Observation of Hives

When you open up a bee hive for the first time you rather expect that the occupants aren’t going to be best pleased about it and will immediately launch an attack on you. Instead almost every time I’ve done it I’ve been amazed at how peacefully the bees carry on doing their business as you hold up a frame of bees and start to inspect it.

There is a reason for this. Bees have different jobs within the hives and the ones on the frames in the centre of the hive aren’t usually terribly interested in stinging you. Poke about at the front of the hive and the guard bees will attack you very quickly. Provided that you lift the top off the hive gently and pull out your frame of bees equally peacefully the message that the hive is under attack takes a lot longer to reach them. It is usually possible to take a bit of time to look at what is going on and try to understand some of it.

That is a lot easier said than done. Usually the best I can manage is to see whether the bees are healthy, work out whether they have enough food and figure out whether they have a queen laying nice numbers of eggs that are developing into healthy larvae and new bees.

I rarely get to see any of the other things bees are up to. In their everyday lives the worker bees can be doing a whole series of different jobs such as feeding the young, cleaning, water gathering, cooling the hive, heating the hive, unloading food, dancing to explain where they got their food or simply hanging around taking a break.

These things were even harder to observe in the days before the idea of hives with frames of bees that could be pulled out one by one was discovered. Until Lorenzo Langstroth invented this idea in 1851 the only way to find out what was going on within a bee hive was to break it open and destroy much of it. So in the place of knowledge people did what they usually do – they made up daft ideas in order to cover up their ignorance of what was actually happening.

If you look on the side of a can of Golden Syrup you will see a picture of a lion with a lot of bees coming out of it along with the slogan “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”. Somewhere along the line some bright spark decided that bee swarms were created out of dead lions and the legend got passed down for long enough to become part of an advertising slogan. That isn’t, of course, where swarms come from – unless there are a lot more lions around my village of Cononley than I had previously realised.

It was also thought for many thousands of years that the bees were a fine example of a well ordered monarchy where authority needed to be handed down by a man. When, in 1609, the Reverend Charles Butler finally proved that there was a queen but no king he found it very hard to get the crazy idea of a woman ruling accepted. It has taken a lot longer to get the message across that it is not even true that she is an authoritarian monarch. If the workers don’t think much of the job she’s doing they get rid of her and it is the workers who bully the queen into leading a swarm not the other way round.

But even today, when it is possible to pull out a frame of bees and take a bit of time to look at it what we are seeing isn’t entirely natural. Bees do their work in the dark depths of the hive and it remains really difficult to get a tiny camera in there and still see the full extent of what is happening.

The best chance most of us will ever have to get a decent close up view of live bees doing their stuff is to visit an observation hive when the bees are housed during the warm season behind clear glass

walls. One of the places in Yorkshire where you can see this is in Keighley at the very fine Cliffe Castle Museum. Right at the back of the museum away from the Celtic stone head, the gold saxon coins, and the William Morris stained glass windows they have one of these observation hives. From spring through until autumn it is possible to watch the bees at close range as they go about their business.

There can be few better ways to entertain a child on a wet afternoon. Or indeed an old man!

Andy Brown
Feb 2017

ABKA questionnaire – the results
Thanks again for completing the questionnaire.  To read the results, just click here.


The YBKA Annual Spring Conference 2017 is on Saturday, March 25th from 8.30am to 4.30pm.  Venue:  the Manor Academy, Millfield Lane, Nether Poppleton, York YO26 6PA.

Ticket price: £25 includes all refreshments and lunch.
Click here for further details.  The application form can be found here.  You can pay directly  by BACS, but there is also a payment slip (no, I don’t understand it) which Linda has sent out to all members, so check your emails.


Need a new season’s outfit?

BB Wear are offering good discounts (20% – 50% on various items) to members if orders are processed via Association Chairs or Secretaries.  For details click here

If you want to put in an order, please email  Linda with details of items wanted, by end of March to simplify the verification process.

Moving the Shed!

This will be taking place on 10th – 12th March.  If you can spare time to help with this vital piece of work, please email Mike with your availability.  If you want to know what the shed looks like, and how we did it last time, there are a few pics here.

ABKA minutes and agendas

Agendas and minutes of the ABKA committee meetings are now available on the website here.  If you spot something you want to comment on, do contact the secretary so we can take your views into account at the following meeting.