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Many many many mistakes were made today. Feel free to point them out.

So after months of enthusiasm and preparation I finally got two lured swarms (2 nucs) from my father’s friend. This was last night. Both the nucs got robbed today. I saw some fighting at the entrances this afternoon, but it looked like the nucs’ defences were holding up, so I made the obtuse decision of doing nothing but standing there; staring at them in panic and confusion.

Let me give some more background: I live in Cape Town, South Africa. My house is in a leafy suburb and the hives are in the back yard. The bees we have here are Apis mallifera capensis. Two weeks ago, I set up my hive (minus super) in a tree, as more than 90% of bees in South Africa are wild, and therefore it’s common practice to lure one’s own swarm. I made my own swarm lure (old wax comb melted down and mixed with some lemongrass essential oil) and painted this on the inside of the hive. Being an impatient idiot, I decided to place an entrance feeder (500ml) outside the hive in order to entice the bees in my hood to come investigate. The first bees arrived just 2 minutes after me placing the 1:1 sugar syrup outside and much to my delight, started to explore the exterior and interior of my hive.

After a little while the whole feeder looked like a black mass. For a week after that I refilled the feeder daily and later added another identical feeder and placed them in the entrance of the hive. I then contacted this friend of my father (who is a hobbyist beekeeper) to ask for advice on trapping swarms etc. He immediately advised me to stop putting out sugar syrup as it might lead to fighting between swarm and wild bees when said swarm eventually moved in. He then offered me two nucs. I gladly accepted but only stopped feeding the bees a couple of days after, as seeing and hearing those masses of bees filled me with so much delight.

In preparation for the coming nucs, I set up my mini-apiary, which is mere metres from the tree I had my hive in. I could not resist and I fed them in the new spot on one occasion.

A week later of not feeding and just seeing one or two curious bees coming and going around my apiary, the nucs arrive. We place them in their spot and removed the orange bag (bags you usually buy oranges in; nylon and weaved very loosely, orange coloured) that blocked the entrance. That was last night.

So today after seeing this mini-robbing taking place, I set up the two feeders once more, on a table about 100 metres away from the nucs in an attempt to divert the wild/not-my-bees’ attention away from my nucs. Sure enough they found the feeders and polished them within an hour. But the fighting did not stop. I went there now and found around 80 dead and close-to-dying bees under the nucs (50 under the one, 30 under the other) and also multiple lethargic bees just idly standing on the little fence around my nucs. I contacted this guy who gave me the nucs to ask for advice, but he hasn’t replied yet.

How do I remedy the situation? I blocked the entrances with the same orange bag fabric a little while ago, but I fear this might not allow my girls enough ventilation, especially during the heat of the day (tomorrow is 26 degrees).

Could someone please help this newbee fool?


Much love



Bad boy, but you know that. :blush: You will never lure a swarm with food. You only lure robbers. Swarms are looking for a home first, and then food once they have found a home. If you have open food near a new colony, you are inviting robbers to come and assassinate your colony. I guess you know that now. :disappointed_relieved:

There is no “mallifera”, only “mellifera”… :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

If you NEVER, EVER do that again, I won’t have to come over there to beat you. If you do, no holds are barred… Please do NOT ever use an external feeder. Ever. Ever. Clear enough?? :wink:

BAD idea, will never work if you care about your own bees. Just paints a HUGE target on anything in the proximity, including nuclei, established hives, etc. It is basically a call to war.

Reduce the entrances to 2cm or so, no larger. REMOVE all external and entrance feeders. Is there a crown board/inner cover under the roof? If so, does it have a hole in it? If it does, I would lift the lid a little and tape or staple some insect screen over the hole in the inner cover. That way, you can let heat out, but robbers can’t get in. By the way, it was 32C here today, with 60% humidity, and my bees are managing fine with a 10cm entrance on a double brood hive. Not even bearding. They are very efficient at ventilating. The robbing is more of a worry.

OK, so now stop beating yourself up, reflect and learn, and never use external or entrance feeders. Ever. OK? :heart_eyes:


Listen to Dawn.

If your nucs are still going and the robbers are still around you can throw an old bed sheet over them and wet it. The water keeps it in place and the sheet hides the entrance from the robbers. As robbers want to dart into a hive they need an unobstructed entrance, your bees will take their time and work out the new arrangement. NEVER fully block an entrance, that will kill your hive whereas robbing may kill your hive. For what its worth, my hives only have a 10x1cm entrance in summer. I reduce this to 5cm in winter and they handle the heat very well. Look up Warre quilts for the top of your hive to help with the heat and cold, works like roof insulation in your house.



@Dawn_SD Thanks mama Dawn for my roasting (and spelling lesson). I think I have learnt an invaluable lesson. Shall I chuck my entrance feeders in die recycling bin? Seeing as we don’t get package bees in South Africa, and given the fact that Cape Town winters are mild compared to you boreal folks, I don’t see any use for them.

@Rmcpb I have followed your advice and draped a sheet each over my nuclei. Bee hive vogue, Rob-style.

I really do appreciate you guys taking the time to write your expansive replies. You are the best!

One more question: When do I remove the sheets?

Warm regards


Photo: Not the neatest drape, but it seems to be doing the job.


Take the sheets off when the robbers are not there. Usually only takes a day or two as they don’t want to waste the energy for no food. Try them without the sheets tomorrow but be ready to put them back on if needed and don’t tuck them in, they need to be loose so your bees have some room to get in and out. Even prop them out a bit on the entrance end.



Do you know what I would do? Get your friend to take them back for three weeks then return them and start again. In my opinion those robbers ain’t gonna give up after all that free food they had.


I wouldn’t, because I am parsimonious. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: I would buy an extra box for nucleus, and a second inner cover/crown board. The extra equipment is always useful anyway! :blush: If your existing inner cover has a hole in the middle (they usually do), you can just stand the entrance feeder on top of the inner cover, put the empty box around it, then put the second inner cover (hole closed) on top and finally the roof. You will have to check frequently to make sure they aren’t building comb in the second box.

If they love building crazy comb in the second box, then you just find a lid to fit your entrance feeder jar. Use the lid instead of the entrance mount. Poke 10 or 20 holes 1mm diameter or less in the lid, then invert the jar over the lower inner cover. Put the box, second inner cover and roof on as described above.



Saturday at about 17h00 I removed the sheets. The sunset is at 18h26, but the hives were in the shade at that time. Everything looked relaxed and there were bees coming in with pollen. No fighting and no new corpses that I could see on the ground.

This morning at 07h00 (sunrise was at 07h00) bees were already active; a pollen-laden lady coming in here and there. I stood and watched them for about 30 minutes, and the activity sharply increased, with what seemed to be many extra bees entering the hive. I watched closely for fighting, and the moment I witnessed two bees fighting, I put on my suit and installed the sheets a la Rob. I’ve been seeing more fighting and bees crawling around on the ground. There is still a steady stream if pollen coming in. Activity has diminished somewhat, but I shall keep a watchful eye throughout the day.

I am attaching pics of the nucs and sheets. I am wondering whether the overhang on the one is sufficient.

Any advice will be greatly appreciated.



This is looking like the best option at the moment. Thanks @Dee.


These catch boxes don’t belong to me and will go back to my friend/contact/mentor once the frames have been transferred into my brood boxes. I have been too cautious to open the nuclei as I fear it will cause an even bigger robbing frenzy than is currently transpiring. Evening temperatures are below 16°C; would this not be too cold to do an inspection? Also, I do not have extra nuc-sized covers/boxes, nor do I know of anyone selling them. If all goes well (by some miracle), I shall most certainly employ your method in the normal sized hives. The inner covers they sell at the local bee supply shop do not have holes. This could obviously swiftly be remedied with some DIY prowess.

Thanks, @Dawn_SD. You are a star.


In the uk we have solid crown boards on our hives. They cover the whole top then the roof goes on. Most of mine have a central feeding hole which is normally blanked off with a piece of plastic. I’m not a great fan of contact feeders so I use a rapid feeder placed over the hole and surrounded by a normal super.


I would never inspect in the evening, unless there was an emergency. Many field bees have returned to the hive at that time of day, and you are fighting the whole hive if they get aggressive (they often do when the foragers are at home!) so it isn’t a good plan.

I think your nuclei can manage without feeding for a while, if you aren’t keeping those boxes. It would be better to leave them to forage than to stoke the robbing activity.


Did you get to send the nucs back for a few weeks? Bet you will never open feed again :sunglasses:


Employed Vicks Vaporub and the sheet yesterday, and today was cold and rainy, so not much activity. My mentor is coming tomorrow morning to have a look. Hoping for the best. :disappointed:

Another thing that might be at play here: Apis mellifera capensis is much more prone to drifting than other honeybee subspecies. The hives should be more than 2 metres apart and they should face different directions. Also they should preferably be painted different colours and all that jazz. And guess what? Mine are fewer than two metres apart, both face the same direction and look exactly the same. :neutral_face:

Maximum level of stupidity: exceeded :drooling_face:


Not stupidity, a learning experience. Its stupidity if you don’t learn from your mistakes.


As Rob (@Rmcpb) said, and paraphrasing Einstein, the definition of stupidity is repeating the same faulty experiment multiple times, expecting different results.

You don’t meet that definition.

You are just inexperienced, and that is where we can help, if you have an open mind and you are willing to learn. I am very impressed that you are so open, honest and willing to share your mistakes, so that others can learn from that. Kudos to you for discussing all of this. By the way, very few of us (me included) have experience of capiensis, so most of us are learning something interesting from your generosity in sharing.



My mentor was meant to come this morning to have a look, but didn’t pitch. It was rainy and very windy, and awaiting his expert guidance, I thought my girls would be OK, and if not, that he would intervene.

I went to check in my girls and it looks bleak: the one nucs seems nigh empty, and the active one has around 20 bees of varying sizes just hanging around on the grass under the hive, on the cement block next to the hive and on the perimeter shadecloth-fence.

I am so annoyed and upset, I feel like crying. I know I have only myself to blame, but the urge is strong to snap at someone. I will, however, show restraint.

I am tempted to look inside the hive to properly assess the situation, but I am unsure of what to do with what I find. It is also an hour away from sunset, 17°C and dropping, and still very windy (although the hives are both sheltered by the shade cloth and placed in a sheltered spot in the garden). If I find a mostly empty nuc with live brood, do I try and merge the two nucs? If I find bees, but no stores, do I feed them sugar syrup tonight? If I find no bees, dead brood, but some pollen stores, what do I do with the frames?



Oh dearie me, Deon. It really sounds to me like you urgently need to hit the books! :blush:

You should never inspect bees in rainy windy weather. That is probably why your mentor didn’t show up. Best case, the bees get very angry and attack you because they don’t fly much in bad weather. Worst case, you chill the brood, then get chalkbrood and lose your hive. Please don’t inspect a hive less than 2 hours before sunset - again you can chill it or stress the heck out of it. I would just leave them alone until you have a nice sunny, calm day with temperatures over 20C. They are more likely to die from cold than lack of food at this point.

Seriously, please get your head into some books and read up on basic best management practices. It is the only way you can become more reliable and safe for your bees.


I was not going to open the hives as I knew it was going to do more harm than good. I was just ranting and raving out of frustration and listing possible options of what to do had the weather been better. I apologise for not making that clear.

On one of my previous posts you lambasted :wink: me for wanting to open the hive at night. Apart from getting disparate advice from the American/British beekeeping books/forums/magazines/websites I’ve read and the local beekeepers I’ve spoken to here, I am well aware that it’s not at all ideal. However after enquiring about setting up hives at the nursery (plants, not kids) I currently work at, the consultant, who inherited and manages a 1000 hives from her father suggested I do my inspections at night to give the bees time to settle, in order for them to be more placid the next morning and less likely to exhibit defensive behaviour and sting people going about their own business. Apis mellifera capensis has been rated a six out on ten on the defensiveness scale, compared to a 2 for the European bee.

Moreover, I do feel that I’m in a precarious situation which calls for action and I would like to exhaust all hypothetical avenues possible before making a move, hence posting all these wild ideas and questions. My motivation behind hinting at opening the hive at night was merely a thought.

I utilise this forum and this specific topic to be exact, as a soundboard where I can bounce ideas off folks who are much more seasoned than I. Apart from the feeding disaster, I rarely go into action before doing thorough research.

I know whatever resource one devours would never be sufficient, as there is always more to know and more to learn. I am however not just engaging in this activity willy-nilly. My mentor was just meant to come in an merely gauge the level of activity/inactivity at the entrances to the nuclei and give some valuable face to face advice. He has not been very forthcoming in his text messages, which has left me feeling a little left out.

Maybe I am just a little needy and insecure, and maybe my knowledge regarding this matter is indeed utterly inadequate, but I’d rather ask obtuse questions than go to action on a whim.

Thank you for taking the time to post a reply. I do appreciate it.


Can I just add…though it doesn’t pertain here…
Brood is actually more robust than we give it credit. Capped brood is ok for quite a long time out of the hive and open brood will survive a brief inspection down to 10 degrees.
My rule of thumb is 15 degrees or over is best but as long as the bees are flying if there is a real reason for that quick look AND something you can do about the problem you envisage then you should look.
If it’s raining then a fisherman’s umbrella and an assistant are invaluable.
I requeened a colony two days ago in the rain. I looked through the box, took the queen out and put in her replacement. Had to be done.