A week out, it appears that the robbing crisis is over, at least unless some other incident – syrup spillage, opening the colonies, spite – triggers another bout. The gentleman who told me about setting up robbing screens said that his bees regained their sweet disposition within a few days of the reinstitution of the rule of law.
Well, mine haven't.
If I hang around the roof more than a few seconds, guard bees come flying at my big dark mop of hair...quite emphatically. It's not clear how well the feeling can be described. The bees fly right up and bounce off your head. In the Spring, they just tend to bounce and go. In this season, they are instead attracted to dark holes: eyes, ears, nose. Since my hair is nearly black, they can land there and get a bit tangled. You can hear them up there quite clearly, too. It quickly evolves into a weird, mixed blessing or "negotiating with Fate" situation: "If I have to get stung, please let it be my scalp!"
So I retreated from the roof with fingers in ears and nose, eyes closed as far as I could, trying not to breathe out too much of that CO2 which annoys them so much. And you need to go slow, because sudden movement is annoying. And you need to go quickly, because one angry bee usually attracts others. As I sit here, every tiny crawl feeling on my head feels like a bee leg.
The guard bees generally give up pursuit when descent of the stair case begins, however, and so I was off. Unstung, but much ruffled.
After I put in the anti-robbing screen (with a feeding), the bees got two more fill-ups of sugar water, an offering intended to boost health and improve mood. Now I wonder if it just made them crankier. My logic was this: if the lack of late season forage makes bees cranky, home delivery of chow should delight. But bees cycle through each day with a program, and the field bees want to do it for themselves. They are like ornery older relatives or toddlers in this respect.
Pouring in the sugar water is kind of cool. The bees are initially teed off when I slide back the roof of the hive: the buzzing actually changes tone (will try to record this somehow). At least a handful of bees immediately proceed to flying at my head and, now especially, face, though I am always wearing a veil. (Many beekeepers on the bulletin boards talk about working without even a veil, but I just don't know how.) I begin by picking up this square one-gallon-plus Rubbermaid container, and carefully start to pour very slowly from one of the corners into the hive top feeder. The feeder has floating balsa wood frames in it, and I try to pour in such a way that any bees underneath have a chance to grab the wood, and the sugar water floats them up and over. If the frames are stuck – meaning that they are not floating, with the potential for trapping bees under there – I reach in with my hooked hive tools and pull it free. I put about half a container of syrup in each side.
In these times, the bees are so hungry that you can see girls run right up to the main flow of my pour, and they stick their little tongues in. Most of the bees who started to bubble up from the colony below are diverted directly to the nearest patch of syrup, and they settle in. Within 2 days, I can count on the feeders being dry.
It has been dry, dry-dry-dry, and we are not scheduled to have rain for another week. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina missed us last week, and we really needed moisture then. So you see how it is.
No rain means no nectar in the few plants that are flowering now. I found my girls going crazy over a plant in a front yard a few blocks from here, though even it looked kind of dried up. The picture from my phone was lousy, so we'll take another try today, both to post here and to try to ID it for possible roof planting next year.
They are bringing in pollen in spades: saw a native bee just rolling inside a rose of sharon bloom yesterday. I have to open up my colonies, have postponed twice now because of foul moods, but one thing I will have to check for is whether the brood areas are pollen bound.
Tomorrow, I am facing a prolonged encounter with Bees with Attitude. The brood needs to be checked, the hives need to be weighed, menthol needs to be placed, and maybe even the varroa treatment. I need to bring up extra equipment for covering hive bodies as I work to cut off robbing at the pass. And I still need to wear gloves.