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Transferring Bees From The Common Hive To The Movable Comb Hive




The construction of my hive is such, as to permit me to transfer bees
from the common hives, during all the season that the weather is warm
enough to permit them to fly; and yet to be able to guarantee that they
will receive no serious damage by the change.

On the 10th of November, 1852, in the latitude of Northern
Massachusetts, I transferred a colony which wintered in good health, and
which now, May, 1853, promises to make an excellent stock. The day was
warm, but after the operation was completed, the weather suddenly became
cold, and as the bees were not able to leave the hive in order to obtain
the water necessary for repairing their comb, they were supplied with
that indispensable article. They went to work _very_ busily, and in a
short time mended up their combs and attached them firmly to the frames.

The transfer may be made of any healthy colony, and if they are strong
in numbers, and the hive is well provisioned, and the weather is not too
cool when the operation is attempted, they will scarcely feel the
change. If the weather should be too chilly, it will be found almost
impossible to make a colony leave its old hive, and if the combs are cut
out, and the bees removed upon them, large numbers of them will take
wing, and becoming chilled, will be unable to join their companions, and
so will perish.

The process of transferring bees to my hives, is performed as follows.
Let the old hive be shut up and well drummed[25] and the bees, if
possible, be driven into an upper box. If they will not leave the hive
of their own accord, they will fill themselves, and when it is
ascertained that they are determined, if they can help it, not to be
tenants at will, the upper box must be removed, and the bees gently
sprinkled, so that they may all be sure to have nothing done to them on
an empty stomach. If possible, an end of the old box parallel with the
combs, must be pried off, so that they may be easily cut out. An old
hive or box should stand upon a sheet, in place of the removed stock,
and as fast as a comb is cut out, the bees should be shaken from it,
upon the sheet; a wing or anything soft, will often be of service in
brushing off the bees. Remember that they must not be hurt. If the
weather is so pleasant that many bees from other hives, are on the wing,
great care must be taken to prevent them from robbing. As fast therefore
as the bees are shaken from the combs, these should be put into an empty
hive or box, and covered with a cloth, or set in some place where they
will not be disturbed. As soon as all the combs have been removed, the
Apiarian should proceed to select and arrange them for his new hive. If
the transfer is made late in the season, care must be taken, of course,
to give the bees combs containing a generous allowance of honey for
their winter supplies; together with such combs as have brood, or are
best fitted for the rearing of workers. All coarse combs except such as
contain the honey which they need, should be rejected. Lay a frame upon
a piece of comb, and mark it so as to be able to cut it a trifle larger,
so that it will just _crowd_ into the frame, to remain in its place
until the bees have time to attach it. If the size of the combs is such,
that some of them cannot be cut so as to fit, then cut them to the best
advantage, and after putting them into the frames, wind some thread
around the upper and lower slats of the frame, so as to hold the combs
in their place, until the bees can fasten them. If however, any of the
combs which do not fit, have no honey in them, they may be fastened very
easily, by dipping their upper edges into melted rosin. When the
requisite number of combs are put into the frames, they should be placed
in the new hive, and slightly fastened on the rabbets with a mere touch
of paste, so as to hold them firmly in their places; this will be the
more necessary if the transfer is made so late in the season that the
bees cannot obtain the propolis necessary to fasten them, themselves.

As soon as the hive is thus prepared, let the temporary box into which
the bees have been driven, be removed, and their new home put in its
place. Shake out now the bees from the box, upon a sheet in front of
this hive, and the work is done; bees, brood, honey, bee-bread, empty
combs and all, have been nicely moved, and without any more serious loss
than is often incurred by any other moving family, which has to mourn
over some broken crockery, or other damage done in the necessary work of
establishing themselves in a new home! If this operation is performed at
a season of the year when there is much brood in the hive, and when the
weather is cool, care must be taken not to expose the brood, so that it
may become fatally chilled.

The best time for performing it, is late in the Fall, when there is but
little brood in the hive; or about ten days after the voluntary or
forced departure of a first swarm from the old stock. By this time, the
brood left by the old queen, will all be sealed over, and old enough to
bear exposure, especially as the weather, at swarming time, is usually
quite warm. A temperature, not lower than 70 deg., will do them no harm, for
if exposed to such a temperature, they will hatch, even if taken from
the bees.

I have spoken of the _best_ time for performing this operation. It may
be done at any season of the year, when the bees can fly without any
danger of being chilled, and I should not be afraid to attempt it, in
mid-winter, if the weather was as warm as it sometimes is. Let me here
earnestly caution all who keep bees, against meddling with them when the
weather is cool. Irreparable mischief is often done to them at such
times; they are tempted to fly, and thus perish from the cold, and
frequently they become so much excited, that they cannot retain their
faeces, but void them among the combs. If nothing worse ensues, they are
disturbed when they ought to be in almost death-like repose, and are
thus tempted to eat a much larger quantity of food than they would
otherwise have needed. Let the Apiarian remember that not a single
unnecessary motion should be required of a single bee: for all this, to
say nothing else, involves a foolish waste of food. (See p. 116.)

In all operations involving the transferring of bees, it is exceedingly
desirable that the new hives to which they are transferred should be
put, as near as possible, where the old ones stood. If other colonies
are in close proximity, the bees may be tempted to enter the wrong
hives, if their position is changed only a little; they are almost sure
to do this if the others resemble more closely than the new one, their
former habitation. If will be often advisable, to transport to the
distance of one or two miles, the stocks which are to be transferred; so
that the operation may be performed to the best advantage. In a few
weeks they may be brought back to the Apiary. In hiving swarms, and
transferring stocks, care must be taken to prevent the bees from getting
mixed with those of other colonies. If this precaution is neglected many
bees will be lost by joining other stocks, where they may be kindly
welcomed, or may at once be put to death. It is exceedingly difficult,
to tell before hand, what kind of a reception strange bees will meet
with, from a colony which they attempt to join. In the working season
they are much more likely to be well received, than at any other time,
especially if they come loaded with honey: still new swarms full of
honey, that attempt to enter other hives, are often killed at once. If a
colony which has an unimpregnated queen seeks to unite with another
which has a fertile one, then almost as a matter of course they are
destroyed! If by moving their hive, or in any other way, bees are made
to enter a hive containing an unimpregnated queen, they will often
destroy her, if they came from a family which was in possession of a
fertile one! If any thing of this kind is ever attempted, the queen
ought first to be confined in a queen cage. If while attempting a
transfer of the bees to a new hive, I am apprehensive of robbers
attacking the combs, or am pressed for want of time, I put only such
combs as contain brood into the frames, and set the others in a safe
place. The bees are now at once allowed to enter their new hive, and the
other combs are given to them at a more convenient time. The whole
process of transferal need not occupy more than an hour, and in some
cases it can be done in fifteen minutes. If the weather is hot, the
combs must not be exposed at all to the heat of the sun.

Until I had tested the feasibility of transferring bees from the old
hives, by means of my frames, I felt strongly opposed to any attempt to
dislodge them from their previous habitation. If they are transferred in
the usual way, it must be done when the combs are filled with brood; for
if delayed until late in the season, they will have no time to lay in a
store of provision against the Winter. Who can look without disgust,
upon the wanton destruction of thousands of their young, and the silly
waste of comb, which can be replaced only by the consumption of large
quantities of honey? In the great majority of such cases, the transfer,
unless made about the swarming season, and _previous_ to the issue of
the first swarm, will be an entire failure, and if made before, at best
only one colony is obtained, instead of the two, which are secured on my
plan. I never advise the transfer of a colony into _any_ hive, unless
their combs can be transferred with them, nor do I advise any except
practical Apiarians, to attempt to transfer them even to my hives. But
what if a colony is so old that its combs can only breed dwarfs? When I
find such a colony, I shall think it worth while to give specific
directions as to how it should be managed. The truth is, that of all the
many mistakes and impositions which have disgusted multitudes with the
very sound of "patent hive," none has been more fatal than the notion
that an old colony of bees could not be expected to prosper. Thousands
of the very best stocks have been wantonly sacrificed to this Chimera;
and so long as bee-keepers instead of studying the habits of the bee,
prefer to listen to the interested statements of ignorant, or
enthusiastic, or fraudulent persons, thousands more will suffer the same
fate. As to old stocks, the prejudice against them is just as foolish as
the silly notions of some who imagine that a woman is growing old, long
before she has reached her prime. Many a man of mature years who has
married a girl or a child, instead of a woman, has often had both time
enough, and cause enough to lament his folly.

It cannot be too strongly urged upon all who keep bees, either for love
or for money, to be exceedingly cautious in trying any new hive, or new
system of management. If you are ever so well satisfied that it will
answer all your expectations, enter upon it, at first, only on a small
scale; then, if it fulfills all its promises, or if _you_ can make it do
so, you may safely adopt it: at all events, you will not have to mourn
over large sums of money spent for nothing, and numerous powerful
colonies entirely destroyed. "Let well enough alone," should, to a great
extent, be the motto of every prudent bee-keeper. There is, however, a
golden mean between that obstinate and stupid conservatism which tries
nothing new, and, of course, learns nothing new, and that craving after
mere novelty, and that rash experimenting on an extravagant scale, which
is so characteristic of a large portion of our American people. It would
be difficult to find a better maxim than that which is ascribed to
David Crockett; "_Be sure you're right, then go ahead._"

What old bee-keeper has not had abundant proof that stocks eight or ten
years old, or even older, are often among the very best, in his whole
Apiary, always healthy and swarming with almost unfailing regularity! I
have seen such hives, which for more than fifteen years, have scarcely
failed, a single season, to throw a powerful swarm. I have one now ten
years old, in admirable condition, which a few years ago, swarmed three
times, and the first swarm sent off a colony the same season. All these
swarms were so early that they gathered ample supplies of honey, and
wintered without any assistance!

I have already spoken of old stocks flourishing for a long term of years
in hives of the roughest possible construction; and I shall now in
addition to my previous remarks assign a new reason for such unusual
prosperity. Without a single exception, I have found one or both of two
things to be true, of every such hive. Either it was a very large hive,
or else if not of unusual size, it contained a large quantity of
worker-comb. No hive which does not contain a good allowance of regular
comb of a size adapted to the rearing of workers, can ever in the nature
of things, prove a valuable stock hive. Many hives are so full of drone
combs that they breed a cloud of useless consumers, instead of the
thousands of industrious bees which ought to have occupied their places
in the combs. It frequently happens that when bees are put into a new
hive, the honey-harvest is at its height, and the bees finding it
difficult to build worker comb fast enough to hold their gatherings, are
tempted to construct long ranges of drone comb to receive their stores.
In this way, a hive often contains so small an allowance of
worker-comb, that it can never flourish, as the bees refuse to pull
down, and build over any of their old combs. All this can be easily
remedied by the use of the movable comb hive.





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Previous: Loss Of The Queen



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