That Which We Call a Hive

150517 HivesDoes naming something give us power over it? Fantasy books will often incorporate this idea as a key aspect of their world, from A Wizard of Earthsea to Eragon. I admit to being a long-time fan of the genre. In such books, knowing the true name of an object allows control over it.

I’m not sure if this is true with beehives, but names provide a measure of familiarity and comfort. We finished naming our hives this past week, so I thought a blog post was in order.

My helpers assured me that we needed a name for the hive as well as the queen, and who am I to argue? Since we have two Langstroth hives with Russian bees and one Top Bar Hive, I’ve been using the terms R1, R2, and T1 in my notes. I may well continue to do so (don’t tell anyone!) but it is good to have proper names. To me, the hive name refers to the current location as much as the colony itself.

After much discussion, it was decided that the hives should be named after planets and the queens could be called whatever we wanted. So without further adieu, allow me to present… our hives.

Mars

150517 R1 HiveThe hive on the left is named for the planet Mars, though I am not sure why. My lovely wife decided the queen needed a Russian name, so Mars’ queen is Natalia. We have seen Natalia a couple times and she seems to be quite prolific, as this hive often has a very active entrance. Despite a name based on the god of war, the bees are quite gentle so far and at last check were building out comb in the second (medium) box. I removed their feeder (the unpainted box in the picture) this past weekend as they had consumed the syrup, and I feel like there is plenty of nectar for them to continue their wax-building escapades.

Jupiter

150517 R2 HiveThe middle hive is Jupiter, named by my Helper S. The name comes not so much from the planet as from the recent blockbuster Jupiter Ascending. If you haven’t seen this movie, let me assure you that it is a movie so bad and with so many plot holes that it is definitely worth watching. Some movies just cross that threshold of being so poor that you need to experience the wonder. Even bees get to play a prominent role in the film, albeit a somewhat confusing one.

Jupiter’s queen is Eponine, from the character of the same name in the book and musical Les Misérables. We have yet to find this young lady, and based on my last inspection she might have been superseded; that is, the bees might be replacing her. Since we have never seen her, the first queen we find in this hive will bear the name. So far the bees here have been fairly gentle, although they get annoyed when a curious beekeeper spends too much time looking at the frames.

Venus

150517 T1 HiveThe top bar hive is full of Italian bees, so my Helper G decided on the planet Venus. Not sure exactly how they relate, but so be it. The queen here is Beezus, named for the character Beatrice Ann (Beezus) Quimby from the Henry Huggins and Ramona Quimby series of children’s books by Beverly Cleary. They were a favorite of G when she was young, and how could we not use a name like Beezus?

Venus’ bees are doing quite well. I looked in on them this past weekend and found 11 frames of comb, with around 5 brood combs, 4 honey combs, and two under construction. I used a newly-acquired bread knife to detach the combs from the sides as needed and it worked quite well. The bees’ creation of comb in what used to be open space still seems a bit magical, and inserting empty frames between two straight combs has worked quite well at producing even more straight combs.

150517 T1 FrameOne advantage I find of the top bar hive is that we can look at select frames without taking the hive apart and moving boxes around. The picture here shows the edge of the brood area, which I did not break apart since my goal was to straighten combs rather than inspect the hive. You can make out capped drone and worker cells on this comb, so they seem good.

Given the hive started from a package on April 19, the brood should start emerging this week. In fact, I am writing this post two days after my inspection from a hotel in California, and S told me this evening that there are so many bees she wants to expand the entrance (I told her she certainly could). So I suspect the population is indeed increasing. We have been feeding them syrup but I think their current jar is empty now – let them forage for actual nectar. So far they have been quite gentle, and for my brief foray into the hive on Sunday I didn’t even use smoke.

Flower Update

150517 SalviaSpeaking of foraging, since the bees left our holly bushes a few weeks ago I am not sure where they’ve been. I am more aware of the various flowers in our yard then ever before as I am always looking for bees. The picture shows the 14 Salvia plants we placed behind our pool last year, which the ladies seem to be enjoying. Bees have floral fidelity, in that they prefer to stay with a single plant type for an entire foraging trip, and they work to fully extract the nectar and pollen from one species before they move on to another. So I imagine they prefer this mass of flowers over individual plants around the yard for this reason.

We’re hoping the Salvia will keep blooming throughout the summer as they are quite striking. We replanted this area last year with summer and fall blooming bushes and plants. I notice the drift roses and spirea are getting reading to bloom, so we’ll see if the bees enjoy these plants as well in the coming weeks.


It took a while to find a title that could be adapted for bees and referenced the naming of something. I finally found a post by Rusty Barlow on her Honey Bee Suite site that sparked the title. Rusty is somewhat skeptical of the practice of naming hives, though admits to using a numbering system to refer to her hives (which one might call names). If you haven’t seen the site, Honey Bee Suite is definitely worth following as Rusty shares a wealth of knowledge on honey bees, wild bees, and beekeeping in general. In fact, she has an interesting post on floral fidelity as well.

The title is based on Shakespeare’s famous quote from Romeo and Juliet “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Juliet argues that she loves Romeo for his qualities and his family name does not matter. I obscured this title a little by using the first part of the phrase:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Do you name your hives? Would love to hear why or why not, and if so how you arrived at your names. Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.

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9 thoughts on “That Which We Call a Hive

  1. I like your names, I have been thinking of going for space themed names for my allotment recently.

    Emma and I don’t name our shared hives but we do name the queens. As Emma is a trained aromatherapist the queens have been named after essential oils, e.g. Jasmine, Rose, Rosemary, Pepper, Myrtle. We try to match the temperament and appearance of the queen to the essential oil.

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  2. Our hives are Annabelle(on sabbatical), Beatrix, Clarissa, and Dorcas. We are working our way through the alphabet with slightly old-fashioned female names.

    By a kind of metonymy we apply the hive name to any inhabiting colony. We do not name our queens. It would make sense to do so if we were raising queens or requeening often but currently it would just add complication. Also it seems a bit like giving a pet name to one’s naughty bits.

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    • I like the approach. By the time you reach Z you should have quite the apiary. Not naming the queens makes sense as well, just wasn’t an option for us 🙂

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      • Reaching Z, if we do, will give us a natural place to stop. Unless we are daft enough to start over again with another A.

        Now another question is whether anyone names their nucs? We only have empty nuc boxes in which colonies arrived but some beeks maintain occupied nucs and even overwinter them as backup for hives that fail.

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  3. A Wizard of Earthsea – that brings back childhood memories! I’m not sure naming our queens gives us power over them, they still seem to have very much their own minds. But it is fun. As Emily says above, our queens are named for essential oils and as an aromatherapist this seems fitting to me because of the close relationship with bees and flowers, both being mutualistic. With around 300 essential oils to choose from, we’ve not run out of names yet!

    I know another beekeeper who uses space-themed names for his queens, in particular inspired by female astronauts, space pioneers and aviators. If you’re interested in exploring more space-themed ideas for naming hives and queens, try out this YouTube playlist from my work on astronomy-themed lectures and videos:

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    • Thanks for sharing the videos, Emma, quite the playlist. I think the space theme came about because of the character Jupiter from the movie Jupiter Ascending, so not sure if the Official Namers will stick with that theme in the future or not. We’ll have to see.

      I loved the Earthsea stories as a child, with the idea that objects and even people have a “true name.” I like the idea of using Essential Oils, definitely seems appropriate for our flower-dependent friends.

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