CHAPTER VI. [89]
POLLEN, OR BEE-BREAD.

This substance is gathered by the bees from the flowers, or blossoms, and is used for the nourishment of their young. Repeated experiments have proved that no brood can be raised in a hive, unless the bees are supplied with it. It contains none of the elements of wax, but is rich in what chemists call nitrogenous substances, which are not contained in honey, and which furnish ample nourishment for the development of the growing bee. Dr. Hunter dissected some immature bees, and found their stomachs to contain farina, but not a particle of honey.

We are indebted to Huber for the discovery of the use made by the bees of pollen. That it did not serve as food for the mature bees, was evident from the fact that large supplies are often found in hives whose inmates have starved to death. It was this fact which led the old observers to conclude that it was gathered for the purpose of building comb. After Huber had demonstrated that wax is secreted from an entirely different substance, he was soon led to conjecture that the bee-bread must be used for the nourishment of the embryo bees. By rigid experiments he proved the truth of this supposition. Bees were confined to their hive without any pollen, after being supplied with honey, eggs and larvæ. In a short time the young all perished. A fresh supply of brood was given to them, with an [90] ample allowance of pollen, and the development of the larvæ then proceeded in the natural way.

When a colony is actively engaged in carrying in this article, it may be taken for granted that they have a fertile queen, and are busy in breeding. On the contrary, if any colony is not gathering pollen when others are, the queen is either dead, or diseased, and the hive should at once be examined.

In the backward spring of 1852, I had an excellent opportunity of testing the value of this substance. In one of my hives, was an artificial swarm of the previous year. The hive was well protected, being double, and the situation was warm. I opened it on the 5th of February, and although the weather, until within a week of that time, had been unusually cold, I found many of the cells filled with brood. On the 23d, the combs were again examined, and found to contain, neither eggs, brood, nor bee bread. The bees were then supplied with bee bread taken from another hive: the next day, this was found to have been used by them, and a large number of eggs had been deposited in the cells. When this supply was exhausted, egg-laying ceased, and was again renewed when more was furnished them.

During all the time of these experiments, the weather was unpromising, and as the bees were unable to go out for water, they were supplied at home with this important article.

Dzierzon is of opinion that the bees are able to furnish food for the young, without the presence of pollen in the hive; although he admits that they can do this only for a short time, and at a great expense of vital energy; just as the strength of an animal nursing its young is rapidly reduced, when for want of proper food, the very substance [91] of its own body as it were, is converted into milk. My experiments do not corroborate this theory, but tend to confirm the views of Huber, and to show the absolute necessity of pollen to the development of brood. The same able contributor to Apiarian science, thinks that pollen is used by the bees when they are engaged in comb-building; and that unless they are well supplied with it, they cannot rapidly secrete wax, without very severely taxing their strength. But as all the elements of wax are found in honey, and none of them in pollen, this opinion does not seem to me, to be entitled to much weight. That bees cannot live upon pollen without any honey, is proved by the fact, that large stores of it are often found, in hives whose occupants have died of starvation; that they can live without it, is equally well known; but that the full grown bees make some use of it in connection with honey, for their own nourishment, I believe to be highly probable.

The bees prefer to gather fresh bee-bread, even when there are large accumulations of old stores in the cells. Hence, the great importance of being able to make the surplus of old colonies supply the deficiency of young ones. (See No. 28, in the Chapter "On the advantages which ought to be found in an Improved Hive.")

If both honey and pollen can be obtained from the same flower, then a load of each will be secured by the industrious insect. Of this, any one may convince himself, who will dissect a few pollen gatherers at the time when honey is plenty: he will generally find their honey-bags full.

The mode of gathering is very interesting. The body of the bee appears, to the naked eye, to be covered with fine hairs; to these, when the bee alights on a flower, the farina adheres. With her legs, she brushes it off from her body, and packs it in two hollows or baskets, one on each of her [92] thighs: these baskets are surrounded by stouter hairs which hold the load in its place.

When the bee returns with pollen, she often makes a singular, dancing or vibratory motion, which attracts the attention of the other bees, who at once nibble away from her thighs what they want for immediate use; the rest she deposits in a cell for future need, where it is carefully packed down, and often sealed over with wax.

It has been observed that a bee, in gathering pollen, always confines herself to the same kind of flower on which she begins, even when that is not so abundant as some others. Thus if you examine a ball of this substance taken from her thigh, it is found to be of one uniform color throughout: the load of one will be yellow, another red, and a third brown; the color varying according to that of the plant from which it was obtained. It is probable that the pollen of different kinds of flowers would not pack so well together. It is certain that if they flew from one species to another, there would be a much greater mixture of different varieties than there now is, for they carry on their bodies the pollen or fertilizing principle, and thus aid most powerfully in the impregnation of plants.

This is one reason why it is so difficult to preserve pure, the different varieties of the same vegetables whose flowers are sought by the bee.

He must be blind indeed, who will not see, at every step in the natural history of this insect, the plainest proofs of the wisdom of its Creator.

I cannot resist the impression that the honey bee was made for the especial service and instruction of man. At first the importance of its products, when honey was the only natural sweet, served most powerfully to attract his attention to its curious habits; and now since the cultivation [93] of the sugar cane has diminished the relative value of its luscious sweets, the superior knowledge which has been obtained of its instincts, is awakening an increasing enthusiasm in its cultivation.

Virgil in the fourth book of his Georgics, which is entirely devoted to bees, speaks of them as having received a direct emanation from the Divine Intelligence. And many modern Apiarians are almost disposed to rank the bee for sagacity, as next in the scale of creation to man.

The importance of pollen to the nourishment of the brood, has long been known, and of late, successful attempts have been made to furnish a substitute. The bees in Dzierzon's Apiary were observed by him, early in the spring before the time for procuring pollen, to bring rye meal to their hives from a neighboring mill. It is now a common practice on the continent of Europe, where bee keeping is extensively carried on, to supply the bees, in early spring, with this article. Shallow troughs are set in front of the Apiaries, which are filled, about two inches deep, with finely ground, dry, unbolted rye meal. Thousands of bees resort eagerly to them when the weather is favorable, roll themselves in the meal, and return heavily laden to their hives. In fine, mild weather, they labor at this work with astonishing industry; and seem decidedly to prefer the meal to the old pollen stored in their combs. By this means, the bees are induced to commence breeding early, and rapidly recruit their numbers. The feeding is continued till the bees cease to carry away the meal; that is, until the natural supplies furnish them with a preferable article. The average consumption of each colony is about two pounds of meal!

At the last annual Apiarian Convention in Germany, a cultivator recommended wheat flour as an excellent substitute [94] for pollen. He says that in February, 1852, he used it with the best results. The bees forsook the honey which had been set out for them, and engaged actively in carrying in large quantities of the wheat flour, which was placed about twenty paces in front of the hives.

The construction of my hives, permits the flour to be placed, at once, where the bees can take it, without being compelled to waste their time in going out for it, or to suffer for the want of it, when the weather confines them at home.

The discovery of this substitute, removes a serious obstacle to the successful culture of bees. In many districts, there is a great abundance of honey for a few weeks in the season; and almost any number of colonies, which are strong when the honey harvest commences, will, in a good season, lay up sufficient stores for themselves, and a large surplus for their owners. In many of these districts, however, the supply of pollen is often so insufficient, that the new colonies of the previous year are found destitute of this article in the spring; and unless the season is early, and the weather unusually favorable, the production of brood is most seriously interfered with; thus the colony becomes strong too late to avail itself to the best advantage of the superabundant harvest of honey. (See remarks on the importance of having strong stocks early in the Spring.)

Hobby
Bee Culture: Pollen or Bee Bread
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