CHAPTER VIII. [114]
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 cultivators.

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 the 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 man. [115]

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 [116] 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° 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, [117] 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 fæces 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 fæces. 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 Summer. [118]

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 temperature. [119]

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 fæces. 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 home.

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 [120] 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 [121] 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 [122] 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 [123] 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 [124] with. It may be performed without any risk, by a woman or a boy.

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 cold.

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 [125] 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 [126] 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!

Protector.

I attach very great importance to the way in which I give the bees effectual protection against extremes of heat and cold, and sudden changes of temperature, without removing them from their stands, or incurring the expense and disadvantages of a covered Bee-House. This I accomplish by means of what I shall call a Protector which is constructed substantially as follows.

Select a dry and suitable location for the bees, where they will not be disturbed, or prove an annoyance to others. If possible, let it be in full sight of the sitting room, so that they may be seen in case of swarming; and let it face the South-East, and be well protected from the force of strong winds. Dig a trench, about two feet deep; its length should depend upon the number of hives to be accommodated; and its breadth should be such that when it is properly walled up, it should measure from the outside top of one wall to another, just sufficient to receive the bottom of the hive. The walls, may be built of refuse brick or stones, and should be about four feet high from the foundation; the upper six inches being built of good brick, and the back wall about two inches higher than the front one, so as to give the bottom-board of the hives, the proper slant towards the entrance. At one end of this Protector, a wooden chimney should be built, and if the number of [127] hives is great, there should be one at each end, admitting air in Winter, and yet excluding rain and snow. The earth which is thrown out in digging, should be banked up against the walls as high as the good brick, and in a slope which, when grassed over, may be easily mowed with a common scythe. The slope on the back should be more perpendicular than in front so as not to be in the way when operating upon the hives.

The bottom may be covered with an inch or two of clean sand and in winter with straw. In Summer, the ends are left open, so that a free current of air may pass through, while in Winter, they are properly banked up; and straw, evergreen boughs, or any other material, suitable for excluding frost, may if necessary, be placed all around the outside of the Protector. Such an arrangement will be found very cheap, when compared with a Bee-House or covered Apiary, and may be made both neat and highly ornamental. It may be constructed of wood by those who desire something still cheaper, and any one who can handle a spade, hammer, plane and saw, can make for himself a structure on which a hundred hives may stand, at less expense than would be necessary to build a covered Apiary for ten. As the ventilators of the hive open into this Protector, the bees are, in Summer, supplied with a cool and refreshing atmosphere, as closely as possible resembling that which they find in a forest home; while in Winter, the external entrances of the hives may be safely closed, and they will receive a supply of air remarkably uniform and never much below the freezing point. As the hives themselves are double, no frost can penetrate through them, and thus their interior will almost always be perfectly dry. When the weather suddenly moderates, and bees in the common hives fly out, and are lost on the snow, those arranged in the [128] manner described, will not know that any change has taken place, but will remain quiet in their winter quarters, unless the weather is so warm that their owner judges it safe to open the entrances, so that the warmth may penetrate their hives, and tempt them to fly, and discharge their fæces. Let it be remembered that the object of this arrangement is not to warm up the hives by artificial heat; but merely to enable the bees to retain to the utmost their own animal heat, to secure the advantages set forth in this Chapter on Protection. Once or twice during the Winter, the blocks which regulate the entrances to my hives should be removed, and as the frames are kept about half an inch from the bottom-board, by means of a stick or wire, all the dead bees and filth may, in a few moments, be removed: or as the entrance of the hives by removing the blocks, may be so enlarged as to offer no obstruction to its introduction or removal, an old newspaper can be kept on the bottom-board, and drawn out from time to time, with all its contents.

A movable board of the same thickness and length with the bottom-boards of the hive and about six inches wide, separates the hives from each other, as they stand upon the Protector.

I have made numerous observations upon the temperature of a Protector made substantially on the plan described, and find that it is wonderfully uniform. The lowest range of the thermometer during the months of January and February, 1853, in the Protector, was 28°; in the open air, 14° below zero; the highest in the Protector 32°; in the open air 56°. It will thus be seen that while the thermometer out of doors had a range of 70°, in the Protector it had a range of only 4°. While bees in common hives during some warm days flew out and perished in large numbers on the snow; the bees over the Protector were perfectly quiet. To this arrangement [129] I attach an importance second only to my movable frames, and believe that combined with doubled hives, it removes the chief obstacle to the successful cultivation of bees in cold latitudes.[14] In the coldest regions where bees can find supplies in Summer, they may during a Winter that lasts from November to May, and during which the mercury congeals, be kept as comfortable as in climates which seem much more propitious for their cultivation. The more snow the better, as it serves more the effectually to exclude the cold from the Protector. However long and dreary the Winter, the bees in their comfortable quarters feel none of its injurious influences; and actually consume less, than those which are kept where the winters are short, and so mild that the bees are often tempted to fly, and are in a state of almost continual excitement. It is in precisely such latitudes, in Poland and Russia, that bees are kept in the largest numbers, and with the most extraordinary success. In the chapter on Pasturage, I shall show that some of the coldest places in New England, and the Middle States, are among the most favored spots for obtaining the largest supplies of the very purest honey.

Having thoroughly tested the practicability of affording the bees by my Protector, complete protection against heat and cold, at a very small expense, and in a way which may be made highly ornamental, the proper steps will be taken to secure a patent right for the same; although no extra charge will be made for this, or for any other subsequent improvement, to those who purchase the right to use my hive.

Hobby
Bee Culture: Protection of the Hives
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