers who have had their hives taken. In fact, I suspect most of us have some vague sense of what it would feel like to visit a yard – frequently a temporary pollination yard – only to find it gone.

You know the acceptance drill, “Oh!! I must have taken a wrong turn.” Or “Have we already moved this yard?” It takes a bit of time to accept the fact that some jerk – even worse – a fellow beekeeper jerk has stolen another beekeeper’s hives. Search the web for stolen beehives. URL hits on hive thievery are frequent and just as common outside the U.S. At this time, beehives are coveted items that are normally in exposed, remote areas. They seem to be easy targets.

Some hive thieves are savvier. They don’t take the hive equipment, but only shake bees into bulk containers (I suppose), and then get out of there. A variation on this theme is to take nucs only. Whether or not the frames are replaced is the thief’s call. Again, I suppose that putting frames back into the colony would possibly delay the beekeeper from realizing that some (many) of the bees had been removed from the hive equipment.
Then there is the fun-loving group of hive thieves – the vandalizing thief. They are not stealing for personal gain, but for personal thrill. Some years ago, I received a call from a small, private airport. The caller stated that I had a beehive on their runway and needed to come for it. That was a 100% puzzling call for I had no hives anywhere near that location. I pushed them to help with my confusion, and they responded that my name was branded on the equipment. Well, this was weird.

Off I did go only to find it was my two-story hive on the rarely used runway and as far I could tell, it had been run over – with a vehicle, I suppose – multiple times. The equipment and most of the bees were crushed. The vandal loaded a hive on a warm night filled with free-flying bees. Now that was an odd, gutsy thief who must have been driving someone else’s vehicle. To this day, I know nothing of the robber’s motives. The hive was a total loss, but at least they only took one. What should I have done with the remainder of the hives in that yard? Move them or leave them there? I left them, and nothing else ever happened. What a goofy thief.

The true thief
I very recently had an enterprising thief get into my locked motel room (a prominent national chain) and take all my camera equipment – and only that. Everything else was still there. My camera equipment is essentially always near me, both at home and when traveling, because I am constantly taking photos to use in these articles and for other bee education purposes. Consequently, my national brand insurer said that my equipment was both professional and off-site and as such, was not covered by my homeowner policy. At this point, I would love to go into great detail, but both legal and personal sources have admonished me to keep it cool. I will say that I have lost some serious camera equipment.

This type of thief did not take actual hive equipment or bees, but he (I assume it was a “he”) took part of my ability to perform my job. Last month, with a small amount of fanfare I introduced a supplementary program to my articles in which I posted additional photos that could be visited on the web. I suppose I will determine if my smart phone can capture enough to post photos there this month. All I can do is make lemonade with all these lemons.

Bee Water – again and again and again
If you’re not sick of this topic, then I certainly am. I have written about it time and again. This bee-water issue is a lot like the small hive beetle issue. Small hive beetles (SHB) are not an issue for everyone; in fact, they are not an issue for most beekeepers. But if you are the beekeeper with SHBs, they can be a significant pest for which there are precious few control recommendations. The same is true with bee water issues. If you have no neighbors or if there is a pond near your apiary, why bother reading about water issues? For those of us who must talk to our neighbors about our bees, it is truly a pain. Since this water issue has become repetitious, I will keep it brief.

This time it was a different neighbor from the others with whom I had interacted. She was agreeable and polite, but insistent that they were my bees. I developed my arguments in preparation for my visit with her. There are now other beekeepers in the neighborhood, and there are some feral bees in the area. How could she be so sure?
It was a tub-type small landscape pond filled with murky water. A spout in the center forced a small stream of water in the air that provided water movement to prevent mosquito growth. And then there were honey bees – hundreds of them – all obviously flying in interstate traffic format right back to my apiary. I had absolutely no defense. Before you ask, I have a kid’s pool filled with clean water and floats 50 yards from my apiary in an open yard. Yet, here they are, flying 150 yards to gather algae-laden water.

My neighbor graciously agreed to clean her small pond at night. She said she knew the bees were in trouble and that she did not want me to move any colonies. I still felt terrible.

For those of us who have recalcitrant bees that just will not stay in the right place, it is frustrating. I could conceivably build my neighbor a screen cover that she could remove when she wants to enjoy her patio. What have you clever beekeepers learned to do that helps keep your bees at your water sources?

Speaking on the topic of bees . . .
A good beekeeping friend, LF, recently told me something that is blatantly obvious, but something that I had never put into a specific thought. Established, wizened beekeepers are not always the best speakers for brand new, starry-eyed beekeepers. Though I do not consider myself wise, I have become established and immediately realized what LF meant. It appeared to my friend that a successful beekeeper with four to five years experience made the best speaker for very new beekeepers. Established beekeepers assume a lot from the audience that is sometimes not yet there.

While trying to stay on time, while trying not to overload new keepers, and while trying to give a real life experience – all at the same time – I passed around a caged queen with attendants. Of course all were in awe and I proceeded to give an overview of how the queen should be introduced. I got a puzzling question from the floor. How would I introduce only one queen at the time? It took a wee bit of time for me to realize that I had not fully explained the function of the attendants and that they were NOT all queens in the single cage.

LF was given the story of a (very) new beekeeper who bought a queen and expeditiously took her and her attendants home and released them – as per instructions – into a hive body with no bees. His thought was that these few bees and the queen would build a colony. In fact, they died and the new beekeeper wanted another queen to replace the defective one. Actually, he was not horribly wrong. Bumble bees, Yellowjackets and hornets essentially start from a single queen every year. Obviously, honey bees can’t do that.

While I do not intend for this to become a “how to” when talking to new beekeepers, a fear I sometimes have is that a speaker will go the other way and give entirely too much information. I recently stepped in this trap when giving a presentation on “making hive splits” to somewhat new beekeepers. I tried to present all the possibilities and only ended up confusing the new folks. Now, if I should give that talk again, I would clearly present one technique out of the entire morass of hive-splitting possibilities for the new people to try.

Fundamentally a good speaker for a new group (or any group) should start on time, end on time, stay on topic, allow time for questions, speak clearly and strongly, address questions, and have some props if at all possible. Fight the urge to present all you know on a subject in just one presentation. These suggestions have come to me from many years of reviewing participant evaluations.

For the Brand New Beekeeper
By the time you brand new beekeepers get this, the season will have passed. But for new beekeepers next season, that “stink” in your Autumn beeyard is nectar coming from fall aster and goldenrod. It appears to me that goldenrod is an “iffy” plant much like dandelion. Both plants seem to be somewhat attractive to bees. But in the case of goldenrod, the bees are clearly making a honey crop because of the odor that can literally be smelled 75 yards downwind of the apiary.

I am telling the new people this odor characteristic of goldenrod because of my personal experience. I was a new beekeeper at Auburn University. I was in my first year and had three hives on a nearby farm. Goldenrod came into bloom and upon my visit to the yard, I smelled the odor of what I thought must be American foulbrood (AFB). At that time, I had never smelled either. I contacted my mentor, telling him that I thought I had AFB in all three of my hives. We both panicked. He and I quickly rendezvoused at my apiary where he kindly explained that I was a novice. All these years later, the smell of goldenrod in my apiary is a clear harbinger of Autumn. Time to prepare for Winter. It also means that it is getting very late to treat for Varroa and that I should be getting my firewood stacked.

Odds and Ends
It’s not my intent to attempt to teach technical aspects of compterdom in this article. I am self-taught and just a bit dangerous. Even so, I have been using various conventions in my articles and in my presentations, that at times, cause confusion.
I have posted some incidental photos on the web that I have taken with my smart phone for this article. They are not particularly special. I have uploaded them into a software package named SmugMug for which I must pay to use so that you do not see advertisements.

To access these photos, the first thing I provide is the original URL address:

Obviously, if you are not using the electronic version of Bee Culture, the above address will be tedious to copy. Not a single error can be made when copying the address, so I use a URL shortener to make it easier to copy. Using this URL shortener, I can use words to make the address easier to read. It looks like this:

For those of you who have a QR code reader (short for Quick Response Code) app on your smart phone or other electronic device you are using, you can scan the following code. The scanned QR code will link directly to the URL storing my photos on the web. Using this format, no URL is copied but you must have an app. I use iQR on my computer and Qrafter Pro on my iPhone. I don’t recall having a reason for choosing these two code readers, but you must have one from somewhere for your device to scan. The QR code containing the URL to my photos for this article that is stored on the web is at:
In summary, all I have provided in these three formats are pathways to the same URL. You do not have to use all thee formats. Additionally, I am not endorsing any of the software packages to which I have referred. I hope this helps break my code for all of you.

Dr. James E. Tew, State Specialist, Beekeeping, The Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University; Emeritus Faculty, The Ohio State University.;; One Tew Bee RSS Feed (;; @onetewbee Youtube: