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?