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Overstocking A District With Bees

I come now to a point of the very first importance to all interested in
the cultivation of bees. If the opinions which the great majority of
American bee-keepers entertain, are correct, then the keeping of bees
must, in our country, be always an insignificant pursuit. I confess that
I find it difficult to repress a smile, when the owner of a few hives,
in a district where as many hundreds might be made to prosper, gravely
imputes his ill success, to the fact that too many bees are kept in his
vicinity! The truth is, that as bees are frequently managed, they are of
but little value, even though in "a land flowing with milk and honey."
If in the Spring, a colony of bees is prosperous and healthy, (see p.
207) it will gather abundant stores, even if hundreds equally strong,
are in its immediate vicinity, while if it is feeble, it will be of
little or no value, even if there is not another swarm within a dozen
miles of it.

Success in bee-keeping requires that a man should be in some things, a
very close imitator of Napoleon, who always aimed to have an
overwhelming force, at the right time and in the right place; so the
bee-keeper must be sure that his colonies are numerous, just at the time
when their numbers can be turned to the best account. If the bees cannot
get up their numbers until the honey-harvest is well nigh gone, numbers
will then be of as little service as many of the famous armies against
which "the soldier of Europe" contended; which, after the fortunes of
the campaign were decided, only served to swell the triumphant spoils of
the mighty conqueror. A bee-keeper with feeble stocks in the Spring,
which become strong only when there is nothing to get, is like a farmer
who contrives to hire no hands to reap his harvests, but suffers the
crops to rot upon the ground, and then at great expense, hires a number
of stalworth laborers to idle about his premises and eat him out of
house and home!

I do not believe that there is a _single square mile_ in this whole
country, which is overstocked with bees, unless it is one so unsuitable
for bee-keeping as to make it unprofitable to attempt it at all. Such an
assertion will doubtless, appear to many, very unguarded; and yet it is
made advisedly, and I am happy to be able to confirm it, by reference to
the experience of the largest cultivators in Europe. The following
letter from Mr. Wagner, will I trust, do more than I can possibly do in
any other way, to show our bee-keepers how mistaken they are in their
opinion as to the danger of overstocking their districts, and also what
large results might be obtained from a more extensive cultivation of

YORK, March 16, 1853.

In reply to your enquiry respecting the _overstocking_ of a district, I
would say that the present opinion of the correspondents of the
Bienenzeitung, appears to be that it _cannot readily be done_. Dzierzon
says, in practice at least, "_it never is done_;" and Dr. Radlkofer, of
Munich, the President of the second Apiarian Convention, declares that
his apprehensions on that score were dissipated by observations which he
had opportunity and occasion to make, when on his way home from the
Convention. I have numerous accounts of Apiaries in pretty close
proximity, containing from 200 to 300 colonies each. Ehrenfels had a
thousand hives, at three separate establishments indeed, but so close to
each other that he could visit them all in half an hour's ride; and he
says that in 1801, the average net yield of his Apiaries was $2 per
hive. In Russia and Hungary, Apiaries numbering from 2000 to 5000
colonies are said not to be unfrequent; and we know that as many as 4000
hives are oftentimes congregated, in Autumn, at one point on the heaths
of Germany. Hence I think we need not fear that any district of this
country, so distinguished for abundant natural vegetation and
diversified culture, will very speedily be overstocked, particularly
after the importance of having stocks populous early in the Spring,
comes to be duly appreciated. A week or ten days of favorable weather,
at that season, when pasturage abounds, will enable a _strong_ colony to
lay up an ample supply for the year, if its labor be properly directed.

Mr. Kaden, one of the ablest contributors to the Bienenzeitung, in the
number for December, 1852, noticing the communication from Dr.
Radlkofer, says: "I also concur in the opinion that a district of
country cannot be overstocked with bees; and that, however numerous the
colonies, all can procure sufficient sustenance if the surrounding
country contain honey-yielding plants and vegetables, in the usual
degree. Where utter barrenness prevails, the case is different, of
course, as well as rare."

The Fifteenth Annual Meeting of German Agriculturists was held in the
City of Hanover, on the 10th of September, 1852, and in compliance with
the suggestions of the Apiarian Convention, a distinct section devoted
to bee-culture was instituted. The programme propounded sixteen
questions for discussion, the fourth of which was as follows:--

"Can a district of country embracing meadows, arable land, orchards, and
woodlands or forests, be so overstocked with bees, that these may no
longer find adequate sustenance and yield a remunerating surplus of
their products?"

This question was debated with considerable animation. The Rev. Mr.
Kleine, (nine-tenths of the correspondents of the Bee-Journal are
clergyman,) President of the section, gave it as his opinion that "it
was hardly conceivable that such a country could be overstocked with
bees." Counsellor Herwig, and the Rev. Mr. Wilkens, on the contrary,
maintained that "it might be overstocked." In reply, Assessor Heyne
remarked that "whatever might be supposed possible as an extreme case,
it was certain that as regards the kingdom of Hanover, it could not be
even remotely apprehended that too many Apiaries would ever be
established; and that consequently the greatest possible multiplication
of colonies might safely be aimed at and encouraged." At the same time,
he advised a proper distribution of Apiaries.

I might easily furnish you with more matter of this sort, and designate
a considerable number of Apiaries in various parts of Germany,
containing from 25 to 500 colonies. But the question would still recur,
do not these Apiaries occupy comparatively isolated positions? and at
this distance from the scene, it would obviously be impossible to give a
perfectly satisfactory answer.

According to the statistical tables of the kingdom of Hannover, the
annual production of bees-wax in the province of Lunenburg, is 300,000
lbs., about one half of which is exported; and assuming one pound of wax
as the yield of each hive, we must suppose that 300,000 hives are
annually "_brimstoned_" in the province; and assuming further, in view
of casualties, local influences, unfavorable seasons, &c., that only
one-half of the whole number of colonies maintained, produce a swarm
each, every year, it would require a total of at least 600,000 colonies,
(141, to each square mile,) to secure the result given in the tables.

The number of square miles stocked even to this extent, in this country,
are, I suspect, "few and far between." The Shakers at Lebanon, have
about 600 colonies; but I doubt whether a dozen Apiaries equally large
can be found in the Union. It is very evident, that this country is far
from being overstocked; nor it is likely that it ever will be.

A German writer alleges that "the bees of Lunenburg, pay all the taxes
assessed on their proprietors, and leave a surplus besides." The
importance attached to bee-culture accounts in part for the remarkable
fact that the people of a district so barren that it has been called
"the Arabia of Germany," are almost without exception in easy and
comfortable circumstances. Could not still more favorable results be
obtained in this country under a rational system of management, availing
itself of the aid of science, art and skill?

But, I am digressing. My design was to furnish you with an account of
bee-culture as it exists _in an entire district of country_, in the
hands of _the common peasantry_. This I thought would be more
satisfactory, and convey a better idea of what may be done on a large
scale, than any number of instances which might be selected of splendid
success in isolated cases.

Very truly yours,

The question how far bees will fly in search of honey, has been very
differently answered by different Apiarians. I am satisfied that they
will fly over three miles in search of food, but I believe as a general
rule, that if their food is not within a circle of about two miles in
every direction from the Apiary, they will be able to store up but
little surplus honey. The nearer, the better. In all my arrangements,
(see p. 96.) I have made it a constant study to save _every step_ for
the bees that I possibly can, economizing to the very utmost, their
time, which will all be transmuted into honey; an inspection of the
Frontispiece of this treatise will exhibit the general aspect of the
alighting board of my hives, and will show the intelligent Apiarian,
with what ease bees will enter such a hive, even in very windy weather.
By such arrangements, they will be able to store up more honey, even if
they have to go a considerable distance in search of it, than they would
in many other hives, when the honey abounded in their more immediate
vicinity. Such considerations are entirely overlooked, by most
bee-keepers, and they seem to imagine that they are matters of no
importance. By the utter neglect of any kind of precautions to
facilitate the labors of their bees, you might suppose that they
imagined these delicate insects to be possessed of nerves of steel and
sinews of iron or adamant; or else that they took them for miniature
locomotives, always fired up and capable of an indefinite amount of
exertion. A bee _cannot_ put forth more than a certain amount of
physical exertion, and if a large portion of this is spent in absolutely
fighting against difficulties, from which it might easily be guarded, it
must be very obvious to any one who thinks on the subject at all, that a
great loss must be sustained by its owner.

If some of these thoughtless owners returning home with a heavy burden,
were compelled to fall down stairs half a dozen times before they could
get into the house, they might perhaps think it best to guard their
industrious workers against such discouraging accidents. If bees are
tossed violently about by the winds, as they attempt to enter their
hives, they are often fatally injured, and the whole colony so
_discouraged_, to say nothing more, that they do not gather near so much
as they otherwise would.

The arrangement of my Protector is such that the bees, if blown down,
fall upon a sloping bank of soft grass, and are able to enter the hives
without much inconvenience.

Just as soon as our cultivators can be convinced, by practical results,
that bee-keeping, for the capital invested, may be made a most
profitable branch of rural economy, they will see the importance of
putting their bees into suitable hives, and of doing all that they can,
to give them a fair chance; until then, the mass of them will follow the
beaten track, and attribute their ill success, not to their own
ignorance, carelessness or stupidity, but to their want of "luck," or to
the overstocking of the country with bees. I hope, before many years, to
see the price of good honey so reduced that the poor man can place it on
his table and feast upon it, as one of the cheapest luxuries within his

On page 20, a statement was given of Dzierzon's experience as to the
profits of bee-keeping. The section of country in which he resides, is
regarded by him as unfavorable to Apiarian pursuits. I shall now give
what I consider a safe estimate for almost any section in our country;
while in unusually favorable locations it will fall far below the
results which may be attained. It is based upon the supposition that the
bees are kept in properly constructed hives so as to be strong early in
the season, and that the increase of stocks is limited to one new one
from two old ones. Under proper management, one year with another,
about ten dollars worth of honey may be obtained for every two stocks
wintered over. The worth of the new colonies, I set off as an equivalent
for labor of superintendence, and interest on the money invested in
bees, hives, fixtures, &c.

A careful, prudent man who will enter into bee-keeping moderately at
first, and extend his operations only as his skill and experience
increase, will, by the use of my hives, find that the preceding estimate
is not too large. Even on the ordinary mode of bee-keeping, there are
many who will consider it rather below than above the mark. If
thoroughly careless persons are determined to "try their luck," as they
call it, with bees, I advise them by all means, in mercy to the bees, to
adopt the non-swarming plan. Improved methods of management with such
persons will be of little or no use, unless you could improve their
habits first, and very often their brains too! Every dollar that such
persons spend upon bees, unless with the slightest possible departure
from the old-fashioned plans, is a dollar worse than thrown away. In
those parts of Europe where bee-keeping is carried on upon the largest
scale, the mass adhere to the old system; this they understand, and by
this they secure a certainty, whereas in our country, thousands have
been induced to enter upon the wildest schemes, or at least to use hives
which could not furnish them the very information needed for their
successful management. A simple box furnished with my frames, will
enable the masses, without departing materially from the common system,
to increase largely the yield from their bees.

In addition to the information given in the Introduction, respecting the
success of Dzierzon's system of management, I have recently ascertained
that one of its ablest opponents in Germany, has become thoroughly
convinced of its superior value. The Government of Norway has
appropriated $300, per annum, for the ensuing three years, towards
diffusing a knowledge of Dzierzon's method, in that country; having
previously despatched Mr. Hanser, Collector of Customs, to Silesia to
visit Mr. Dzierzon, and acquire a practical knowledge of his system of
management. He is now employed in distributing model hives, in the
provinces, and imparting information on improved bee-culture.

NOTE.--The time has hardly come when the attention of any of our
State authorities can be attracted to the importance of bee-culture.
It is only of late that they have seemed to manifest any peculiar
interest in promoting the advancement of agricultural pursuits. A
Department of Agriculture ought to have been established, years ago,
by the National Government at Washington. Let us hope that the
Administration now in power, will establish a lasting claim to the
gratitude of posterity, by taking wise and efficient steps to
advance the agricultural interests of the country. A National
Society to promote these interests has recently been established,
and much may be hoped from its wisdom and energy. Until some
disinterested tribunal can be established, before which all
inventions and discoveries can be fairly tested, honest men will
suffer, and ignorance and imposture will continue to flourish. Lying
advertisements and the plausible misrepresentations of brazen-faced
impostors, will still drain the purses of the credulous, while
thousands, disgusted with the horde of impositions which are palmed
off upon the community, will settle down into a dogged determination
to try nothing new. A society before which every thing, claiming to
be an improvement in rural economy, could be fairly tested, would
undoubtedly be shunned by ignorant and unprincipled men, who now find
it an easy task to procure any number of certificates, but who dread
nothing so much as honest and intelligent investigation. The reports
of such a society after the most thorough trials and examinations,
would inspire confidence, save the community from severe losses, and
encourage the ablest minds to devote their best energies to the
improvement of agricultural implements.

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