Country Living Series

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Fight to the death

It looks like we've lost our bee hives.

Two days ago we went out to feed the bees, something we've been doing about every five days. But when we opened up the first hive, we were alarmed to see yellow jackets -- hundreds, perhaps thousands, of yellow jackets -- and very few bees.

Alarmed, we put the lid back on the hive and retreated to the house, where we did hasty internet searches for what to do. Don slammed into the shop and made two screened wasp guards for the hive openings. Then we re-donned our bee suits and prepared to do battle.

But we lost.

We re-opened the first hive and began removing frames and found the hive had been utterly decimated. There was clearly no queen, and in fact there were so few bees -- but thousands of wasps -- it was if we'd stepped on a wasp nest. The yellow jackets were swarming around us, buzzing and furious.

And everywhere we looked, we saw the poor bees locked in mortal combat with the enemy.

We were being absolutely swarmed by yellow jackets, so we ended up just picking up the hive and dumping it about fifty feet away in an effort to remove the worst offenders and possibly save the second hive.

What follows may be absolutely the wrong thing to do, but we found very little information during our hasty internet search on how to save a hive that was already under active attack by yellow jackets.

We opened the second hive and found it was still active. It was also inundated by wasps, but not as badly as the first hive. However it wasn't as if we could go through each frame and pick out the wasps. Not only were they everywhere, but they were flying and landing and more were coming in. Additionally all the now-displaced wasps from the dead hive were swarming all over us and the second hive.

So we re-closed the lid and Don installed the wasp guard across the hive opening. This reduces the size of the opening and gives the bees (in theory) a fighting chance to defend their hive.

We saw a lot of wasps coming out of the hive.

The next thing we did was prepare new wasp traps...

...which we hung right next to the hive.

It took about ten seconds for the first wasp to make its way in.

We also had two traps we had hung a few days before further away from the hives, so we relocated those closer.

By this point we'd been around the swarming insects for an hour in the heat, watching our poor bees fighting for their lives. We decided to leave the hive alone until after sundown and came into the house curiously exhausted and very discouraged.

We did more internet research and placed calls to two beekeepers (no one was home) but didn't find any more information about how to save a hive that's already been attacked.

I did find a memorable description of yellow jackets from one frustrated beekeeper whose hive had also been attacked: "Yellow jackets are nasty, mean-spirited wasps who build their nests from wood-pulp, not wax. Each colony starts the year anew from a single queen, with no sense of contact or history of their previous generations. They eat bugs and other meat that they can lay their greedy little mandibles on, hovering around garbage cans and other foul refuse. They can sting again and again, and do so with malice and relish."

We still needed to feed the bees, so after sunset we re-donned our bee suits, took the syrup, and opened the hive.

Already agitated, the bees swarmed angrily around us. We moved some frames around and inserted two feeders, and were pleased to see the hive appeared strong. We filled both feeders to the brim.

There were hundreds of bees gathered on the platform outside the warp guard, so I attempted to sweep them (using the bee brush) onto a dustpan and put them into the hive. This attempt brought out so many furious bees that we had a veritable cloud around our heads. (Thank God for bee suits!) At this point, figuring we were doing more harm than good, we closed the hive, retreated toward the house, carefully inspected each other for any stray bees, and stripped off our suits.

The next day the bees were still agitated. I wasn't wearing a bee suit when I took these pix so I couldn't get up close to see what was happening.

At first glance it seemed things had calmed and the bees were doing better.

But zooming the camera in revealed wasps casually going in and out of the wasp guard.

As I said, I couldn't get close because I wasn't suited up, so I don't know what's happening. Don and I will open the hive and feed on Sunday and hopefully get a better idea.

But I'm discouraged and wonder (a) what we did wrong, (b)what we might have done differently or better during this attempt to save the hive, and (c) if there's anything we can do from here out that might improve the chances our remaining hive will make it -- because right now it doesn't look good.


  1. ask pioneer preppy at 'the small hold, will not go down without a fight' web log.
    his email

    1. while reading this whole post, all i thought was - "they need to contact PioneerPreppy"....but deb harvey always...and i mean ALWAYS gives my answers first. she's a real gem.

      and Patrice - PioneerP is the king bee guy - he'll have some suggestions for you.

  2. Just a thought - I had recently placed some Japanese beetle traps to take care of that problem . Advice was to place them somewhat near the garden but NOT right next to it ! You don't want to attract the beetles to the garden while attracting them to the trap. I know you have a wasp problem instead, but same principle might apply ?

  3. Remote trapping of yellow jacket is the most effective. If you find their nests in the ground - pour half a cup of gasoline on them. You can also dip them in gasoline if you find their nests in building eves..or buy some canned wasp killer. Yellow jackets like protein.. they like honey bees and honey bee brood. You can build traps for YJ with meat and fruit baits. mj - OREGON

  4. The new owners of East Farm Feed & Supply in Otis Orchards (near Liberty Lake) are beekeepers. They've been pretty knowledgeable when we've had questions. Good luck!

  5. I know this might seem a little off subject but even here in KY it just seems like critter and climate are going haywire. Just makes you wonder if even God's creations are feeling the shortness of time.

    1. I've been thinking that for a while now.

    2. Hmmm, me too. Thought it was just me so I haven't said anything...

  6. I have read that if you hang a piece of meat on a wire/string yellow jackets will gorge themselves on it and fall conveniently in a bucket of soapy water that is placed under that meat. I do not know if bees will do the same, hopefully not.

  7. Figure out where the wasp's nest is by following them. Mark the entrance. Wait until dark when they should all be in there and kill them.

  8. I used to keep bees, but never heard of that. Have you tried watching the flights of the yellow jackets to see if you could locate their nests?

  9. Sorry for your loss. I wish you much luck in dealing with this.
    God bless. ♥

  10. Having a bad wasp/ yellow jacket year in my neck of the woods. My bees are on 8 frame mediums. Because the stinging insects have been getting worse lately, I never took out my entrance reducers. I have them on the 3" slot. If the hive is weak you can reduce clear down to one bee width. That way they don't have much entrance to defend. From what I've read, robbing screens need to go on before the dearth starts (late July early August when heat and no rain stops the flowering plants.). Make sure all your boxes fit tight with no gaps so nothing can get in. In an emergency, I've seen online you can throw a wet sheet over the hive to stop the robbers (haven't had that work for me personally). I've also seen it recommended to close them up for a day to give them a chance to regroup. Open back up with reduced entrance and robber screens on. At this point, you may want to put a sheet of newspaper between the two hives and try to combine them so they have a bigger defense force (& hopefully a queen). You may need to leave a tiny entrance for the top boxes in case there are survivors of the destroyed hive trying to come home. If you look up Honey Bee Suite on the web, she's a wealth of info & will answer your questions too. She has directions on stopping robbing and how to successfully combine hives. I'm only on my 3rd year & her website is like having a bee class right online. If you have to replace, I'm having good luck with Russian bees. They are hygienic, will put on lots of honey if the climate warrants it, winter well, & are super defensive against other insects. They're pretty grumpy to people too- they HAVE to be smoked & you HAVE to suit up, but they may just be tough enough to make it in the mess we've made of our world. I'm kinda fond of mine!

    1. I'll second putting a wet sheet over the hive. That is what my mentor beekeeper has done in the past with helping the honeybees fight off a swarm.


  11. Oh- I would second moving traps away from the hives. Lure the bad guys off! Honey bees are vegetarians- meat traps won't attract them.

  12. I started keeping bees to get over my fear of bees, particularly yellow jackets (from stepping on a nest as a child). Now, I love honey bees and hate those damn yellow jackets even more. I wish I had some advice for you, but I don't. The only thing I've ever done to reduce YJ depredations on a hive is to reduce the size of the hive entrance to the smallest opening, and that was before there were more than a dozen YJ in the hive. I have no clue what to do when there are hundreds - if you find anything out, please post it!

  13. Oh wow.

    If you do find advice that seems to help please post it. We've a yellow jacket problem here too, and though I was aware that they'd attack honey bees I didn't realize how aggressive they'd get towards the whole hive!

  14. Yellow jackets can be killed / deterred with penetrating oil - PB Blaster, WD-40, etc.- spray any metal gates with drain hole, metal racks, sheet metal eaves, and the residue will keep them from starting a paper nest there.

    1. WD-40 is also good for those huge wood-borer bees that like to destroy fence posts, trim and siding. Just spray WD-40 as far down into the hole as you can. It's worked very well for us.

  15. Oh, how discouraging! So sorry for your loss! I just took the entrance reducers out of our three hives a few weeks ago. After reading this story, I'm wondering if I should put them back on?

    Last fall, even though I was careful to protect our beehives from cold by putting on quilts and stacking old hay bales around them, I made the mistake of leaving the entrance reducer open to the largest opening. When I opened up the first hive this spring I found they had had plenty of food but the hive had been destroyed by a mouse that had gotten in and wrecked the brood super. I don't know if mice eat brood but this one had sure destroyed a lot of foundation. I'll be sure to reduce the entrance this fall.

    Hope your remaining hive makes it, Patrice!
    God's richest blessings to you and yours,

    Mary Beth

  16. Typically, new beekeepers lose half their hives within the first year. I have ten hives but my first year I lost 4 out of 8. The next year I purchased 4 nucs and made a couple splits giving us 10. Don't be discouraged - it's part of being a beekeeper

  17. We've had Yellow jackets so bad we couldn't step outside with any food or drink; they'd fight you for it. I took great pleasure trapping them then dumping the dead into the chicken pen. After a year of trapping with a dozen traps, there were only a few the next year. We stayed on top of them. The neighbors commented on the effects of the war I was waging an we all laughed but it was the laughter of relief.
    We moved to Idaho and were plagued by Wasps as well. I treat those with sticky traps. Expensive but effective. I have not trapped honey bees but did get a few bumble bees that I actually got off the trap. I also spray the nests in the early mornings. Found the yellow jackets nest up in the cherry tree and son and I soaked it with spray one evening. We found the bald faced hornets nest as well but the black bear ate it that night (was going to spray it in the very early morning).
    I'm very sorry that the you are having a problem with yellow jackets destroying your bees.

  18. Love your blog. Short and not so sweet, close the remaining hive off completely, (assumeing you have screened bottom boards)move it as far as you can from its current location, (100 ft or miles) for 2 days. Sounds like a long time but if you fill the feeder and have plenty of ventelation they'll be fine. When opening the hive back up leave only 1 beespace entrance, just one. Hive is weekend and stressed, give them time to recoup. one beespace only to defend will help alot. Never leave entrances fully open unless the necture flow is on strong, they dont need it otherwise. Check for queen in a week. Robber screens only work as a preventative, once the wasps in hive leave they know the way back in just like the resident bees.

  19. On the wasp/yellow jackets, you must start early in the spring about April/May with your traps to catch the offenders. One can use the disposable traps, or the traps shown in the photo with Don.
    If you wish to use the old fashion way. A old dish pan with soapy water use vegetable oil to coat the nasty bees when they fall into it. You will set this in an area where it will not be disturbed by cats/dogs. The next step is to place a piece of raw meat on a string where it will hang just above the treated water line of your bucket.
    The vicious bees will fight knock each other off or gorge themselves to the point they can not fly and drown in the soapy/oil mixture. In all the years this has been used never have we seen a honey bee/bumble bee in the container.
    You will need to clean the container every few days and refresh the meat for your wasp/yellow jacket infestation. You will want beef that has a lot of fat due to the smell or strips of fatty bacon works the best.