Bee keeping and honey production were important sources of income during the time of the Mishna. The Mishna on today’s daf discusses the rules and regulations associated with the purchase of bees and their hives.
According to the Mishna, when someone purchases the bees for a given year, he receives the first three swarms; when someone purchases honeycombs, he must leave two combs behind.
Generally speaking, during the summer, when the hive is filled with honey, swarms of bees begin to leave the hive. Each of these swarms – consisting of thousands of bees together with a queen bee – will enter a new hive and build a new community, if one has been prepared for them. Many different factors play a role in the number of swarms that leave the hive every year, ranging from the types of bees to the amount of honey that was produced. There may be other factors that we are not aware of, as well. Given the large numbers of bees that leave the hive, it is possible that there will not be enough bees remaining to sustain the hive, or, at any rate, there may not be enough left to maintain the hive at the same level of honey production. For this reason, someone who buys bees, but has not purchased the hive itself, can only take the first few swarms, after which the original owner can discourage the remaining bees from leaving the hive.
If the purchaser was buying honeycombs, it is essential to leave enough to sustain the bees remaining in the hive. Although during the winter few bees leave their hives as they are in a state of semi-hibernation, there is still a need for sustenance (in this case, honey) to allow the bees to survive through the winter. Two combs are the minimum that will allow the hive to survive.