Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Mysteries of the Hive

On Monday afternoon, we noticed that a bunch of our bees were hanging off the bottom of the hive in a strange way. It didn't seem like the usual bearding behavior, which we've observed before - that usually happens on very hot and humid days, and the bees will hang on the outside of the hive to cool down. Monday was humid, having just rained, but it wasn't especially hot, and the way the bees were positioned - hanging low, in a sort of cone-like shape - made us wonder if they were about to swarm. We hadn't yet had a chance to open the hive this spring because the weather had been so unpredictable, but it seemed like we were in a now-or-never kind of situation. And so we grabbed our new bee jackets, complete with fancy veils, lit up the smoker, and got to work. 

What we discovered is that our bees have been BUSY. Despite the ones hanging from the front of the hive, there were tons inside both the hive bodies, too. And not only that, but we saw brood, honey, and capped cells, which are all good signs of a strong and healthy hive. 

We added a super to the hive, to give the bees more room to do their work, thinking maybe they were simply feeling crowded. When I checked the hive yesterday, the cone of bees still hadn't gone back inside the hive, but I guess that also means they haven't abandoned us completely. I have Google image searched every variation of "bees hanging from bottom of hive" that I can think of, and haven't been able to get a concrete answer to what's going on - we've had this hive for two years now, and I've never seen them behave quite like this. (If any readers can help me figure this out, don't be shy!) Then again, that's sort of the magic of beekeeping. It's always a little mystical. One of my favorite quotes about bees comes from my copy of Storey's guide - I like it so much, I used it as the epitaph of my book. It goes like this: 
Honey bees are wild creatures. They have never been domesticated. They have been kept, studied, researched, and bred for many years, and, in a sense, the species has been improved. But they have not been tamed. Left to their own devices, they live exactly as they have lived for thousands of years. Our true, long-term success as beekeepers comes only after we come to understand their intimate lives, behavior, and motivations. 
Obviously I have a long way to go before I can consider myself a successful beekeeper. For now, trying to understand them is it's own frustrating, yet fascinating, reward. 


  1. I'm so allergic to bees these guys always give me the heebie jeebies. :)

  2. Good luck! I hope they're just enjoying the weather!

  3. It's a lot colder up here in Canada so my bees aren't quite as far along - yours look great! We had a bunch of bees do something similar last month - except they chose a nearby shed. I had a moment of panic, thinking they were swarming (except it was so early in the season) but they went back into the hive on their own. A more experienced bee keeper told me that if they don't go back in at night then you should move them to the entrance but your's are already at the front of the hive so I don't know what's going on with that! You could maybe try scooping them into your new super? Every time I think I'm starting to figure out bee keeping they go and do something crazy so I know how you feel.

  4. Ours were crowded and filled with tons of bees, brood, and stores, but my husband was unexpectedly hospitalized last week. The day we brought him home, one of the hives swarmed. Ok, trap that swarm, get the bees in a nuc. *whew* The very next day, the second hive swarmed! The third day we did full hive checks and found 41 queen cells in 2 hives! I had the pleasure of attending a full day intensive with Gunther Hauk from Spikenard Honeybee Sanctuary a few months ago. He said that many ask, why do bees swarm (or in other cases, display quirky behavior)? The answer, because The Great Bee said so. Happy BEE-ing!

  5. My thought was a swarm as well. If I were you I would try to put the bees hanging on the hive into another hive body and see what they do. Good luck. By the way, I found you on the Homestead Hop.