The hum of the hive

After the fireworks last Wednesday evening, at nearly midnight, one of our friends pointed to the top-bar hive and asked if we keep a fan in there.

“No,” I said, confused. “No fan.”

“So what’s making all that noise?” he asked.

I realized then that he was asking about the hum coming from that very busy hive. In the past I have compared the sound to a refrigerator and to the purr of a cat. But here was a non-beekeeper comparing it to an electric fan. Fair enough.

“What are they doing?” he queried. “I thought bees would be quiet at night, sleeping or something.”

My husband explained how the bees must cool the hive and how they must remove most of the water from the nectar to make honey. He explained that they accomplish these tasks by setting up air currents with their wings, and how the collective sound of thousands of wings make the noise that sounds like an electric fan.

It also occurred to me that the fireworks—which I had been torching only 40 feet from the hive—probably agitated the bees as well, adding to the commotion within the hive.

This discussion of hive sounds reminded me that beekeeping engages all the senses, not just some. We see them, hear them, and smell them. We enjoy the taste of their honey and recoil from the burn of their stings. Very few activities engage us as completely—and as viscerally—as beekeeping.

The discussion also reminded me how beekeeping ties our thoughts into other aspects of the environment: The bees are noisy because it is hot, because they have lots of nectar to cure (which means lot of plants are blooming), and because humans are doing obnoxious things. Bees cause us to think about assaults on the environment, things like pesticides, climate change, urbanization—and even fireworks.

So here’s a thought: Instead of banning beekeeping from certain municipalities and neighborhoods, perhaps we should require beekeeping in public schools. If we added a year of beekeeping into the traditional curriculum of reading, writing, and ’rithmetic, we might produce youngsters (and eventually adults) with a better appreciation of the natural world and of the complex relationships that make the damage we do in one place show up so painfully in another.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

Comments

James C Bach
Reply

Hi Rusty. No doubt you are also aware of a bee fanning noise that is called a “queenless roar.” It is measured at 85 decibels. But when a colony has a queen beekeepers don’t pay any attention to the colony noise. But colonies that are queenright and that produces adequate pheromones usually make a noise at 50 dB no matter the ambient temperature.

Colonies headed by poor queens make a noise between 60 and 80 dB. These colonies also don’t cluster properly at 55-60F. They cluster loosely and sometimes in a chimney shape (rather than the egg shape) in the fall when when temperatures are in the 50s F and low 60s F. Also related to the noise level in colonies with poor queens, there may be 0 to 10 bees in the queen retinue while attractive queens have 12 to 15 in their retinue. Such colonies also don’t cluster evenly over the combs. Colony survival in the fall and winter is directly related to queen attractiveness, as are so-called CCD colonies that abscond in whole or in part. Of course there may be other issues present like viruses.

Gary fawcett
Reply

Hi Rusty,

Great idea about the hives in schools; today’s kids are tomorrows beekeepers.

We need to get kids involved, if the bees have any chance at all. I think that’s a great idea and good luck with it.

Thanks, Gary

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