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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.