If the bee had not such a necessary and yet formidable weapon both of offence and defence, multitudes would be induced to enter upon its cultivation, who are now afraid to have any thing to do with it. As the new system of management which I have devised, seems to add to this inherent difficulty, by taking the greatest possible liberties with so irascible an insect, I deem it important to show clearly, in the very outset, how bees may be managed, so that all necessary operations may be performed in an Apiary, without incurring any serious risk of exciting their anger.

Many persons have been unable to control their expressions of wonder and astonishment, on seeing me open hive after hive, in my experimental Apiary, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, removing the combs covered with bees, and shaking them off in front of the hives; exhibiting the queen, transferring the bees to another hive, and, in short, dealing with them as if they were as harmless as so many flies. I have sometimes been asked if the bees with which I was [26] experimenting, had not been subjected to a long course of instruction, to prepare them for public exhibition; when in some cases, the very hives which I was opening, contained swarms which had been brought only the day before, to my establishment.

Before entering upon the natural history of the bee, I shall anticipate some principles in its management, in order to prepare my readers to receive, without the doubts which would otherwise be very natural, the statements in my book, and to convince them that almost any one favorably situated, may safely enjoy the pleasure and profit of a pursuit, which has been most appropriately styled, "the poetry of rural economy;" and that, without being made too familiar with a sharp little weapon, which can most speedily and effectually convert all the poetry into very sorry prose.

The Creator intended the bee for the comfort of man, as truly as he did the horse or the cow. In the early ages of the world, indeed until very recently, honey was almost the only natural sweet; and the promise of "a land flowing with milk and honey," had then a significance, the full force of which it is difficult for us to realize. The honey bee was, therefore, created not merely with the ability to store up its delicious nectar for its own use, but with certain properties which fitted it to be domesticated, and to labor for man, and without which, he would no more have been able to subject it to his control, than to make a useful beast of burden of a lion or a tiger.

One of the peculiarities which constitutes the very foundation, not merely of my system of management, but of the ability of man to domesticate at all so irascible an insect, has never, to my knowledge, been clearly stated as a great and controlling principle. It may be thus expressed.

A honey bee never volunteers an attack, or acts on [27] the offensive, when it is gorged or filled with honey.

The man who first attempted to lodge a swarm of bees in an artificial hive, was doubtless agreeably surprised at the ease with which he was able to accomplish it. For when the bees are intending to swarm, they fill their honey-bags to their utmost capacity. This is wisely ordered, that they may have materials for commencing operations immediately in their new habitation; that they may not starve if several stormy days should follow their emigration; and that when they leave their hives, they may be in a suitable condition to be secured by man.

They issue from their hives in the most peaceable mood that can well be imagined; and unless they are abused, allow themselves to be treated with great familiarity. The hiving of bees by those who understand their nature, could almost always be conducted without the risk of any annoyance, if it were not the case that some improvident or unfortunate ones occasionally come forth without the soothing supply; and not being stored with honey, are filled with the gall of the bitterest hate against all mankind and animal kind in general, and any one who dares to meddle with them in particular. Such radicals are always to be dreaded, for they must vent their spleen on something, even though they lose their life in the act.

Suppose the whole colony, on sallying forth, to possess such a ferocious spirit; no one would ever dare to hive them, unless clad in a coat of mail, at least bee-proof, and not even then, until all the windows of his house were closed, his domestic animals bestowed in some safe place, and sentinels posted at suitable stations, to warn all comers to look out for something almost as much to be dreaded, as [28]a fiery locomotive in full speed. In short, if the propensity to be exceedingly good-natured after a hearty meal, had not been given to the bee, it could never have been domesticated, and our honey would still be procured from the clefts of rocks, or the hollows of trees.

A second peculiarity in the nature of the bee, and one of which I continually avail myself with the greatest success, may be thus stated.

Bees cannot, under any circumstances, resist the temptation to fill themselves with liquid sweets.

It would be quite as easy for an inveterate miser to look with indifference upon a golden shower of double eagles, falling at his feet and soliciting his appropriation. If then we can contrive a way to call their attention to a treat of running sweets, when we wish to perform any operation which might provoke them, we may be sure they will accept it, and under its genial influence, allow us without molestation, to do what we please.

We must always be particularly careful not to handle them roughly, for they will never allow themselves to be pinched or hurt without thrusting out their sting to resent such an indignity. I always keep a small watering-pot or sprinkler, in my Apiary, and whenever I wish to operate upon a hive, as soon as the cover is taken off, and the bees exposed, I sprinkle them gently with water sweetened with sugar. They help themselves with the greatest eagerness, and in a few moments, are in a perfectly manageable state. The truth is, that bees managed on this plan are always glad to see visitors, and you cannot look in upon them too often, for they expect at every call, to receive a sugared treat by way of a peace-offering.

I can superintend a large number of hives, performing every operation that is necessary for pleasure or profit, and yet not run the risks of being stung, which must frequently [29] be incurred in attempting to manage, in the simplest way, the common hives. Those who are timid may, at first, use a bee-dress; though they will soon discard every thing of the kind, unless they are of the number of those to whom the bees have a special aversion. Such unfortunates are sure to be stung whenever they show themselves in the vicinity of a bee-hive, and they will do well to give the bees a very wide berth.

Apiarians have, for many years, employed the smoke of tobacco for subduing their bees. It deprives them, at once, of all disposition to sting, but it ought never to be used for such a purpose. If the construction of the hives will not permit the bees to be sprinkled with sugar water, the smoke of burning paper or rags will answer every purpose, and the bees will not be likely to resent it; whereas when they recover from the effect of the tobacco, they not unfrequently remember, and in no very gentle way, the operator who administered the nauseous dose.

Let all your motions about your hives be gentle and slow. Accustom your bees to your presence; never crush or injure them in any operation; acquaint yourself fully with the principles of management detailed in this treatise, and you will find that you have but little more reason to dread the sting of a bee, than the horns of your favorite cow, or the heels of your faithful horse.

Bee Culture
Page Updated 6:19 PM Monday 22 January 2018