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Procuring Bees To Start An Apiary

A person ignorant of bees, must depend in a very great measure, on the
honesty of those from whom he purchases them. Many stocks are not worth
accepting as a gift: like a horse or cow, incurably diseased, they will
only prove a bill of vexatious expense. If an inexperienced person
wishes to commence bee-keeping, I advise him, by all means, to purchase
a new swarm of bees. It ought to be a large and early one. Second swarms
and all late and small first swarms, ought never to be purchased by one
who has no experience in Apiarian pursuits. They are very apt, in such
hands, to prove a failure. If all bee-keepers were of that exemplary
class of whom the Country Curate speaks, (see p. 33,) it would be
perfectly safe to order a swarm of any one keeping a stock of bees. This
however, is so far from being true, that some offer for sale, old stocks
which are worthless, or impose on the ignorant, small first swarms, and
second and even third swarms, as prime swarms worth the very highest
market price. If the novice purchases an old stock, he will have the
perplexities of swarming, &c., the first season, and before he has
obtained any experience. As it may, however, be sometimes advisable that
this should be done, unless he makes his purchase of a man known to be
honest, he should select his stock himself, at a period of the day when
the bees, in early Spring, are busily engaged in plying their labors. He
should purchase a colony which is very actively engaged in carrying in
bee-bread, and which, from the large number going in and out,
undoubtedly contains a vigorous population. The hive should be removed
at an hour when the bees are all at home. It may be gently inverted, and
a coarse towel placed over it, and then tacked fast, when the bees are
shut in. Have a steady horse, and before you start, be very sure that it
is _impossible_ for any bees to get out. Place the hive on some straw,
in a wagon that has easy springs, and the bees will have plenty of air,
and the combs, from the inverted position of the hive, will not be so
liable to be jarred loose. Never purchase a hive which contains much
comb just built; for it will be next to impossible to move it, in warm
weather, without loosening the new combs. If a new swarm is purchased,
it may be brought home as follows. Furnish the person on whose premises
it is to be hived, with a box holding at the very least, a cubic foot of
clear contents. Let the bottom-board of this temporary hive be clamped
on both ends, the clamps being about two inches wider than the thickness
of the board, so that when the hive is set on the bottom-board, it will
slip in between the upper projections of the clamps, and be kept an inch
from the ground, by the lower ones, so that air may pass under it. There
should be a hole in the bottom-board, about four inches in diameter, and
two of the same size in the opposite sides of the box, covered with wire
gauze, so that the bees may have an abundance of air, when they are shut
up. Three parallel strips, an inch and a half wide, should be nailed,
about one third of the way from the top of the temporary hive, at equal
distances apart, so that the bees may have every opportunity to cluster;
a few pieces of old comb, fastened strongly in the top with melted
rosin, will make the bees like it all the better. A handle made of a
strip of leather, should be nailed on the top. Let the bees be hived in
this box, and kept well shaded; at evening, or very early next morning,
the temporary hive which was propped up, when the bees were put into
it, may be shut close to its bottom-board, and a few screws put into the
upper projection of the clamps, so as to run through into the ends of
the box. In such a box, bees may be safely transported, almost any
reasonable distance: care being taken not to handle them roughly, and
never to keep them in the sun, or in any place where they have not
sufficient air. If the box is too small, or sufficient ventilators are
not put in, or if the bees are exposed to too much heat, they will be
sure to suffocate. If the swarm is unusually large, and the weather
excessively warm, they ought to be moved at night. Unless great care is
taken in moving bees, in very hot weather, they will be almost sure to
perish; therefore always be _certain_ that they have an abundance of
air. If they appear to be suffering for want of it, especially if they
begin to fall down from the cluster, and to lie in heaps on the
bottom-board, they should immediately be carried into a field or any
convenient place, and at once be allowed to fly: in such a case they
cannot be safely moved again, until towards night. This will never be
necessary if the box is large enough, and suitably ventilated.

I have frequently made a box for transporting new swarms, out of an old
tea-chest. When a new swarm is brought in this way to its intended home,
the bottom-board may be unscrewed, and the bees transferred at once, to
the new hive; (See p. 168.) In some cases, it may be advisable to send
away the new hive. In this case, if one of my hives is used, the spare
honey-board should be screwed down, and all the holes carefully stopped,
except two or three which ought to have some ventilators tacked over
them: the frames should be fastened with a little paste, so that they
will not start from their place, and after the bees are hived, the
blocks which close the entrance should be screwed down to their place,
keeping them however, a trifle less than an eighth of an inch from the
entrance, so as to give the bees all the air which they need. I very
much prefer sending a box for the bees: one person can easily carry two
such boxes, each with a swarm of bees; and if he chooses to fasten them
to two poles, or to a very large hoop, he may carry four, or even more.

If the Apiarian wishes, to be sure the first season, of getting some
honey from his bees, he will do well to procure two good swarms, and put
them both into one hive. (See p. 213.) To those who do not object to the
extra expense, I strongly recommend this course. Not unfrequently, they
will in a good season, obtain in spare honey from their doubled swarm,
an ample equivalent for its increased cost: at all events, such a
powerful swarm lays the foundations of a flourishing stock, which seldom
fails to answer all the reasonable expectations of its owner. If the
Apiary is commenced with swarms of the current season, and they have an
abundance of spare room in the upper boxes, there will be no swarming,
that season, and the beginner will have ample time to make himself
familiar with his bees, before being called to hive new swarms, or to
multiply colonies by artificial means.

Let no inexperienced person commence bee-keeping on a large scale; very
few who do so, find it to their advantage, and the most of them not only
meet with heavy losses, but abandon the pursuit in disgust. By the use
of my hives, the bee-keeper can easily multiply very rapidly, the number
of his colonies, as soon as he finds, not merely that money can be made
by keeping bees, but _that he can make it_. While I am certain that more
money can be made by a careful and experienced bee-keeper in a good
situation, from a given sum invested in an Apiary, than from the same
money invested in any other branch of rural economy, I am equally
certain that there is none in which a careless or inexperienced person
would be more sure to find his outlay result in an almost entire loss.
An Apiary neglected or mismanaged, is far worse than a farm overgrown
with weeds, or exhausted by ignorant tillage: for the land is still
there, and may, by prudent management, soon be made again to blossom
like the rose; but the bees, when once destroyed, can never be brought
back to life, unless the poetic fables of the Mantuan Bard, can be
accepted as the legitimate results of actual experience, and swarms of
bees, instead of clouds of filthy flies, can once more be obtained from
the carcases of decaying animals! I have seen an old medical work in
which Virgil's method of obtaining colonies of bees from the putrid body
of a cow slain for this special purpose, is not only credited, but
minutely described.

A large book would hardly suffice to set forth all the superstitions
connected with bees. I will refer to one which is very common and which
has often made a deep impression upon many minds. When any member of a
family dies, the bees are believed to be aware of what has happened, and
the hives are by some dressed in mourning, to pacify their sorrowing
occupants! Some persons imagine that if this is not done, the bees will
never afterwards prosper, while others assert, that the bees often take
their loss so much to heart, as to alight upon the coffin whenever it is
exposed! An intelligent clergyman on reading the sheets of this work,
stated to me that he had always refused to credit this latter fact,
until present at a funeral where the bees gathered in such large numbers
upon the coffin, as soon as it was brought out from the house, as to
excite considerable alarm. Some years after this occurrence, being
engaged in varnishing a table, and finding that the bees came and lit
upon it, he was convinced that the love of varnish, (see p. 85,) instead
of sorrow or respect for the dead, was the occasion of their gathering
round the coffin! How many superstitions in which often intelligent
persons most firmly confide, might if all the facts were known, be as
easily explained.

Before closing this Chapter, I must again strongly caution all
inexperienced bee-keepers, against attempting to transfer colonies from
an old hive. I am determined that if any find that they have made a
wanton sacrifice of their bees, they shall not impute their loss to my
directions. If they persist in making the attempt, let them, by all
means, either do it at break of day, before the bees of other hives will
be induced to commence robbing; or better still, let them do it not only
early in the morning, but let them carry the hive on which they intend
to operate, to a very considerable distance from the vicinity of the
other hives, and entirely out of sight of the Apiary. I prefer myself
this last plan, as I then run no risk of attracting other bees to steal
the honey, and acquire mischievous habits.

The bee-keeper is very often reminded by the actions of his bees of some
of the worst traits in poor human nature. When a man begins to sink
under misfortunes, how many are ready not simply to abandon him, but to
pounce upon him like greedy harpies, dragging, if they can, the very bed
from under his wife and helpless children, and appropriating all which
by any kind of maneuvering, they can possibly transfer to their already
overgrown coffers! With much the same spirit, more pardonable to be sure
in an insect, the bees from other hives, will gather round the one which
is being broken up, and while the disconsolate owners are lamenting over
their ruined prospects, will, with all imaginable rapacity and glee,
bear off every drop which they can possibly seize.

Next: Robbing

Previous: Transferring Bees From The Common Hive To The Movable Comb Hive

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