Here we are on Thanksgiving, after a week of unseasonably cold weather for Eugene, and still the yellow jackets are pestering my bees. Perhaps I’m just watching more carefully this year, but I’ve never noticed such a persistent problem. During the summer I notice the wasps patrolling the ground in front of the hives. I figure they are looking for stragglers that get caught in the weeds and any dead bees that are hauled out of the hive by the house bees. They don’t really seem to be doing anybody any harm.
But as fall has closed in they have become more of a problem. I keep an eye on the mite drop boards regularly, and they tell the tale of yellowjacket depredation with discarded wings and legs littering the witness board. As soon as I started seeing the evidence, I drastically reduced the entrance down to single file bee size, so the guards had a better chance to deal with the intruders. This definitely helped some, but it was clear that the yellow jackets had learned where the good pickings were, and they were still taking their toll based on the evidence from the drop board. When the cold weather hit, I thought that would be the end of the yellow jackets and my bees could have some peace, but it proved to be the opposite. This morning, with the temperature about 40 degrees F and the sun out, the bees were not flying, but the yellow jackets were. It was cold enough that the bees were not even close to the hive entrance so the yellow jackets could enter without challenge.
Today I completely blocked the entrance. It is not supposed to be honeybee flying weather for the foreseeable future, so I’m just going to keep the yellow jackets out even if I have to lock the bees in. The wasps have learned that they get easy pickings from my bee hives. I’m hoping they will unlearn that or the snow that is predicted will finally do them in before I have to open up the entrances again.
Here is the question. Has it always been this way? Am I just much more aware of any little problem that could harm my bees, now that it is so difficult to get them to survive from year to year, or is this, too, a new problem? Despite my years of keeping bees, I’ve always felt that yellow jackets were just a problem if you had very weak hives already (maybe we all do now). Any beekeepers out there with thoughts about this?
I’ve noticed a few different species of wasps patrolling my hive entrances in a similar way this autumn, jumping on any weak looking bees and attacking them. Now that the weather has turned colder, they no longer seem to be such a problem. I have not noticed them actually getting inside the hive.
I’ve been collecting tips from other beekeepers on deterring wasps, for instance putting up traps next to the hives which attract wasps but not bees. A cheap trap can be made by getting a 1 or 2 litre soft drink bottle. Cut it in 2 about 5cm from the shoulder. Invert the top into the bottom (like a funnel) and tape to keep in place. Put syrup in the bottom and a tablespoon of vinegar. The wasps can’t resist and the bees are put off by the vinegar. (From Trisha Colchester on the British Beekeepers Association Facebook page). As alternatives to syrup, jam, squash, coke (not diet), lager or cider can be used.
Some beekeepers are hanging up fake wasp nests in their apiary, the idea being that wasps dislike being near other colonies and will avoid setting up their home near the fake nest.
Being the lazy fair beekeeper that I am, I just haven’t gotten around to making traps — but it looks like I need to. Your recipes sound good. I usually just like to watch and see how nature will sort things out. To some extent the colony that the yellow jackets are harassing the most is pretty strong and can take care of itself. But we develop these attachments to our bees, and its not nice to see them under stress, especially when we can point to the culprit.
I know what you mean, I haven’t used traps myself yet. But I probably would if I felt my bees were struggling.
I have used the fake wasp nest and had success getting the wasps to move their nest. They were a kind of wasp that made ground nests. They were in an old stump I needed to remove. In the stump were the typical paper combs. It took about two weeks for them to relocate. I found another nest in the ground later about 50 feet from the first nest, not sure if it was the bunch that relocated a few months earlier or a different group. I moved the fake wasp nest next to it and two weeks later again they were gone.
I wounder what effect it would have on bees? You wouldn’t want to have a hive relocate. I also wonder if it only makes the nest relocate? I have no idea what effect it would have on their preying on bees.
I’ve never heard of that. Curious. I doubt the honey bees would care, but it yellow jackets somehow “know” something about the fake nest, maybe it would diswade them from pestering the bees if one was nearby.
I was searching how yellow jackets can fly in the cold. I’m just outside of Estacada, found the ground nest that has the tormentors of my dogs and I, waited until this cold morning of 38 degrees expecting them to be crawling at the most. Quite the contrary, it looks like fireworks their is so many yellow jackets flying out of the nest. I was always of the “can’t fly below 50” mindset. What’s with this?
Yes, I see yellow jackets flying when my honeybees are not. Eventually the cold will get them. They do not build large colonies that are a well temperature regulated as honeybees. Maybe that is why they have evolved to work better when it is cold than honeybees – they don’t have a warm hive to keep the happy and lazy. The new queens are the only members of the yellowjacket clan to survive through the winter — They must have some antifreeze in them because they winter over as solitary individuals (in wood piles and the like) and the workers just succumb to the cold in the old parent colony.