Absconding is basically a bee mass exodus, of sorts, and learning how to keep a swarm from absconding is crucial for successful beekeeping. When conditions are not to the bees’ liking inside the hive, they abscond- that is, they leave the hive- and usually, the apiary. Don’t get absconding confused with swarming, which happens when a colony breaks into two separate colonies. When bees abscond, they leave the hive for some reason and may not return.
If you know why the bees are absconding, you can do something about it to encourage them to stay, including improving the smell, controlling the temperature and blocking the wind among others.
Make It Smell Better
Is your hive new? New hives have a distinctive smell that bees dislike.
They would rather have the smell of a hive formerly occupied by other bees than the new-hive smell. Whether it is the smell of the glue or the finish used in making the hive, they have adversity to it that may cause them to abscond.
What you can do to help prevent the bees from absconding is to air out the hive before it is used. Let it sit outdoors in the sun and air for a couple of days prior to bringing in bees.
If the hive still has a freshly manufactured smell, try using a bit of anise oil or lemongrass to diffuse the odor a bit. Put a couple of combs of honey in the new hive to make it seem more familiar to your bees.
Control the Temperature
Bees do not fare well in extreme temperatures. Temperatures under 50-degrees Fahrenheit can kill them, while hot temps inside the hive can cause bees to abscond.
The first sign that it is too warm inside the hive is swarming around the hive- is the hive properly ventilated?
During warm weather, install a sun shelter or shade to help prevent extreme conditions. In the cold weather, modify and shrink the entry points to the hive to keep it warmer inside. This may help prevent your bees from absconding.
Block the Wind
Similarly, gusts of strong wind can make the hive move, shake, and drop the temperature inside the hive. A windbreak of some sort is effective at helping protect the hive.
Consider a fence, a tarpaulin, or nylon sheets securely staked to provide a buffer from the wind. Also, planting trees or bushes can help, too- consider natural windbreaks when positioning your hive in the earliest stages.
Provide Proper Airflow
As mentioned, a poorly ventilated hive can send your bees packing- and looking for a new place to hang out. When the airflow is poor or lacking, it can create humidity and moisture inside the hive.
These conditions are reason enough for bees to abscond and seek out a dryer, more comfortable place to be.
Improve Water Drainage
Speaking of moisture, make sure that there is a way for the moisture caused by high humidity to drain out of the hive. If this water sits, it becomes stagnant and can compromise the bees, their comb, and the moisture content.
If you carefully install the hive at an incline when first setting it up, it can naturally act as a drainage system that prevents water from puddling, pooling, and stagnating.
Keep It Quiet
If you want your bees to stay happy, keep things nice and quiet. Bees prefer calm and will abscond if there is chaos or disturbance.
Construction, traffic, loud animals- all these noises are enough to see bees packing. A windbreak may also serve as a buffer for noise- another element to consider when initially deciding where to put the hives.
Create a Safe Path
What is the route to the garden or the bees’ foraging path? If something suddenly blocks their path, bees may abscond and move on.
Bees are busy and require unobstructed access from the hive to forage– and back again. Make sure that there are no new trees or obstructions in the bees’ way to prevent them from leaving the hive for good.
Offer Food and Water
Provide the bees with nearby food and water to keep them close and prevent absconding. When bees do not get enough food or resources for the entire colony, they will often move out of the hive and move on to another area for better foraging.
Talk to beekeeping suppliers about feed syrup to supplement your colony, which will help keep them strong and healthy. Make water easy for the bees to reach, with stones or floating pieces of foam for a safe spot for the bee to drink from.
One of the main reasons why bees abscond is due to disease and parasites, primarily wax moths, mites, and ants. With bees, you must be wary of dysentery and foulbrood disease.
There are eco-friendly ways to prevent and control diseases in your apiary, including menthol crystals, and medication that can treat the bees’ illness.
Keep Predators Away
If bees feel under threat from predators, they may abscond. Whether bears, rodents, or your family pet are worrying the bees, they may abscond to prevent the attack and protect their brood.
You can help to keep the apiary safe by using wire net fencing to curb wildlife access to your hives. Raccoons are clever thieves; put a brick or weight on the hive cover to prevent these pests from gaining access.
Avoid Using Chemicals
It merits repeating- avoid using chemicals on your property. Talk to your neighbors to determine if they use any insecticides, pesticides, or herbicides.
The use of these toxins can also cause bees to abscond- as well as kill a colony fast.
Make More Room
Do your bees have enough room in the hive? If they feel too crowded, they will abscond. They need room for their honey and brood, so if the hive is too congested, bees will leave.
You can easily make more room in the hive by installing another honey super.
Inspect Less Frequently
Inspecting a hive is hard on the bees. The disruption- despite how gentle and quiet you are- can stress them out and, if you inspect often, cause the bees to abscond.
Wait for new hives to settle, at least a week, before inspecting it if you want the bees to stick around. The first week is fairly critical and is when bees are most likely to abscond.
It is frustrating to have your bees simply leave the hive- and watch your investment fly away. Bees are clever little creatures- there is likely a good reason why they have decided to abandon the hive and abscond. Get to the bottom of why your bees’ behavior and do something about it to save your colony and preserve your apiary.