On my personal Instagram the other day, I shared a photo of my bees bearding around the hive. Are they swarming or are they bearding? How can you tell?

SWARMING: The queen bee leaves the hive with 50-60% worker bees and clump somewhere while scouts look for a new home.

BEARDING: The bees are hot or have poor ventilation, so they hang out on or around the hive in order to cool it down a bit.

I asked the Instagram community for help. My bees had hung out around the hive before, but never this many. Most of the comments and DMs were well-meaning, positive comments. “They are just bearding,” they assured me. “It must be too hot outside.” It was hot. Okay, I thought, as I watched them go back inside at night. They will be fine.
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I made a bee bath for them (as you can see to the right of the Instagram photo) since I knew they didn’t have as many puddles to drink from since we fixed the driveway. A few of them were into it, but otherwise it didn’t seem to solve the bearding problem.

Then, I noticed they were “bearding” on a somewhat cool day. Oh jeez… this meant trouble. Still, my grandfather assured me that they wouldn’t swarm.
I was heading back from a friend’s house when I got a text from my mom: “The bees are swarming!”

Ughhhhhhhhh… I knew it, but I didn’t know it. I had assumed I was just paranoid, right? I was so sad. I looked up what happens when they swarm and learned that the entire hive doesn’t leave – just the older, stronger ones – and most of them. That made me feel better, but it was also going to take a number of weeks for a new queen to emerge and for the hive to grow strong again.

Thankfully, it was full. I had just added a medium super to collect honey. No honey this year, unfortunately. The bees will have enough to live off of and hopefully become strong as their elders have left the hive in search of a better home.

I called my grandfather as soon as I got home. The bees were swarming in a nearby tree. He said he would come over and he was going to help me catch the swarm, but I needed an entire hive set-up to catch them.

Together, we ran back and forth from his house to mine gathering equipment to catch the swarm. I was about ready to give up until he gave me energy. We built frames together, knowing time wasn’t on our side.
Unfortunately, we were too late and now I have whatever is left of my hive, which is still good, but not my little babies! I guess they are still my babies… I don’t know.

Anyway, I am pretty bummed, but not too bummed. I know it’s not the end. Now I hope I can get these new guys through the winter, too.

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Photo Credit: Casey Lofthouse, St. George News (not mine)