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Protection Against Extremes Of Heat And Cold Sudden And Severe Changes Of Temperature And Dampness In The Hives

I specially invite a careful perusal of this chapter, as the subject,
though of the very first importance in the management of bees, is one to
which but little attention has been given by the majority of

In our climate of great and sudden extremes, many colonies are annually
injured or destroyed by undue exposure to heat or cold. In Summer, thin
hives are often exposed to the direct heat of the sun, so that the combs
melt, and the bees are drowned in their own sweets. Even if they escape
utter ruin, they cannot work to advantage in the almost suffocating heat
of their hives.

But in those places where the Winters are both long and severe, it is
much more difficult to protect the bees from the cold than from the
heat. Bees are not, as some suppose, in a _dormant_, or _torpid_
condition in Winter. It must be remembered that they were intended to
live in colonies, in Winter, as well as Summer. The wasp, hornet, and
other insects which do not live in families in the Winter, lay up no
stores for cold weather, and are so organized as to be able to endure in
a torpid state, a very low temperature; so low that it would be certain
death to a honey-bee, which when frozen, is as surely killed as a frozen

As soon as the temperature of the hives falls too low for their comfort,
the bees gather themselves into a more compact body, to preserve to the
utmost, their animal heat; and if the cold becomes so great that this
will not suffice, they keep up an incessant, tremulous motion,
accompanied by a loud humming noise; in other words, they take active
exercise in order to keep warm! If a thermometer is pushed up among
them, it will indicate a high temperature, even when the external
atmosphere is many degrees below zero. When the bees are unable to
maintain the necessary amount of animal heat, an occurrence which is
very common with small colonies in badly protected hives, then, as a
matter of course, they must perish.

Extreme cold, when of long continuance, very frequently destroys
colonies in thin hives, even when they are strong both in bees and
honey. The inside of such hives, is often filled with frost, and the
bees, after eating all the food in the combs in which they are
clustered, are unable to enter the frosty combs, and thus starve in the
midst of plenty. The unskilfull bee-keeper who finds an abundance of
honey in the hives, cannot conjecture the cause of their death.

If the cold merely destroyed feeble colonies, or strong ones only now
and then, it would not be so formidable an enemy; but every year, it
causes many of the most flourishing stocks to perish by starvation. The
extra quantity of food which they are compelled to eat, in order to keep
up their heat in their miserable hives, is often the turning point with
them, between life and death. They starve, when with proper protection,
they would have had food enough and to spare.

But some one may say, "What possible difference can the kind of hives in
which bees are kept make in the quantity of food which they will
consume?" Enough, I would reply, in some single winters, to pay the
difference between a good hive and a bad one!

I cannot move my finger, or wink my eye-lids without some waste of
muscle, however small; for it is a well-ascertained law in our animal
economy, that all _muscular exertion_ is attended with a corresponding
_waste_ of muscular fibre. Now this waste must be supplied by the
consumption of food, and it would be as unreasonable to expect constant
heat from a stove without fresh supplies of fuel, as incessant muscular
activity from an insect, without a supply of food proportioned to that
activity. If then we can contrive any way to keep our bees in almost
perfect quiet during the Winter, we may be certain that they will need
much less food than when they are constantly excited.

In the cold Winter of 1851-2, I kept two swarms in a perfectly dry and
dark cellar, where the temperature was remarkably uniform, seldom
varying two degrees from 50 deg. of Fahrenheit; and I found that the bees
ate very little honey. The hives were of glass, and the bees, when
examined from time to time, were found clustered in almost death-like
repose. If these bees had been exposed in thin hives in the open air,
they would, in all probability, have eaten four times as much; for
whenever the sun shone upon them, or the atmosphere was unusually warm,
they would have been roused to injurious activity, and the same would
have been the case, when the cold was severe. Exposed to sudden changes
and severe cold, they would have been in almost perpetual motion, and
must have been compelled to consume a largely increased quantity of
food. In this way, many colonies are annually starved to death, which if
they had been better protected, would have survived to gladden their
owner with an abundant harvest. This protection, as a general thing,
must be given to them in the open air, for it is a very rare thing, to
meet with a cellar which is dry enough to prevent the combs from
moulding, and the bees from becoming diseased.

Bees never, unless diseased, discharge their faeces in the hive; and the
want of suitable protection, by exciting undue activity, and compelling
them to eat more freely, causes their bodies to be greatly distended
with accumulated faeces. On the return of warm weather, bees in this
condition being often too feeble to fly, crawl from their hives, and
miserably perish.

I must notice another exceedingly injurious effect of insufficient
protection, in causing the _moisture_ to settle upon the cold top and
sides of the interior of the hive, from whence it drips upon the bees.
In this way, many of their number are chilled and destroyed, and often
the whole colony is infected with dysentery. Not unfrequently, large
portions of the comb are covered with mould, and the whole hive is
rendered very offensive.

This dampness which causes what may be called a _rot_ among the bees, is
one of the worst enemies with which the Apiarian in a cold climate, has
to contend, as it weakens or destroys many of his best colonies. No
extreme of cold ever experienced in latitudes where bees flourish, can
destroy a strong colony well supplied with honey, except indirectly, by
confining them to empty combs. They will survive our coldest winters, in
thin hives raised on blocks to give a freer admission of air, or even in
suspended hives, without any bottom-board at all. Indeed, in cold
weather, a _very free_ admission of air is necessary in such hives, to
prevent the otherwise ruinous effects of frozen moisture; and hence the
common remark that bees require as much or more air in Winter than in

When bees, in unsuitable hives, are exposed to all the variations of the
external atmosphere, they are frequently tempted to fly abroad if the
weather becomes unseasonably warm, and multitudes are lost on the
_snow_, at a season when no young are bred to replenish their number,
and when the loss is most injurious to the colony.

From these remarks, it will be obvious to the intelligent cultivator,
that protection against extremes of heat and cold, is a point of the
VERY FIRST IMPORTANCE; and yet this is the very point, which, in
proportion to its importance, has been most overlooked. We have
discarded, and very wisely, the straw hives of our ancestors; but such
hives, with all their faults, were comparatively warm in Winter, and
cool in Summer. We have undertaken to keep bees, where the cold of
Winter, and the heat of Summer are alike intense; and where sudden and
severe changes are often fatal to the brood: and yet we blindly persist
in expecting success under circumstances in which any marked success is
well nigh impossible.

That our country is eminently favorable to the production of honey,
cannot be doubted. Many of our forests abound With colonies which are
not only able to protect themselves against all their enemies, the
dreaded bee-moth not excepted, but which often amass prodigious
quantities of honey. Nor are such colonies found merely in _new_
countries. They exist frequently in the very neighborhood of cultivators
whose hives are weak and impoverished, and who impute to a decay of the
honey resources of the country, the inevitable consequences of their own
irrational system of management. It will not be without profit, to
consider briefly under what circumstances these wild colonies flourish,
and how they are protected against sudden and extreme changes of

Snugly housed in the hollow of a tree whose thickness and decayed
interior are such admirable materials for excluding atmospheric changes,
the bees in Winter are in a state of almost absolute repose. The
entrance to their abode is generally very small in proportion to the
space within; and let the weather out of doors vary as it may, the
inside temperature is very uniform. These natural hives are dry, because
the moisture finds no cold or icy top, or sides, on which to condense,
and from which it must drip upon the bees, destroying their lives, or
enfeebling their health, by filling the interior of their dwelling with
mould and dampness. As they are very quiet, they eat but little, and
hence their bodies are not distended and diseased by accumulated faeces.
Often they do not stir from their hollows, from November until March or
April; and yet they come forth in the Spring, strong in numbers, and
vigorous in health. If at any time in the winter season, the warmth is
so great as to penetrate their comfortable abodes, and to tempt them to
fly, when they venture out, they find a balmy atmosphere in which they
may disport with impunity. In the Summer, they are protected from the
heat, not merely by the thickness of the hollow tree, but by the leafy
shade of overarching branches, and the refreshing coolness of a forest

The Russian and Polish bee-keepers, living in a climate whose winters
are much more severe than our own, are among the largest and most
successful cultivators of bees, many of them numbering their colonies by
hundreds, and some even by thousands!

They have, with great practical sagacity, imitated as closely as
possible, the conditions under which bees are found to flourish so
admirably in a state of nature. We are informed by Mr. Dohiogost, a
Polish writer, that his countrymen make their hives of the best plank,
and never less than an inch and a half in thickness. The shape is that
of an old-fashioned churn, and the hive is covered on the outside,
halfway down, with twisted rope cordage, to give it greater protection
against extremes of heat and cold. The hives are placed in a dry
situation, directly upon the hard earth, which is first covered with an
inch or two of clean, dry sand. Chips are then heaped up all around
them, and covered with earth banked up in a sloping direction to carry
off the rain. The entrance is at some distance above the bottom, and is
a triangle, whose sides are only one inch long. In the winter season,
this entrance is contracted so that only one bee can pass at a time.
Such a hive, with us, as it does not furnish the honey in convenient,
beautiful and salable forms, would not meet the demands of our
cultivators. Still, there are some very important lessons to be learned
from it, by all who keep bees in regions of cold winters, and hot
summers. It shows the importance which some of the largest Apiarians in
the world, attach to protection; practical, common sense men, whose
heads have not been turned, as some would express it, by modern theories
and fanciful inventions. They cultivate their bees almost in a state of
nature, and their experience on what we would term a gigantic scale,
ought to convince even the most incredulous, of the folly of pretending
to keep bees, in the miserably thin and unprotected hives to which we
have been accustomed.

But how, it will be asked, can bees live in Winter, in a hive so closely
shut up as the Polish hive? They do live in such hives, and prosper,
just as they do in hollow trees, with only one small entrance. It is
well known that bees have flourished when their hives were buried in
Winter, and under circumstances in which but a very small amount of air
could possibly gain admission to them. Bees, when kept in a _dry_ place,
in properly protected hives and in a state of almost perfect repose,
need only a small supply of air; and the objection that those
cultivators among us, who shut up their colonies very closely in Winter,
are almost sure to lose them, is of no weight; because the majority of
our hives are so deficient in protection, that if they are too closely
shut up, "the breath of the bees," condensing and freezing upon the
inside, and afterwards thawing, causes the combs to mould, and the bees
to become diseased; just as many substances mould and perish when kept
in a close, damp cellar.

We are now prepared to discuss the question of protection in its
relations to the construction of hives. We have seen how it is furnished
to the bees in the Polish hives, and in the decayed hollows of trees. If
the Apiarian chooses, he can imitate this plan by constructing his hives
of very thick plank: but such hives would be clumsy, and with us,
expensive. Or he may much more effectually reach the same end, by making
his hives double, so as to enclose an air space all around, which in
Winter may be filled with charcoal, plaster of Paris, straw, or any good
non-conductor, to enable the bees to preserve with the least waste,
their animal heat. I prefer to pack the air-space with plaster of Paris,
as it is one of the very best non-conductors of heat, being used in the
manufacture of the celebrated Salamander fire-proof safes. Hives may be
constructed in this way, which without great expense, may be much better
protected than if they were made of six-inch plank. As the price of
glass is very low, I prefer to construct the inside of my doubled hives
of this material. When a number of hives are to be made, as the lowest
price glass will answer every purpose, I can furnish a given amount of
protection cheaper with glass than wood, while the glass possesses some
most decided advantages over any other material. The hives are lighter
and more compact, than when made of doubled wood, and can be more easily
moved, while the Apiarian can gratify his rational curiosity, and
inspect at all times, the condition of his stocks. The very interest
inspired by being able to see what they are doing, will go far to
protect them from that indifference and neglect, which is so often fatal
to their prosperity. The way in which I make my hives, not only protects
the bees against extremes of heat and cold, but it guards them very
effectually, against the injurious and often fatal effects of condensed
moisture. By means of my movable frames, the combs are prevented from
being attached to the sides, top or bottom of the hive; they are in
fact, suspended in the air. If now the dampness can be prevented from
condensing any where, _over_ the bees, so that it may not drip upon
their combs, and if it can be easily discharged from the hive wherever
it may collect, it cannot, under any circumstances, seriously annoy
them. Such are the arrangements in my hives, that but very little
moisture forms in them, and all that does, is deposited on the sides in
preference to any other part of the interior; just as it is upon the
colder walls or windows, rather than the ceiling of a room. But as the
combs are kept away from the sides, this moisture cannot annoy the bees;
nor can it penetrate the glass as it does unpainted wood or straw, thus
causing a more protracted dampness; it must run down their smooth
surfaces, and fall upon the bottom-board, from whence it can be easily
discharged from the hive. By packing in winter, the necessary amount of
protection is secured for the top and sides of the hive, and the very
worst property of glass, (its parting so rapidly with heat,) is changed
into one of the very best for the purposes of a bee-hive. I prefer not
only to make the sides of my hive of glass, but of _double_ glass, with
an air space of about an inch between the two panes of glass. The extra
cost[13] of this construction will be amply repaid by the additional
protection given to the bees. It will be absolutely impossible for any
frost ever to penetrate through this air space, and the packing between
the outside case and the main hive. The combs in such a hive cannot be
melted down, even if the hive is exposed to the reflected and
concentrated heat of a blazing sun: the same construction which secures
them against the cold of Winter, equally protecting them from the heat
of Summer. There is one disadvantage to which all well protected hives
of the ordinary construction, are exposed. In the Spring of the year, it
is exceedingly desirable that the warmth of the sun should penetrate the
hives, to encourage the bees in early breeding; but the very arrangement
which protects them from cold, often interferes with this. A bee-hive is
thus like a cellar, warm in Winter, and cool in Summer; but often
unpleasantly cool in the early Spring, when the atmosphere out of doors
is warm and delightful. In my hive, this difficulty is easily remedied.
In the Spring, as soon as the bees begin to fly, on warm, sun-shiny
days, the upper part of the outside case is removed, so that the genial
heat of the sun can penetrate to every part of the hive. The cover must
be replaced while the sun is still shining, so that the hives may be
shut up while they are warm. The labor of doing this, need occupy only a
few minutes daily, and as soon as warm weather fairly sets in, it may be
dispensed with. It may be performed without any risk, by a woman or a

If the hive is of glass, it will warm up all the better, and as the
combs are on frames, they cannot be melted or injured by the heat. It is
a serious objection to most covered Apiaries, that they do not permit
the hives to receive the genial heat of the sun at a period of the year
when instead of injuring the bees, it exerts a most powerful influence
in developing their brood.

This is one among many reasons why I have discarded them, and why I
prefer to construct my hives in such a manner that they need no extra
covering, but stand exposed to the full influence of the sun. I have
known strong colonies which have survived the Winter in thin hives, to
increase rapidly and swarm early, because of the stimulating effect of
the sun; while others, deprived of this influence, in dark bee houses
and well protected hives, have sometimes disappointed the hopes of their
owners. Although my glass hives are very beautiful, and most admirably
protected, still hives of doubled wood may often be built to better
advantage by those who construct their own hives, and they can be made
to furnish any desirable amount of protection.

Enclosed Apiaries are at best but nuisances: they soon become
lurking-places for spiders and moths; and after all the expense wasted
on their construction, afford, but little protection against extreme

I have been thus particular on the subject of protection, in order to
convince every bee keeper who exercises common sense, that thin hives
ought to be given up, if either pleasure or profit is sought from his
bees. Such hives an enlightened Apiarian could not be persuaded to
purchase, and he would consider them too expensive in their waste of
honey and bees, to be worth accepting, even as a gift. Many strong
colonies which are lodged in badly protected hives, often consume in
extra food, in a single hard winter, more than enough to pay the
difference between the first cost of a good hive over a bad one. In the
severe winter of 1851-2, many cultivators lost nearly all their stocks,
and a large part of those which survived, were too much weakened to be
able to swarm. And yet these same miserable hives, after accomplishing
the work of destruction on one generation of bees, are reserved to
perform the same office for another. And this some call economy!

I am well aware of the question which many of my readers have for some
time been ready to ask of me. Can you make one of your well protected
hives as cheaply as we construct our common hives? I would remind such
questioners, that it is hardly possible to build a well protected house
as cheaply as a barn.

And yet by building my hives in solid structures, three together, I am

able to make them for a very moderate price, and still to give them even
better protection than when they are constructed singly. If they are not
built of doubled materials they can be made for as little money as any
other patent hive, and yet afford much greater protection; as the combs
touch neither the top, bottom nor sides of the hive. I recommend however
a construction, which although somewhat more costly at first, is yet
much cheaper in the end.

Such is the passion of the American people for cheapness in the first
cost of an article, even at the evident expense of dearness in the end,
that many, I doubt not, will continue to lodge their bees in thin hives,
in spite of their conviction of the folly of so doing; just as many of
our shrewdest Yankees build thin wooden houses, in the cold climate of
New England, or plaster their stone or brick ones directly on the wall,
when the extra cost of fuel to warm them, far exceeds the interest on
the additional expense which would be necessary to give them the
requisite protection; to say nothing of the doctors' bills, and fatal
diseases which can be traced often to the dreary barns or damp vaults
which they build, and call houses!

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