A close eye on the third hive

It is early evening, but the laundry is not quite dry on the line, so I decide to go out to the bee yard, just for a visit.

I am feeling lazy. It has been a long farm day, so rather than stroll slowly down the back of the row of hives, and visit briefly with each, I decide to take out my folding chair and sit beside Hive Number Three, a particularly active bunch of sister bees who look as though they have a bee super highway leading right to their front porch.

I open my chair and set it in the grass just to the side of the hive. I sit down and see that my toes are right in line with the front of the hive. Perfect.

I settle into my chair listening to the call of countless creek birds up on the hill behind me. Their warbles, chirps and tweets combine into a beautiful evening song.

And it is a beautiful evening.

The low branches of a mulberry tree bend down over my head and fall as a canopy before me. The fruit is long gone, but against the backdrop of the sky, the oval-pointed leaves look translucent, and through the leaves I can see patches of bright blue sky on the far side of the creek. The sky seems to be such a bright blue that I imagine it has been washed clean by the billowing white clouds that sail slowly across it. But I am here to visit the bees.

I look down to the landing board just to my left. It is perhaps 12 inches from my feet. I lean forward for a better look at the returning sisters, all daughters of the laying queen deep inside the hive. I know that I am safe off to the side of the hive. The returning bees are all flying home along a straight flight path, not deviating from their aerial runway that only they can see. When I look out across the field, I can see them 20 feet out and perhaps 10 feet high, turning to their left or right, so they can follow the flight path home.

A line of guard bees greet the returning bees just inside the hive entrance. No bees are leaving the hive to forage this late in the day. The guards briefly touch every returning bee before she is allowed to pass through. Only their sisters may enter.

I watch as another line of bees starts to form just in front of the guards. These bees face backwards and start to fan their wings. They are sending the hive’s scent out into the evening air, signaling their sisters that it is time to return home, the day’s work done.

I try to count the returning bees, but it is an impossible task. It seems as though 10 bees are returning every second, and I wonder how they could all possibly fit inside the hive, but I know that at this time of year there are quite likely 60,000 of the diminutive creatures who all consider that this particular stack of boxes in my bee yard is their home.

I look down the row of hives that lines the upper edge of our upper field. Every hive has a similar highway of returning bees.

I lean forward and peer closer at Number Three. There is a commotion going on at the entrance. Several guards are riding on the back of a drone, one of their brothers, and forcing him to leave. He was likely trying to return home after a day of hanging out on a drone congregation area, waiting for a newly hatched queen to pass by on her maiden flight, but somehow Hive Number Three has decided that their brother drones are no longer needed.

Usually, I do not see such sibling drama until later in the summer, and the solstice was only one week ago, but the guards at Three are quite adamant, and finally the drone turns and takes off from the landing board. He is the only bee flying out along the highway as his countless sisters return.

Then I notice that there is a chill in the air. There are only a few bees returning to the hive, and the backwards fanning bees have returned inside. The upper field is completely in shadow now, and I figure that my laundry has gotten as dry as it is going to get.

So, I fold up my chair, bid my bees good day, and return to the cabin, on my way running my hand along the line of laundry. Yes! It is dry. Now it is time to fold the laundry, cook up some dinner, and follow the lead of my bees, the day’s work done.