I recently did a cutout and by the end I had a huge mess of robbing going on. Now, a few things happened along the way that exacerbated this. First and foremost was a lack of natural nectar flow, so the bees were already getting scrappy. This particular hive had plenty of honey (only been there for a few months right...?) but it's in all honeybees' programming to take all they can get at any time. Here are a few things you can do to prevent robbing:

Prevent Drips - Easier said than done right? Especially when working overhead as I was. Sometimes you don't have much choice except to just tear in and make some space. But this should be done as carefully as possible. Set you bucket under the work area to catch drips and bits of comb, and if you're really lucky, have a water hose nearby to hose things down occasionally so honey does not accumulate. On this particular job I had a lot of honey that fell on the windowsill, ladder rungs, etc. 

Keep a Lid on it - Honey left unattended is robbing bait more than you can imagine. The bucket will be consumed by bees in a matter of minutes if robbing ensues. Funny, I was warned about this by a mentor years ago before I ever did my first cutout. He said keep a lid on it, and keep it away from the work area. I did, and my first cutout was a success. But I guess I've gotten stupid since then, so this time I did not heed the good advice. I did at least have enough sense to get a pot from the homeowner with a lid for the honey to them, to keep the bees out of it. But my own buckets full got out of control quickly. 

Distraction - Now if you mess up on both of the first items, you may choose to make it look intentional. If robbing starts to get out of hand to where you can hardly work on the removal due to excessive chaos, you can try setting a bait bucket a good distance away. Then, using heavy smoke and repellent, try to get bees away from you. This is very touchy!! Do not use the heavy smoke and repellent if it could cause bees to run deeper into the structure. I try to avoid all use of repellent until I have the whole nest out and have a confirmed catch on the queen (although that's rarely the case). Anyway, the point is, you may be able to get them to abandon robbing the area you are working and instead go for the easy pickings on the bait bucket you set away. 

Patience - If robbing does ensue during a cutout, the best thing to do is just finish the removal work and clean up the site the best you can. Go home, relax and come back after dark. All the robbers that may have been from other colonies in the area will be gone back home. The residual bees will be just the ones that belong. Bring your vac and a red/green headlight and just go suck them up after dark. Of course this is only viable if you live nearby and don't have to go far to go back. But the point being, if you sit there and try to suck up robbers all day, you will literally sit there ALL DAY. 

And it's not just honey combs. They will rob any free honey/nectar out of brood comb sections too, so keep those protected during the job as well.

Robbing does not always ensue during a cutout. But it can be especially bad in fall cutouts when bees are gearing up for winter. It's just one more thing to keep in mind when doing this sort of work.  

AuthorTom Brueggen