By Joanna Bastian

My healthiest beehive swarmed in the best possible way: on the back of the hive box while I happened to be in the garden.

I expected this particular hive to swarm. The colony was growing rapidly and had grown a few peanut-shaped queen cells. For the last two weeks I regularly walked the line of nearby trees looking for clusters of bees, certain that they would choose to make their escape on a day when I was occupied at a desk far away from the bee yard.

Susie Kowalczyk, left, and Joanna Bastian gather a honeybee swarm. Photo by Joe Bastian

Susie Kowalczyk, left, and Joanna Bastian gather a honeybee swarm. Photo by Joe Bastian

But they graciously waited until after the farmers market last Saturday, when I  strolled to the garden and was welcomed with a louder-than-normal happy buzzing. 

Bees coated the back of two hive boxes, while a small cluster hung from the nearby fence line. I called Susie Kowalczyk — she had given me a swarm two years ago and it was high time I returned a few bees to her bee yard. In the time it took for Susie to arrive at my garden on Gold Creek, the three separate bee groups had merged into one giant cluster and seemed to be growing exponentially every few minutes.

We propped an empty hive box underneath the swarm and with two soft-bristled bee brushes, gently swept the bundle of bees down into the waiting hive body. The queen must have fallen into the box with the initial bee bunch because her little workers quickly formed a line along the entrance, and set to work spreading her pheromones so the rest of the swarm would find them.

As with people, you can tell what a worker bee is up to by the direction of their bums. If the bee is at the entrance of a hive with her bum facing outward and her little wings beating the air, she is spreading the Nasonov pheromone, also called the “come hither” pheromone, to orient the rest of the bees back into the colony. Worker bees will do this when a new group of young forager bees are out on their first flight, and they will also do this when a swarm has found a new home and the queen is safely inside.

It is a good sign that the bee swarm and the queen agrees that this new hive box is an acceptable home. The entrance of the new hive was lined with bee bums all facing outward, spreading pheromones to call their colony home.

If the worker bees are grouped along the entrance with their bums facing inward towards the hive, fanning their wings, this action is to cool down the hive on a hot day.

To recap, “How to Read a Bee”: bums in, “we are hot,” bums out, “come hither.”

In other birds-and-bees news, a little male wren decided to build a nest in each one of the mason jars along the top shelf inside the garden house. The mason jars were all half-filled with chunks of beeswax gradually melting as the temperatures rise throughout the month of June. I would clean them out, but I was taken with the thought of “found art.” The bottoms of the nests are slowly coating with beeswax as each day gets warmer. One of the jars was chosen by a lady wren to lay her six little red-spotted eggs. Momma wren best hatch her babies and teach them to fly before the entire nest sinks down into the beeswax.