site logo

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 t
e 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!