Congregating bees on the front of the hive is called bearding and new beekeepers often panic at the sight. Bees can mound themselves up in layers or form a single layer on a large area of the front of the hive in a reaction to conditions within the hive. Methods that new beekeepers often try include smoking the bees back into the hive, squirting them with water, and scraping them off and dumping them into the hive.
All of these methods are useless and if your bees want to beard, let them! Bearding is their way of regulating the temperature and humidity in the hive during hot muggy weather. The brood nest cannot be allowed to overheat above the 94°F, resulting in foragers becoming water gatherers which is evaporated inside the hive to cool it down. Fanning bees are also working hard to lower the temperature, but when the ambient temperature overruns these mechanisms, all unneeded bees leave the hive and hang out on the porch forming a ‘beard.’
Rainstorms and hot summer sun can make life difficult for these exposed bees and if a quick storm runs through, you will see these bees mostly disappear and then reappear when the coast is clear.
What to do about bearding bees
Make sure that your bees have a readily available water source and adequate room for ventilation. Add another super on top for better airflow. Additional holes in the supers and hive bodies also allow for better ventilation. But even if you have taken care of all these obstacles to good ventilation, the bees still are going to beard when the temperatures rise in the nineties with high humidity. Hive manipulation is not a good idea when bearding occurs, as the bees on the outside aren’t in the most docile temperament.
Frequently happening in the late day or early evening, and when there is a nectar dearth, the bees can remain outdoors all night until the temperatures finally subside. And bees can beard for weeks on end. But ultimately they are doing what they do best, taking care of the health of the hive.