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Honey Pasturage Overstocking

In the chapter on Feeding, it has already been stated that honey is not

a natural secretion of the bee, but a substance obtained from the

nectaries of the blossoms; it is not therefore, made, but merely

gathered by the bees. The truth is well expressed in the lines so

familiar to most of us from our childhood,

"How doth the little busy bee

Improve each shining hour,

And _gather_
honey all the day

From every opening flower."

Bees not only gather honey from the blossoms, but often obtain it in

large quantities from what have been called honey dews; "a term applied

to those sweet, clammy drops that glitter on the foliage of many trees

in hot weather." Two different opinions have been zealously advocated as

to the origin of honey-dews. By some, they are considered a natural

exudation from the leaves of trees, a perspiration as it were,

occasioned often by ill health, though sometimes a provision to enable

the plants to resist the fervent heats to which they are exposed. Others

insist that this sweet substance is discharged from the bodies of those

aphides or small lice which infest the leaves of so many plants.

Unquestionably they are produced in both ways.

Messrs. Kirby and Spence, in their interesting work on Entomology, have

given a description of the kind of honey-dew furnished by the aphides.

"The loves of the ants and the aphides have long been celebrated; and

that there is a connection between them, you may, at any time in the

proper season, convince yourself; for you will always find the former

very busy on those trees and plants on which the latter abound; and if

you examine more closely, you will discover that the object of the ants,

in thus attending upon the aphides, is to obtain the saccharine fluid

secreted by them, which may well be denominated their milk. This fluid,

which is scarcely inferior to honey in sweetness, issues in limpid drops

from the abdomen of these insects, not only by the ordinary passage, but

also by two setiform tubes placed, one on each side, just above it.

Their sucker being inserted in the tender bark, is without intermission

employed in absorbing the sap, which, after it has passed through their

system, they keep continually discharging by these organs. When no ants

attend them, by a certain jerk of the body, which takes place at regular

intervals, they ejaculate it to a distance."

"Mr. Knight once observed," says Bevan, "a shower of honey-dew

descending in innumerable small globules, near one of his oak-trees, _on

the 1st of September_; he cut off one of the branches, took it into the

house, and holding it in a stream of light, which was purposely admitted

through a small opening, distinctly saw the aphides ejecting the fluid

from their bodies with considerable force, and this accounts for its

being frequently found in situations where it could not have arrived by

the mere influence of gravitation. The drops that are thus spurted out,

unless interrupted by the surrounding foliage, or some other interposing

body, fall upon the ground; and the spots may often be observed, for

some time, beneath and around the trees affected with honey-dew, till

washed away by the rain. The power which these insects possess of

ejecting the fluid from their bodies, seems to have been wisely

instituted to preserve cleanliness in each individual fly, and indeed

for the preservation of the whole family; for pressing as they do upon

one another, they would otherwise soon be glued together, and rendered

incapable of stirring. On looking steadfastly at a group of these

insects (_Aphides Salicis_) while feeding on the bark of the willow,

their superior size enables us to perceive some of them elevating their

bodies and emitting a transparent substance in the form of a small


"Nor scorn ye now, fond elves, the foliage sear,

When the light aphids, arm'd with puny spear,

Probe each emulgent vein, till bright below,

Like falling stars, clear drops of nectar glow."


"The _willow_ accommodates the bees in a kind of threefold succession;

from the flowers they obtain both honey and farina;--from the bark

propolis;--and the leaves frequently afford them honey-dew at a time

when other resources are beginning to fail."

"Honey-dew usually appears upon the leaves as a viscid, transparent

substance, as sweet as honey itself, sometimes in the form of globules,

at others resembling a syrup; it is generally most abundant from the

middle of June to the middle of July, sometimes as late as September."

"It is found chiefly upon the _oak_, the _elm_, the _maple_, the

_plane_, the _sycamore_, the _lime_, the _hazel_, and the _blackberry_;

occasionally also on the _cherry_, _currant_, and other fruit trees.

Sometimes only one species of trees is affected at a time. The oak

generally affords the largest quantity. At the season of its greatest

abundance, the happy humming noise of the bees may be heard at a

considerable distance from the trees, sometimes nearly equalling in

loudness the united hum of swarming."

In some seasons, extraordinary quantities of honey are furnished by the

honey-dews, and bees will often, in a few days, fill their hives with

it. If at such times, they can be furnished with empty combs, the amount

stored up by them, will be truly wonderful. No certain reliance,

however, can be placed upon this article of bee-food, as in some years,

there is scarcely any to be found, and it is only once in three or four

years, that it is very abundant. The honey obtained from this source, is

generally of a very good quality, though seldom as clear as that

gathered from the choicest blossoms.

The quality of honey is exceedingly various, some being dark, and often

bitter and disagreeable to the taste, while occasionally it is gathered

from poisonous flowers, and is very noxious to the human system.

An intelligent Mandingo African informed a lady of my acquaintance, that

they do not in his country, dare to eat _unsealed_ honey, until it is

first _boiled_. In some of the Southern States, all unsealed honey is

generally rejected. It appears to me highly probable that the noxious

qualities of the honey gathered from some flowers, is, for the most

part, evaporated, before it is sealed over by the bees, while the honey

is thickening in the cells. Boiling the honey, would, of course, expel

it much more effectually, and it is a well ascertained fact that some

persons are not able to eat even the best honey with impunity, until

after it has been boiled! I believe that if persons who are injured by

honey would subject it to this operation, they would usually find it to

exert no injurious influence on the system. Honey is improved by age,

and many are able to use with impunity, that which has been for a long

time, in the hive, and which seems to be much milder than any freshly

gathered by the bees.

Honey, when taken from the bees, should be carefully put where it will

be safe from all intruders, and where it will not be exposed to so low a

temperature as to candy in the cells. The little red ant, and the large

black ant are extravagantly fond of it, and unless placed where they

cannot reach it, they will soon carry off large quantities. I paste

paper over all my boxes, glasses, &c., so as to make them air-tight, and

carefully store them away for future use. If it is drained from the

combs, it may be kept in tight vessels, although in this state it will

be almost sure to candy. By putting the vessels in water, and bringing

it to the boiling point, it will be as nice as when first strained from

the comb. In this way, I prefer to keep the larger portion of my honey.

The appearance of white honey in the comb, is however, so beautiful,

that many will prefer to keep it in this form, especially, if intended

for sale.

In my hives, it may be taken from the bees, in a great variety of ways.

Some may prefer to construct the main hive in such a form, that the

surplus honey can be taken from it, on the frames. Others will prefer to

take it on frames put in an upper box; (see p. 231.) Glass vessels of

almost any size or form will make beautiful receptacles for the spare

honey. They ought always, however, to have a piece of comb fastened in

them, before they are given to the bees; (see p. 161) and if the weather

is cool, they must be carefully covered with something warm, or they

will part with their heat so quickly, as to discourage the bees from

building in them. Unless warmly covered, glass vessels will often be so

lined with moisture, as to annoy the bees. This is occasioned by the

rapid evaporation of the water from the newly gathered honey, (see

p. 335.) All hives during the height of the gathering season, abound in

moisture, and this no doubt furnishes the bees, for the most part, with

the water they then need.

Honey, when stored in a pint tumbler, just large enough to receive one

comb, has a most beautiful appearance, and may be easily taken out

whole, and placed in an elegant shape upon the table. The expense of

such glass vessels is one objection to their use; the ease with which

they part with their heat, another, and a more serious objection still,

is the fact that the shallow cells, so many of which must be made in a

round vessel, require as large a consumption of honey for their wax

covers, as those which hold more than twice their quantity of honey.

I prefer rectangular boxes made of pasteboard, to any other: they are

neat, warm and cheap; and if a small piece of glass is pasted in one of

their ends, the Apiarian can always see when they are full. When the

honey is taken from the bees, the box has its cover put on, and is

pasted tight, so as to exclude air and insects. In this form, honey may

be packed, and sent to market very conveniently: and when the boxes are

opened, the purchaser can always see the quality of the article which he

buys. The box in which these small boxes of honey are packed in order to

be sent to market, should be furnished with rope handles, so that it can

be easily lifted, without the least jarring. Honey should be handled

with just as much care as glass. A box, four inches wide, will admit of

two combs, and if small pieces of comb are put in the top, the bees will

build them, of the proper dimensions, and will thus make them too large

for brood combs, and of the best size to contain their surplus honey.

The use of my hives enables the Apiarian to get access to all the comb

which he needs for such purposes, and he will find it to his interest,

never to give the bees a box which does not contain some comb, as well

for encouragement as for a pattern. I have never seen the use of

pasteboard boxes suggested, but after experimenting with a great many

materials, I believe they will be found, all things considered,

preferable to any others. Wooden boxes, with a piece of glass, are very

good for storing honey: but they are much more expensive than those made

of pasteboard, and the covers cannot be removed so conveniently.

Honey may be safely removed from the surplus honey boxes of my hives,

even by the most timid. When the outside case which covers the boxes, is

elevated, a shield is thrown between the Apiarian and the bees which are

entering and leaving the hive. Before removing a vessel or box, a thin

knife should be carefully passed under it, so as to loosen the

attachments of the comb to the honey-board, without injuring the bees;

then a small piece of tin or zinc may be pushed under to prevent the

bees that are below, from coming up, when the honey is removed. The

Apiarian should now tap gently on the box, and the bees in it,

perceiving that they are separated from the main hive, will at once

proceed to fill themselves, so as to save as much as possible, of their

precious sweets. In about five minutes, or as soon as they are full, and

run over the combs, trying to get out, the glass or box may at once be

removed, and they will fly directly to the hive with what they have been

able to secure. Bees under such circumstances, _never_ attempt to sting,

and a child of ten years, may remove, with ease and safety, all their

surplus stores. If a person is too timid to approach a hive when any

bees are flying, the honey may be removed towards evening, or early in

the morning, before the bees are flying, in any considerable numbers. In

performing this operation, it should always be borne in mind, that

large quantities of honey should never be taken from them at once,

unless when the honey-harvest is over. Bees are exceedingly discouraged

by such wholesale appropriations, and often refuse entirely, to work in

the empty boxes, even although honey abounds in the fields. Not

unfrequently when large boxes are removed, and being found only

partially filled, are returned, the bees will carry every particle of

honey down into the main hive! If, however, the honey is removed in

small boxes, one at a time, and an empty box with guide comb is put

instantly in its place, the bees, so far from being discouraged, work

with more than their wonted energy, and usually begin in a few hours, to

enlarge the comb.

I would here repeat the caution already given, against needlessly

opening and shutting the hives, or in any way meddling with the bees so

as to make them feel insecure in their possessions. Such a course tends

to discourage them, and may seriously diminish the yield of honey.

If the Apiarian wishes to remove honey from the interior of the hive, he

must remove the combs, as directed on page 195, and shake the bees off,

on the alighting board, or directly into the hive.