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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.