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Bearding bees are common in late summer

Huge colonies are an impressive sight! These photos were taken by Debbie Fyda in Ohio. She says she already removed three supers of honey, and those that remain are full of not-yet-capped nectar.

Debbie was surprised the colony took off, especially after bad weather in spring was followed by June rains. But once July heat arrived, the bees erupted into action.

In these photos the bees are bearding around the entrance. Debbie saw them beneath the hive as well, clinging to the screened bottom board.

Bearding in late summer

Once the bees begin to finish their work in late summer, you are more apt to see bearding, especially in large colonies. This occurs because the cells are already full of nectar, but summer dearth means flowers are scarce, so no new cells are needed. Simply put, the bees are left with nothing to do.

Too many bees in the hive block air flow, which slows down the drying of nectar, so the bees hang around outside. New beekeepers often misread this behavior as preparation for swarming, but it has nothing to do with swarming. In fact, many of these bees will die at the ends of their natural adult lives of four-to-six weeks, and most will not be replaced in order to bring the colony down to a manageable winter population.

Then too, bearding often increases after the beekeeper removes honey supers, thus forcing the bees into a smaller space. Since there isn’t enough room indoors, the bees stay outside, just doing their thing.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Bearding bees are common in fall, especially in large colonies. © Debbie Fyda.
After a late start, this colony just kept growing and growing, producing honey like crazy. © Debbie Fyda.
Although you can't see them, even more bees are hanging on underneath the hive. © Debbie Fyda.
Although you can’t see them, even more bees are hanging on underneath the hive. © Debbie Fyda.

Comments

Dawn
Reply

Great information about bearding to assist with drying out the honey, thank you Rusty. However, I shuddered when my OCD brain read your reference to bearding being an “impressive site”! 🙂 I would say that honeybeesuite.com is an impressive site, but a large beard of bees on a hive is an impressive sight! Just teasing a bit. Thank you for the useful information and photos. I send a lot of people to your “site” to learn about they way bees behave.

Rusty
Reply

Dawn,

Thank you so much! I usually monitor my “site” for an hour or so after I publish, because sometimes corrections come in (like yours). Only this time I didn’t because I had to be somewhere. When I noticed your email it was 4:52 and my computer wasn’t even booted. I had exactly 8 minutes before 10,000 emails would go out with a misspelling in the first sentence. My OCD brain had a panic attack. I don’t know how I managed to fix it on time, but I did. So thanks 10,000 times over.

Peter Hodson
Reply

I love your site.

Rusty
Reply

Thanks!

Granny Roberta in nw CT
Reply

I don’t have such an impressive stack of supers, but two of my five hives have had MUCH more impressive bearding for the last two days, and a third one looked about like Debbie’s photos. I’m doing a Formic Pro treatment and the temperature has been hotter than I was promised (insert whiny-babying here).

Somewhat unrelated except, whoa!, I seem to have a LOT of bees in my hives: this is my sixth year of beekeeping and I have already gotten more honey than any previous year (and the yet-to-come fall honey has previously always exceeded the spring honey) and for the first time I have a glimmer of understanding of the quote about getting out of beekeeping because of the honey!

Rusty
Reply

Roberta,

I think about that saying sometimes, and I agree with it. Honey seems to be my biggest storage problem. A good problem to have, though.

Jenn
Reply

This short article is so informative! My 1st year hive has already doubled in size and I was able to harvest a gallon of honey with filled frames still left for the bees to utilize, The have been bearding for a week since it has been so hot and humid here in Central PA. Luckily between my mentor and your blog I see this is a normal thing, so I just enjoy watching them.

Jeff Rutkowski
Reply

NIce post! We had a 3 day dearth here this year. The basswood stopped and then 3 days later the goldenrod started. Cold wet spring in the Adirondacks giving us a bumper crop of blueberries. Bees are healthy and working with low mite counts but watching that pretty close. Hope to put the hives (8) in a building but giving them free access to outside. Windchills got to nearly negative 50F last winter and I don’t want to do that again. Just not fair to the girls. Hope to take some honey in the next week or two.

Mitchell campbell
Reply

Should I pull honey out of my top boots box right now.

Rusty
Reply

Mitchell,

It depends on where you live and what you mean by “boots” box.

Doug B
Reply

Dear Rusty,

I have a single deep with 8 frames filled with brood and honey. A lot of bees gather at the front like that. I took it as they were running out of room and added a med super as a brood box to help over winter. Is this ok in your opinion. Great article by the way. I live in Louisiana and it is late August. Thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Doug,

I guess it depends on whether they were actually running out of room. Also relevant is whether the box you added has drawn frames. Without drawn frames, the bees won’t use it until spring. From now until shortly after the winter solstice, your colony will continue to get smaller, which means it will require less room, not more.

Just check that extra box in a few weeks. If nothing is happening with it, I would remove it. If they are actually doing something up there, then leave it on.

Christy P
Reply

I have a question but not sure how to word it. I’m new to beekeeping, live in Calif. Due to a lot of responsibilities I’m afraid I’ve been neglectful of my bees, which were a gift. In checking them this weekend I’ve discovered there are several frames missing from the lower levels, so the bees have built their own pseudo frames. When I pull out an upper frame, the whole lower level comes out and I’m not sure how to deal with it. I can replace a missing frame, but so far I’ve just left it because I don’t want to do more damage. Because it’s been warm this past week (finally, for a change — it’s been a cold summer here, around 65 on a good day), I’ve been watching a bit of bearding just in the last 2 days and that’s how I found your site… which I absolutely love and fully appreciate. Any advice for me? I have 5 hives, each with a large brood box and a large super. I’ll keep perusing your site, which is wonderfully informative.

Rusty
Reply

Christy,

What I would do is cut the long combs at the proper length and then take the cut-off piece and tie it into a new frame. Be careful not to damage the queen, but don’t worry about sacrificing some larvae. It’s important to have moveable frames, and this problem will only get worse. Use string wrapped around the comb and the frame to hold it in place. It’s a bit tricky but can be done. Remember to tie the piece near the top of the frame. After a week or so, the bees will attach it to the frame and they will also remove the string. Very convenient. Some people prefer rubber bands, and that works just as well.

Dimitri
Reply

I’m in Asia and here we have Asian honey bees, Apis cerana indica. My bees are bearding usually at night all around the year when their colony is large. By the way, none of my bee colonies are big like yours. Apis cerana doesn’t make huge nests as Apis mellifera does,

Rusty
Reply

Dimitri,

So interesting. I didn’t know Apis cerana would beard, but it makes sense. Good to know.

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