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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, 18
3, 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.