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Ventilation Of The Hive

If a populous hive is examined on a warm Summer day, a considerable

number of bees will be found standing on the alighting board, with their

heads turned towards the entrance, the extremity of their bodies

slightly elevated, and their wings in such rapid motion that they are

almost as indistinct as the spokes of a wheel, in swift rotation on its

axis. A brisk current of air may be felt proceeding from the hive, and

small piece of down be suspended by a thread, it will be blown out

from one part of the entrance, and drawn in at another. What are these

bees expecting to accomplish, that they appear so deeply absorbed in

their fanning occupation, while busy numbers are constantly crowding in

and out of the hive? and what is the meaning of this double current of

air? To Huber, we owe the first satisfactory explanation of these

curious phenomena. These bees plying their rapid wings in such a

singular attitude, are performing the important business of

_ventilating_ the hive; and this double current is composed of pure air

rushing in at one part, to supply the place of the foul air forced out

at another. By a series of the most careful and beautiful experiments,

Huber ascertained that the air of a crowded hive is almost, if not

quite, as pure as the atmosphere by which it is surrounded. Now, as the

entrance to such a hive, is often, (more especially in a state of

nature,) very small, the interior air cannot be renewed without resort

to some artificial means. If a lamp is put into a close vessel with only

one small orifice, it will soon exhaust all the oxygen, and go out. If

another small orifice is made, the same result will follow; but if by

some device a current of air is drawn out from one, an equal current

will force its way into the other, and the lamp will burn until the oil

is exhausted.

It is precisely on this principle, of maintaining a double current by

_artificial means_, that the bees ventilate their crowded habitations. A

body of active ventilators stands inside of the hive, as well as

outside, all with their heads turned towards the entrance, and by the

rapid fanning of their wings, a current of air is blown briskly out of

the hive, and an equal current drawn in. This important office is one

which requires great physical exertion on the part of those to whom it

is entrusted; and if their proceedings are carefully watched, it will be

found that the exhausted ventilators, are, from time to time, relieved

by fresh detachments. If the interior of the hive will admit of

inspection, in very hot weather, large numbers of these ventilators will

be found in regular files, in various parts of the hive, all busily

engaged in their laborious employment. If the entrance at any time is

contracted, a speedy accession will be made to the numbers, both inside

and outside; and if it is closed entirely, the heat of the hive will

quickly increase, the whole colony will commence a rapid vibration of

their wings, and in a few moments will drop lifeless from the combs, for

want of air.

It has been proved by careful experiments that pure air is necessary not

only for the respiration of the mature bees, but that without it,

neither the eggs can be hatched, nor the larvae developed. A fine

netting of air-vessels covers the eggs; and the cells of the larvae are

sealed over with a covering which is full of air holes. In Winter, as

has been stated in the Chapter on Protection, bees, if kept in the dark,

and neither too warm nor too cold, are almost dormant, and seem to

require but a small allowance of air; but even under such circumstances,

they cannot live entirely without air; and if they are excited by being

exposed to atmospheric changes, or by being disturbed, a very loud

humming may be heard in the interior of their hives, and they need quite

as much air as in warm weather.

If at any time, by moving their hives, or in any other way, bees are

greatly disturbed, it will be unsafe to confine them, especially in warm

weather, unless a very free admission of air is given to them, and even

then, the air ought to be admitted above, as well as below the mass of

bees, or the ventilators may become clogged with dead bees, and the

swarm may perish. Under close confinement, the bees become excessively

heated, and the combs are often melted down. When bees are confined to a

close atmosphere, especially if dampness is added to its injurious

influences, they are sure to become diseased; and large numbers, if not

the whole colony, perish from dysentery. Is it not under circumstances

precisely similar, that cholera and dysentery prove most fatal to human

beings? How often do the filthy, damp and unventilated abodes of the

abject poor, become perfect lazar-houses to their wretched inmates?

I examined, last Summer, the bees of a new swarm which had been

suffocated for want of air, and found their bodies distended with a

yellow and noisome substance, just as though they had perished from

dysentery. A few were still alive, and instead of honey, their bodies

were filled with this same disgusting fluid; though the bees had not

been shut up, more than two hours.

In a medical point of view, I consider these facts as highly

interesting; showing as they do, under what circumstances, and how

speedily, disease may be produced.

In very hot weather, if thin hives are exposed to the sun's rays, the

bees are excessively annoyed by the intense heat, and have recourse to

the most powerful ventilation, not merely to keep the air of the hive

pure, but to carry off, as much as possible, its internal warmth. They

often leave the interior of the hive, almost in a body, and in thick

masses, cluster on the outside, not simply to escape the close heat

within, but to guard their combs against the danger of being dissolved.

At such times they are particularly careful not to cluster on the combs

containing sealed honey; for as most of these combs have not been lined

with the cocoons of the larvae, they are, for this reason, as well as on

account of the extra amount of wax used for their covers, much more

liable to be melted, than the breeding cells.

Apiarians have often noticed the fact, that as a general thing, the bees

leave the honey cells almost entirely bare, as soon as they have sealed

them over; but it seems to have escaped their observation, that in hot

weather, there is often an absolute necessity for such a course. In cool

weather, on the contrary, the bees may often be found clustered among

the sealed honey-combs, because there is then no danger of their melting


Few things in the range of their wonderful instincts, are so well fitted

to impress the mind with their admirable sagacity, as the truly

scientific device, by which these wise little insects ventilate their

dwellings. I was on the point of saying that it was almost like

human-reason, when the painful and mortifying reflection presented

itself to my mind that in respect to ventilation, the bee is immensely

in advance of the great mass of those who consider themselves as

rational beings. It has, to be sure, no ability to make an elaborate

analysis of the chemical constituents of the atmosphere, and to decide

how large a proportion of oxygen is essential to the support of life,

and how rapidly the process of breathing converts this important element

into a deadly poison. It has not, like Leibig, been able to demonstrate

that God has set the animal and vegetable world, the one over against

the other; so that the carbonic acid produced by the breathing of the

one, furnishes the aliment of the other; which, in turn, gives out its

oxygen for the support of animal life; and that, in this wonderful

manner, God has provided that the atmosphere shall, through all ages, be

as pure as when it first came from His creating hand. But shame upon us!

that with all our intelligence, the most of us live as though pure air

was of little or no importance; while the bee ventilates with a

scientific precision and thoroughness, that puts to the blush our

criminal neglect.

To this it may be replied that ventilation in our case, cannot be had,

without considerable expense. Can it be had for nothing, by the

industrious bees? Those busy insects, which are so indefatigably plying

their wings, are not engaged in idle amusement; nor might they, as some

would-be utilitarian may imagine, be better employed in gathering honey,

or in superintending some other department in the economy of the hive.

They are at great expense of time and labor, supplying the rest of the

colony with pure air, so conducive in every way, to their health and


I trust that I shall be permitted to digress, for a short time, from

bees to men, and that the remarks which I shall offer on the subject of

ventilation in human dwellings, may make a deeper impression, in

connection with the wise arrangements of the bee, than they would, if

presented in the shape of a mere scientific discussion; and that some

who have been in the habit of considering all air, except in the

particular of temperature, as about alike, may be thoroughly convinced

of their mistake.

Recent statistics prove that consumption and its kindred diseases are

most fearfully on the increase, in the Northern, and more especially in

the New England States; and that the general mortality of Massachusetts

exceeds that of almost every other state in the Union. In these States,

the tendency of increasing attention to manufacturing and mechanical

pursuits, is to compel a larger and larger proportion of the population

to lead an in-door life, and to breathe an atmosphere more or less

vitiated, and thus unfit for the full development of vigorous health.

The importance of pure air can hardly be over-estimated; indeed, the

quality of the air we breath, seems to exert an influence much more

powerful, and hardly less direct, than the mere quality of our food.

Those who, by active exercise in the open air, keep their lungs

saturated as it were, with the pure element, can eat almost anything

with impunity; while those who breath the sorry apology for air which is

to be found in so many habitations, although they may live upon the most

nutritious diet, and avoid the least excess, are incessantly troubled

with head-ache, dyspepsia, and various mental as well as physical

sufferings. Well may such persons, as they witness the healthy forms and

happy faces of so many of the hardy sons of toil, exclaim with the old

Latin poet,

"Oh dura messorum illia!"

It is with the human family very much as it is with the vegetable

kingdom. Take a plant or tree, and shut it out from the pure air, and

the invigorating light, and though you may supply it with an abundance

of water and the very soil, which by the strictest chemical analysis, is

found to contain all the elements that are essential to its vigorous

growth, it will still be a puny thing, ready to droop, if exposed to a

summer's sun, or to be prostrated by the first visitation of a winter's

blast. Compare now, this wretched abortion, with an oak or maple which

has grown upon the comparatively sterile mountain pasture, and whose

branches, in Summer are the pleasant resort of the happy songsters,

while, under its mighty shade, the panting herds drink in a refreshing

coolness. In Winter it laughs at the mighty storms, which wildly toss

its giant branches in the air, and which serve only to exercise the

limbs of the sturdy tree, whose roots deep intertwined among its native

rocks, enable it to bid defiance to anything short of a whirlwind or


To a population, who, for more than two-thirds of the year, are

compelled to breathe an atmosphere heated by artificial means, the

question how can this air be made, at a moderate expense, to resemble,

as far as possible, the purest ether of the skies is, (or as I should

rather say ought to be,) a question of the utmost interest. When open

fires were used, there was no lack of pure air, whatever else might have

been deficient. A capacious chimney carried up through its insatiable

throat, immense volumes of air, to be replaced by the pure element,

whistling in glee, through every crack, crevice and keyhole. Now the

house-builder and stove-maker with but few exceptions[15] seem to have

joined hands in waging a most effectual warfare against the unwelcome

intruder. By labor-saving machinery, they contrive to make the one, the

joints of his wood-work, and the other, those of his iron-work, tighter

and tighter, and if it were possible for them to accomplish fully their

manifest design, they would be able to furnish rooms almost as fatal

to life as "the black hole of Calcutta." But in spite of all that they

can do, the materials will shrink, and no fuel has yet been found, which

will burn without any air, so that sufficient ventilation is kept up, to

prevent such deadly occurrences. Still they are tolerably successful in

keeping out the unfriendly element; and by the use of huge

cooking-stoves with towering ovens, and other salamander contrivances,

the little air that can find its way in, is almost as thoroughly cooked,

as are the various delicacies destined for the table.

On reading an account of a run-away slave, who was for a considerable

time, closely boxed up, a gentleman remarked that if the poor fellow had

only known that a renewal of the air was necessary to the support of

life, he could not have lived there an hour without suffocation: I have

frequently thought that if the occupants of the rooms I have been

describing, could only know as much, they would be in almost similar


Bad air, one would think, is bad enough: but when it is heated and dried

to an excessive degree, all its original vileness is stimulated to

greater activity, and thus made doubly injurious by this new element of

evil. Not only our private houses, but our churches and school-rooms,

our railroad cars, and all our places of public assemblage, are, to a

most lamentable degree, either unprovided with any means of ventilation,

or, to a great extent, supplied with those which are so wretchedly

deficient that they

"Keep the word of promise to our ear,

And break it to our hope."

That ultimate degeneracy must surely follow such entire disregard of the

laws of health, cannot be doubted; and those who imagine that the

physical stamina of a people can be undermined, and yet that their

intellectual, moral and religious health will suffer no eclipse or

decay, know very little of the intimate connection between body and

mind, which the Creator has seen fit to establish.

The men may, to a certain extent, resist the injurious influences of

foul air; as their employments usually compel them to live much more out

of doors: but alas, alas! for the poor women! In the very land where

women are treated with more universal deference and respect than in any

other, and where they so well deserve it, there often, no provision is

made to furnish them with that great element of health, cheerfulness and

beauty, heaven's pure, fresh air.

In Southern climes, where doors and windows may be safely kept open for

a large part of the year, pure air is cheap enough, and can be obtained

without any special effort: but in Northern latitudes, where heated air

must be used for nearly three-quarters of the year, the neglect of

ventilation is fast causing the health and beauty of our women to

disappear. The pallid cheek, or the hectic flush, the angular form and

distorted spine, the debilitated appearance of a large portion of our

females, which to a stranger, would seem to indicate that they were just

recovering from a long illness, all these indications of the lamentable

absence of physical health, to say nothing of the anxious, care-worn

faces and premature wrinkles, proclaim in sorrowful voices, our

violation of God's physical laws, and the dreadful penalty with which He

visits our transgressions.

Our people must, and I have no doubt that eventually they will be most

thoroughly aroused to the necessity of a vital reform on this important

subject. Open stoves, and cheerful grates and fire-places will again be

in vogue with the mass of the people, unless some better mode of warming

shall be devised, which, at less expense, shall make still more ample

provision for the constant introduction of fresh air. Houses will be

constructed, which, although more expensive in the first cost, will be

far cheaper in the end, and by requiring a much smaller quantity of fuel

to warm the air, will enable us to enjoy the luxury of breathing air

which may be duly tempered, and yet be pure and invigorating. Air-tight

and all other _lung-tight_ stoves will be exploded, as economizing in

fuel only when they allow the smallest possible change of air, and thus

squandering health and endangering life.

The laws very wisely forbid the erection of wooden buildings in large

cities, and in various ways, prescribe such regulations for the

construction of edifices as are deemed to be essential to the public

welfare; and the time cannot, I trust, be very far distant, when all

public buildings erected for the accommodation of large numbers, will be

required by law, to furnish a supply of fresh air, in some reasonable

degree adequate to the necessities of those who are to occupy them.

I shall ask no excuse for the honest warmth of language which will

appear extravagant only to those who cannot, or rather will not, see the

immense importance of pure air to the highest enjoyment, not only of

physical, but of mental and moral health. The man who shall succeed in

convincing the mass of the people, of the truth of the views thus

imperfectly presented, and whose inventive mind shall devise a cheap and

efficacious way of furnishing a copious supply of pure air for our

dwellings and public buildings, our steamboats and railroad cars, will

be even more of a benefactor than a Jenner, or a Watt, a Fulton, or a


To return from this lengthy and yet I trust not unprofitable digression.

In the ventilation of my hive, I have endeavored, as far as possible, to

meet all the necessities of the bees, under the varying circumstances to

which they are exposed, in our uncertain climate, whose severe extremes

of temperature impress most forcibly upon the bee-keeper, the maxim of

the Mantuan Bard,

"Utraque vis pariter apibus metuenda."

"Extremes of heat or cold, alike are hurtful to the bees." In order to

make artificial ventilation of any use to the great majority of

bee-keepers, it must be simple, and not as in Nutt's hive, and many

other labored contrivances, so complicated as to require almost as

constant supervision as a hot-bed or a green-house. The very foundation

of any system of ventilation should be such a construction of the hive

that the bees shall need a change of air only for breathing.

In the Chapter on Protection, I have explained the construction of my

hives, and of the Protector by which the bees being kept warm in Winter,

and cool in Summer, do not require, as in thin hives, a very free

introduction of air, in hot weather, to keep the combs from softening;

or a still larger supply in Winter, to prevent them from moulding, and

to dry up the moisture which runs from their icy tops and sides; and

which, if suffered to remain, will often affect the bees with dysentery,

or as it is sometimes called, "the rot." The intelligent Apiarian will

perceive that I thus imitate the natural habitation of the bees in the

recesses of a hollow tree in the forest, where they feel neither the

extremes of heat nor cold, and where through the efficacy of their

ventilating powers, a very small opening admits all the air which is

necessary for respiration.

In the Chapter on the Requisites of a good hive, I have spoken of the

importance of furnishing ventilation, independently of the entrance. By

such an arrangement, I am able to improve upon the method which the bees

are compelled to adopt in a state of nature. As they have no means of

admitting air by wire-cloth, and at the same time, of effectually

excluding all intruders, they are obliged in very hot weather, and in a

very crowded state of their dwellings, to employ a larger force in the

laborious business of ventilation, than would otherwise be necessary;

while in Winter, they have no means of admitting air which is only

moderately cool. I can keep the entrance so small, that only a single

bee can go in at once, or I can, if circumstances require, entirely

close it, and yet the bees need not suffer for the want of air. In all

ordinary cases, the ventilators will admit a sufficient supply of duly

tempered air from the Protector, and the bees can, at any time, increase

their efficiency by their own direct agency, while yet they will, at no

time, admit a strong current of chilly air, so as to endanger the life

of the brood. As bees are, at all times, prone to close the ventilators

with propolis, they must be placed where they can easily be removed, and

cleansed, by soaking them in boiling water.

As respects ventilation from above, as well as from below, so as to

allow a free current of air to pass through the hive, I am decidedly

opposed to it, as in cool and windy weather, such a current often

compels the bees to retire from the brood, which in this way is

destroyed by a fatal chill. In thin hives, ventilation from above may be

desirable in Winter, to carry off the superfluous moisture, but in

properly constructed hives, standing over a Protector, there is, as has

already been remarked, little or no dampness to be carried off. The

construction of my hives will allow, if at all desirable, of ventilation

from above; and I always make use of it, when the bees are to be shut up

for any length of time, in order to be moved; as in this case, there is

always a risk that the ventilators on the bottom-board may be clogged by

dead bees, and the colony suffocated. As the entrance of the hive, may

in a moment, be enlarged to any desirable extent, without in the least

perplexing the bees, any quantity of air may be admitted, which the

necessities of the bees, under any possible circumstances, may require.

It may be made full 18 inches in length, but as a general rule, in

Summer, in a large colony, it need not exceed six inches: while in

Spring and Fall, two or three inches will suffice. In Winter, it should

be entirely closed; unless in latitudes so warm, that even with the

Protector, the bees cannot be kept quiet. The bee-keeper should never

forget that it is almost certain destruction to a colony, to confine

them when they wish to fly out. The precautions requisite to prevent

robbing, will be subsequently described. In Northern latitudes, in the

months of April and May, I prefer to keep the ventilators entirely

closed; as the air of the Protector, at such times, like the air of a

cellar in Spring, is uncomfortably cool, and has a tendency to interfere

with breeding.

NOTE.--Since the remarks on the neglect of ventilation were put in

type, my attention has been called by Hon. M. P. Wilder, of

Dorchester, to an article on the same subject, in the Nov. number of

the Horticulturist, for 1850, from the pen of the lamented Downing.

It seems to have been written shortly after his return from Europe,

and when he must have been most deeply impressed by the woful

contrast, in point of physical health between the women of America

and Europe. While he speaks in just and therefore glowing terms of

the virtues of our countrywomen, he says: "But in the _signs of

physical health_ and all that constitutes the outward aspect of the

men and women of the United States, our countrymen and especially

countrywomen, compare most unfavorably with all but the absolutely

starving classes on the other side of the Atlantic." Close stoves he

has most appropriately styled "little demons," and impure air "The

favorite poison of America." His article concludes as follows:

"Pale countrymen and countrywomen rouse yourselves! Consider that

God has given us an atmosphere of pure health-giving air 45 miles

high, and _ventilate your houses_."