CHAPTER X. [143]

The swarming of bees has been justly regarded as one of the most beautiful sights in the whole compass of rural economy. Although, for reasons which will hereafter be assigned, I prefer to rely chiefly on artificial means for the multiplication of colonies, I should be very unwilling to pass a season without participating, to some extent, in the pleasing excitement of natural swarming.

"Up mounts the chief, and to the cheated eye
Ten thousand shuttles dart along the sky;
As swift through æther rise the rushing swarms,
Gay dancing to the beam their sun-bright forms;
And each thin form, still ling'ring on the sight,
Trails, as it shoots, a line of silver light.
High pois'd on buoyant wing, the thoughtful queen,
In gaze attentive, views the varied scene,
And soon her far-fetch'd ken discerns below
The light laburnum lift her polish'd brow,
Wave her green leafy ringlets o'er the glade,
And seem to beckon to her friendly shade.
Swift as the falcon's sweep, the monarch bends
Her flight abrupt; the following host descends.
Round the fine twig, like cluster'd grapes, they close
In thickening wreaths, and court a short repose."

The swarming of bees, by making provision for the constant multiplication of colonies, was undoubtedly intended both to guard the insect against the possibility of extinction, and to make its labors in the highest degree useful to man. The laws of reproduction in those insects which do not live [144] in regular colonies, are such as to secure an ample increase of numbers. The same is true in the case of hornets, wasps and humble-bees which live in colonies only during the warm weather. In the Fall of the year, all the males perish, while the impregnated females retreat into winter quarters and remain dormant, until the warm weather restores them to activity, and each one becomes the mother of a new family.

The honey bee differs from all these insects, in being compelled, by the laws of its physical organization, to live in communities, during the entire year. The balmy breezes of Spring will quickly thaw out the frozen veins of a torpid Wasp; but the bee is incapable of enduring even a moderate degree of cold: a temperature as low as 50° speedily chills it, and it would be quite as easy to recall to life the stiffened corpses in the charnel house of the Convent of the Great St. Bernard, as to restore to animation, a frozen bee. In cool weather, they must therefore associate in large numbers, in order to maintain the animal heat which is necessary to their preservation; and the formation of new colonies, after the manner of wasps and hornets, is clearly impossible. If the young queens left the parent stock in Summer, and were able, like the mother-wasps, to lay the foundations of a new colony, they could not maintain the warmth requisite for the development of their young, even if they were able, without any baskets on their thighs, to gather bee-bread for their support. If all these difficulties were surmounted, they would still be unable to amass any treasures for our use, or even to lay up the stores requisite for their own preservation.

How admirably are all these difficulties obviated by the present arrangement! Their domicile is well supplied with all the materials for the rearing of brood, and long [145] before any of the insects which depend upon the heat of the sun, are able to commence breeding, the bees have added thousands in the full vigor of youth to their already numerous population. They are thus able to send off in season, colonies sufficiently powerful to take advantage of the honey-harvest, and provision the new hive against the approach of Winter. From these considerations, it is very evident that swarming, so far from being, as some Apiarians have considered it, a forced or unnatural event, is one, which in a state of nature, could not possibly be dispensed with.

Let us now inquire under what circumstances it ordinarily takes place.

The time when swarms may be expected, depends of course, upon climate, season, and the strength of the stocks. In the Northern and Middle States, bees seldom swarm before the latter part of May; and June may be considered as the great swarming month. The importance of having powerful swarms early in the season, will be discussed in another place.

In the Spring, as soon as a hive well filled with comb and bees, becomes too much crowded to accommodate its teeming population, the bees begin the necessary preparations for emigration. A number of royal cells are commenced about the time that the drones first make their appearance; and by the time that the young queens arrive at maturity, the drones are always found in the greatest abundance. The first swarm is invariably led off by the old queen, unless she has previously died from accident or disease, in which case, it is accompanied by one of the young queens reared to supply her loss. The old mother leaves soon after the royal cells are sealed over, unless delayed by unfavorable weather. There are no signs from which the Apiarian can, [146] with certainty, predict the issue of a first swarm. I devoted annually, much attention to this point, vainly hoping to discover some infallible indications of first swarming; until taught by further reflection that, from the very nature of the case, there can be no such indications. The bees, from an unfavorable state of the weather, or the failure of the blossoms to yield an abundant supply of honey, often change their minds, and refuse to swarm, even after all their preparations have been completed. Nay more, they sometimes send out no new colonies that season, when a sudden change of weather has interrupted them on the very day when they were intending to emigrate, and after they had taken a full supply of honey for their journey.

If on a fair, warm day in the swarming season, but few bees leave a strong hive, while other colonies are busily at work, we may, unless the weather suddenly prove unfavorable, look with great confidence for a swarm. As the old queens, which accompany the first swarm, are heavy with eggs, and fly with considerable difficulty, they are shy of venturing out, except on fair, still days. If the weather is very sultry, a swarm will sometimes issue as early as 7 o'clock in the morning; but from 10 to 2, is the usual time, and the majority of swarms come off from 11 to 1. Occasionally, a swarm will venture out as late as 5 P. M. An old queen is seldom guilty of such a piece of indiscretion.

I have in repeated instances witnessed the whole process of swarming, in my observing hives. On the day fixed for their departure, the queen appears to be very restless, and instead of depositing her eggs in the cells, she travels over the combs, and communicates her agitation to the whole colony. The emigrating bees fill themselves with honey, some time before their departure: in one instance, I noticed [147] them laying in their supplies, more than two hours before they left. A short time before the swarm rises, a few bees may generally be seen, sporting in the air, with their heads turned always to the hive, occasionally flying in and out, as though they were impatient for the important event to take place. At length, a very violent agitation commences in the hive: the bees appear almost frantic, whirling around in a circle, which continually enlarges, like the circles made by a stone thrown into still water, until at last the whole hive is in a state of the greatest ferment, and the bees rush impetuously to the entrance, and pour forth in one steady stream. Not a bee looks behind, but each one pushes straight ahead, as though flying "for dear life," or urged on by some invisible power, in its headlong career. The queen often does not come out, until a large number have left, and she is frequently so heavy, from the large number of eggs in her ovaries, that she falls to the ground, incapable of rising with the colony into the air.

The bees are very soon aware of her absence, and a most interesting scene may now be witnessed. A diligent search is immediately made for their missing mother; the swarm scatters in all directions, and I have frequently seen the leaves of the adjoining trees and bushes, almost as thickly covered with the anxious explorers, as they are with drops of rain after a copious shower. If she cannot be found, they return to the old hive, though occasionally they attempt to enter some other hive, or join themselves to another swarm if any is still unhived.

The ringing of bells, and beating of kettles and frying-pans, is one of the good old ways more honored by the breach than the observance; it may answer a very good purpose in amusing the children, but I believe that as far as the bees are concerned, it is all time thrown away; and [148] that it is not a whit more efficacious than the custom practiced by some savage tribes, who, when the sun is eclipsed, imagining that it has been swallowed by an enormous dragon, resort to the most frightful noises, to compel his snake-ship to disgorge their favorite luminary. If a swarm has selected a new home previous to their departure, no amount of noise will ever compel them to alight, but as soon as all the bees which compose the emigrating colony have left the hive, they fly in a direct course, or "bee-line," to the chosen spot. I have noticed that when bees are much neglected by those who pretend to take care of them, such unceremonious leave-taking is quite common; on the contrary, when proper attention is bestowed on them, it seldom occurs.

It can seldom if ever occur to those who manage their bees according to my system; as I shall show in the Chapter on Artificial Swarming. If the Apiarian perceives that his swarm instead of clustering begins to rise higher and higher in the air, and evidently means to depart, not a moment is to be lost: instead of empty noises, he must resort to means much more effective to stay their vagrant propensities. Handfulls of dirt cast into the air, or water thrown among them, will often so disorganize them as to compel them to alight. Of all devices for stopping them, the most original one that I have ever heard of, is to flash the sun's rays among them, by the use of a looking glass! I have never had occasion to try it, but the anonymous writer who recommends it, says that he never knew it to fail. If they are forcibly prevented from eloping, then special care must be taken or they will be almost sure soon after hiving, to leave for their selected home. The queen should be caught and confined for several days in a way which will be subsequently described. The same caution must be exercised, when new swarms abandon their hive. If the queen cannot be caught, [149] and there is reason to dread a desertion, the bees may be carried into the cellar, and confined in total darkness, until towards sun-set of the third day after they swarmed, being supplied in the mean time with water and honey to build their combs.

If a colony decides to go, they look upon the hive in which they are put as only a temporary stopping place, and seldom trouble themselves to build any comb in it. If the hive is so constructed as to permit inspection, I can tell by a glance whether bees are disgusted with their new residence, and mean before long to clear out. They not only refuse to work with that energy so characteristic of a new swarm, but they have a peculiar look which to the experienced eye at once proclaims the fact that they are staying only upon sufferance. Their very attitude, hanging as they do with a sort of dogged or supercilious air, as though they hated even so much as to touch their detested abode, is equivalent to an open proclamation that they mean to be off. My numerous experiments in attempting from the moment of hiving, to make the bees work in observing hives exposed to the full light of day, instead of keeping them as I now do in darkness for several days, have made me quite familiar with all their graceless, do-nothing proceedings before their departure. Bees sometimes abandon their hives very early in the Spring, or late in Summer or Fall. They exhibit all the appearance of natural swarming; but they leave, not because the population is crowded, but because it is either so small, or the hive so destitute of supplies, that they are discouraged or driven to desperation. I once knew a colony to leave the hive under such circumstances, on a springlike day in December! They seem to have a presentiment that they must perish if they stay, and instead of awaiting [150] the sure approach of famine, they sally out to see if something cannot be done to better their condition.

At first sight, it seems strange that so provident an insect should not always select a suitable domicile before venturing on so important a step as to abandon the old home. Often before they are safely housed again, they are exposed to powerful winds and drenching rains, which beat down and destroy many of their number.

I solve this problem in the economy of the bee, in the same manner that I have solved so many others, by considering in what way, this arrangement conduces to the advantage of man.

The honey-bee would have been of comparatively little service to him, if instead of tarrying until he had sufficient time to establish them in a hive in which to labor for him, their instinct impelled them to decamp, without any delay, from the restraints of domestication. In this, as in many other things, we see that what on a superficial view, appeared to be a very obvious imperfection, proves, on closer examination, to be a special contrivance to answer important ends.

To return to our new swarm. The queen sometimes alights first, and sometimes joins the cluster after it has commenced forming. It is a very rare thing for the bees ever to cluster, unless the queen is with them; and when they do, and yet afterwards disperse, I believe that usually the queen, after first rising with them, has been lost by falling into some spot where she is unnoticed by the bees. In two instances, I performed the following interesting experiment.

Perceiving a hive in the very act of swarming, I contracted the entrance so as to secure the queen when she made her appearance. In each case, at least one third of the bees [151] came out, before the queen presented herself to join them. When I perceived that the swarm had given up their search for her, and were beginning to return to the parent hive, I placed her, with her wings clipped, on the limb of a small evergreen tree: she crawled to the very top of the limb, as if for the purpose of making herself as conspicuous as possible. A few bees noticed her, and instead of alighting, darted rapidly away; in a few seconds, the whole colony were apprised of her presence, flew in a dense cloud to the spot, and commenced quietly clustering around her. I have often noticed the surprising rapidity with which bees communicate with each other, while on the wing. Telegraphic signals are hardly more instantaneous. (See Chapter on the Loss of the Queen.)

That bees send out scouts to seek a suitable abode, it seems to me, can admit of no serious question. Swarms have been traced to their new home, either in their flight directly from their hive, or from the place where they have clustered; and it is evident, that in such instances, they have pursued the most direct course. Now such a precision of flight to a "terra incognita," an unknown home, would plainly be impossible, if some of their number had not previously selected the spot, so as to be competent to act as guides to the rest. The sight of the bees for distant objects, is wonderfully acute, and after rising to a sufficient elevation, they can see the prominent objects in the vicinity of their intended abode, even although they may be several miles distant. Whether the bees send out their scouts before or after swarming, may admit of more question. In cases where the colony flies without alighting, to its new home, they are unquestionably dispatched before swarming. If this were their usual course, then we should naturally expect all the colonies to take the same speedy departure. Or if, for the [152] convenience of the queen over fatigued by the excitement of swarming, or for any other reason, they should see fit to cluster, then we should expect that only a transient tarrying would be allowed. Instead of this, they often remain until the next day, and instances of a more protracted delay are not unfrequent. The cases which occur, of bees stopping in their flight, and clustering again on any convenient object, are not inconsistent with this view of the subject; for if the weather is hot, and the sun shines directly upon them, they will often leave before they have found a suitable habitation; and even when they are on the way to their new home, the queen being heavy with eggs, and unaccustomed to fly, is sometimes from weariness, compelled to alight, and her colony clusters around her. Queens, under such circumstances, sometimes seem unwilling to entrust themselves again to their wings, and the poor bees attempt to lay the foundations of their colony, on fence rails, hay-stacks, or other most unsuitable places.

I have been informed by Mr. Henry M. Zollickoffer of Philadelphia, a very intelligent and reliable observer, that he knew a swarm to settle on a willow tree in that city, in a lot owned by the Pennsylvania Hospital; it remained there for sometime, and the boys pelted it with stones, to get possession of its comb and honey.

The absolute necessity for scouts or explorers, is evident from all the facts in the case, unless we admit that bees have the faculty of flying in an air-line to a hollow tree, or some suitable abode which they have never seen, though they cannot find their hive, if, in their absence, it is moved only a few rods from its former position.

These obvious considerations are abundantly confirmed by the repeated instances in which a few bees have been noticed prying very inquisitively into a hole in a hollow tree [153] or the cornice of a building, and have been succeeded, before long, by a whole colony. The importance of these remarks will be more obvious, when I come to discuss the proper mode of hiving bees.

Having described the common method of procedure pursued by the new swarm, when left without interference to their natural instincts, it is time to return to the parent stock from which they emigrated.

In witnessing the immense number which have abandoned it, we might naturally suppose that it must be almost entirely depopulated. It is sometimes asserted that as bees swarm in the pleasantest part of the day, the population is replenished by the return of large numbers of workers that were absent in the fields; this, however, can seldom be the case, as it is rare for many bees to be absent from the hive at the time of swarming.

To those who limit the fertility of the queen to 200, or at most 400 eggs per day, the rapid replenishing of the hive after swarming, must ever be a problem incapable of solution; but to those who have ocular demonstration that she can lay from one to three thousand eggs a day, it is no mystery at all. A sufficient number of bees is always left behind, to carry on the domestic operations of the hive, and as the old queen departs only when the population of the hive is super-abundant; and when thousands of young bees are hatching daily, and often 30,000 or more, are rapidly maturing, in a short time the hive is almost as populous as it was before swarming. Those who assert that the new colony is composed of young bees which have been forced to emigrate by the older ones, have certainly failed to use their eyes to much advantage, or they would have seen, in hiving a new swarm, that it is composed of both young and old; some, having wings ragged from hard work, while others are [154] evidently quite young. After the tumult of swarming is entirely over, not a bee that did not participate in it, seeks afterwards to join the new colony, and not one that did, seeks to return. What determines some to go, and others to stay, we have no certain means of knowing.

How wonderfully abiding the impression made upon an insect, which in a moment causes it to lose all its strong affection for the old home in which it was bred, and which it has entered, perhaps hundreds of times; so that when established in another hive, though only a few feet distant, it never afterwards pays the slightest attention to its former abode! Often, when the hive into which the new swarm is put, is not removed from the place where the bees were hived, until some have gone to the fields, on their return, they fly for hours, in ceaseless circles about the spot where the missing hive stood. I have often known them to continue the vain search for their companions until they have, at length, dropped down from utter exhaustion, and perished in close proximity to their old homes!

It has been already stated that the old queen, if the weather is favorable, generally leaves about the time that the young queens are sealed over, to be changed into nymphs. In about eight days more, one of these queens hatches, and the question must now be decided whether any more colonies are to be sent out that season, or not. If the hive is well filled with bees, and the season in all respects promising, this question is generally decided in the affirmative; although colonies often refuse to swarm more than once when they are very strong, and when we can assign no reason for such a course; and they sometimes swarm repeatedly, to the utter ruin of both the old stock, and the after-swarms.

If the bees decide to swarm again, the first hatched queen [155] is allowed to have her own way. She rushes immediately to the cells of her sisters, and, (as was described in the Chapter on Physiology,) stings them to death. From some observations that I have made, I am inclined to think that the other bees aid her in this murderous transaction: they certainly tear open the cradles of the slaughtered innocents, and remove them from the cells. Their dead bodies may often be found on the ground in front of the hive.

When a queen has emerged in the natural way from her cell, the bees usually nibble away the now useless abode, until only a small acorn cup remains; but when by violence she has met with an untimely end, they take down entirely the whole of the cell. By counting these acorn-cups, it can always be ascertained how many young queens have hatched in a hive.

Before the queens emerge from their cells, a fluttering sound is frequently heard, which is caused by the rapid motion of their wings, and which must not be confounded with the piping notes which will soon be described. If the bees of the parent stock decide to swarm again, the first hatched queen is prevented from killing the others. A strong guard is kept over their cells, and as often as she approaches them with murderous intent, she is bitten, or otherwise rudely treated, and given to understand by the most uncourtier-like demonstrations, that she cannot, in all things, do just as she pleases.

When thus repulsed, like men and women who cannot have their own way, she is highly offended and utters an angry sound, given forth in a quick succession of notes, and which sounds not unlike the rapid utterance of the words, "peep, peep." I have frequently, by holding a queen in the closed hand, caused her to make the same noise. To this angry note, one or more of the queens still unhatched, [156] will respond, in a somewhat hoarser key, just as chicken-cocks, by crowing, bid defiance to each other. These sounds are entirely unlike the usual steady hum of the bees, and when heard, are the almost infallible indications that a second swarm will soon issue. They are occasionally so loud that they may be heard at some distance from the hive.

About a week after first swarming, the Apiarian should, early in the morning or at evening, when the bees are still, place his ear against the hive, and he will, if the queens are piping, readily recognize their peculiar sounds. If their notes are not heard, at the very latest, sixteen days after the departure of the first swarm, by which time the young queens are mature, even if the first colony left as soon as the eggs were deposited in the royal cells, it is an infallible indication that the first hatched queen is without rivals in the hive, and that swarming is over, in that stock, for the season.

The second swarm usually issues on the second or third day after this sound is heard: although I have known them to delay coming out, until the fifth day, in consequence of a very unfavorable state of the weather. Occasionally, the weather is so unfavorable, that the bees permit the oldest queen to kill the others, and refuse to swarm again. This is a rare occurrence, as the young queens, unlike the old ones, do not appear to be very particular about the weather, and sometimes venture out, not merely when it is cloudy, but even when rain is falling. On this account, if a very close watch is not kept, they are often lost. As piping ordinarily commences about eight or nine days after first swarming, the second swarm generally issues ten or twelve days after the first. It has been known to issue as early as the third day after the first, and as late as the seventeenth. Such cases, however, are of rare occurrence. It frequently [157] happens in the agitation of swarming, that several of the young queens emerge from their cells at the same time, and accompany the colony: when this is the case, the bees often alight in two or more separate clusters. Young queens not having their ovaries burdened with eggs, are much more quick on the wing, than old ones, and fly frequently much farther from the parent stock, before they alight; though I never knew a second swarm to depart to the woods without clustering at all. After the departure of a second swarm, the oldest of the remaining queens leaves her cell; and if another swarm is to be sent forth, piping will still be heard, and so before the issue of each swarm after the first. I once had five stocks issue from one swarm, and they all came out in about two weeks. In warm latitudes more than twice this number of swarms have been known to issue in one season from a single stock. The third swarm commonly makes its appearance on the second or third day after the second swarm, and the others, at intervals of about a day.

After-swarms, or casts, (these names are given to all swarms after the first,) reduce very seriously the strength of the parent stock; for after the departure of the old queen, no more eggs are deposited in the cells, until all swarming is over. It is a very wise arrangement that the second swarm does not ordinarily issue until all the eggs left by the first queen are hatched, and the young fed and sealed over, so as to require no further care. The departure of the second swarm earlier than this, would leave too few laborers to attend to the wants of the young bees. As it is, if the weather after swarming, suddenly becomes chilly, and the hives are thin and admit too much air, the bees are too much reduced in numbers, to maintain the heat requisite for the proper development of the brood, and numbers are destroyed. [158]

In the Chapter on Artificial Swarming, I shall discuss the effect of too frequent swarming, on the profits of the Apiary. If the bee-keeper desires to have no casts, he can, by the use of my hives, very easily, prevent their issue. As soon as the first swarm is hived, the parent stock may be opened, and all the queen cells except one removed. How much better this is, than to attempt to return the after-swarms to the parent hive, can only be appreciated by one who has thoroughly tried both plans. If the Apiarian desires the most rapid multiplication of colonies possible, where natural swarming is relied on, full directions will be furnished, in the sequel, for building up all after-swarms, however small, into vigorous stocks. It will be remembered that both the parent stock from which the swarm issues, and all the colonies except the first, have a young queen. These queens never leave the hive for impregnation, until after they have been established as the acknowledged heads of independent families. They generally go out for this purpose, the first pleasant day after they are thus acknowledged, early in the afternoon, at which hour the drones are flying in the greatest numbers. On first leaving their hive, they always fly with their heads turned towards it, and enter and depart often several times before they finally soar up into the air. Such precautions on the part of a young queen, are highly necessary that she may not mistake her own hive on her return, and lose her life by attempting to enter that of another colony. Mistakes of this kind are frequently made when the hives stand near, and closely resemble each other, and are fatal, not only to the queen, but to her whole colony. In the new hive there is no brood at all, and in the old one it is too far advanced towards maturity to answer for raising new queens. Such calamities, in my hive, admit of a very easy remedy, as I shall show in the Chapter on the Loss of the Queen. [159]

To guard the young queen against such frequent mistakes, I paint the covered fronts of my hives, with the alighting boards, and blocks guarding the entrance, of different colors. This answers the same purpose as to paint the whole surface of the boxes, some of one color, and some of another. The only proper color for a hive when exposed to the weather, is a perfect white; any shade of color will absorb the heat of the sun, so as to warp the wood-work of the hive, besides exposing the bees to a pent and suffocating heat.

When a young queen leaves the hive for the purpose above mentioned, the bees, on missing her, are often filled with alarm, and rush from the hive, just as though they were intending to swarm. Their agitation soon calms down, if she returns to them in safety. I shall give through the medium of the Latin tongue, some statements which are important only to the scientific naturalist, and entomologist.

Post coitum fucus statim perit. Penis ejectio, ut ego comperi, lenem compressionem fuci ventris, consequitur; et fucus extemplo similis fulmine tacto, moritur. Dominus Huber sæpe videbat fuci organum post congressum, in corpore feminæ hæsisse. Vidi semel tam firme inhærens, ut nisi disruptione reginæ ventris, non possim divellere.

The queen commences laying eggs, about two days after impregnation, and for the first season, lays none but the eggs of workers; no males being needed in colonies which will throw no swarm till another season. It is seldom until after she has commenced replenishing the cells with eggs, that she is treated with any special attention by the bees; although if deprived of her before this time, they show, by their despair, that they thoroughly comprehended her vast importance to their welfare.

I shall now give such practical directions for the easy [160] hiving of swarms, as will, I trust, greatly facilitate the whole operation, not merely to the novice, but even to many experienced bee-keepers; and I shall try to make these directions sufficiently minute, to guide those who having never seen a swarm hived, are very apt to imagine that the process must be a formidable one, instead of being, as it usually is to those who are fond of bees, a most delightful entertainment. Experience in this, as in other things, will speedily give the requisite skill and confidence; and the cry of "the bees are swarming," will soon be hailed with greater pleasure than an invitation to the most sumptuous banquet.

The hives for the new swarms should all be in readiness before the swarming season begins, and should be painted long enough beforehand, to have the paint most thoroughly dried. The smell of fresh paint is well known to be exceedingly injurious to human beings, and is such an abomination to the bees, that they will often desert a new hive sooner than put up with it. If the hives cannot be painted in ample season, then such paints should be used, as contain no white lead, and they should be mixed in such a manner as to dry as quickly as possible. Thin hives ought never to stand in the sun, and then, when heated to an insufferable degree, be used for a new swarm. Bees often refuse to enter such hives at all, and at best, are very slow in taking possession of them. It should be borne in mind, that bees, when they swarm, are greatly excited, and unnaturally heated. The temperature of the hive, at the moment of swarming, rises very suddenly, and many of the bees are often drenched with such a profuse perspiration that they are unable to take wing and join the departing colony. The attempt to make bees enter a heated hive in a blazing sun, is as irrational as it would be to try to force a panting crowd of human beings into the suffocating atmosphere of a [161] close garret. If bees are to be put in hives through which the heat of the sun can penetrate, the process should be accomplished in the shade, or if this cannot conveniently be done, the hive should be covered with a sheet, or shaded with leafy boughs. If a hive with my movable frames is used, these should all be furnished, or at least, every other one, with a small piece of worker-comb, attached to the center of the frame, with melted wax or rosin. Without such a guide comb, the bees will almost always work some of the combs out of the true direction, and this will interfere with their easy removal. A sheet of comb, not larger than five inches square, will answer for all the frames of one hive. If even so small a piece of comb as this cannot be procured, let a thin line of melted wax be drawn, lengthwise, over the middle of each frame, and let the colony be examined, on the second day after hiving, and all the frames which contain irregular comb, be removed. This comb may be cut off, and attached so as to serve as a proper guide to the bees. The possession of six frames containing good worker comb, and wrought with perfect accuracy, may be made by the following device, to answer a most admirable end. Put them into a hive with six empty frames; first a frame with comb, then an empty one, &c. After the bees have had possession of this hive two or three days, visit them, and very politely inform them that the full frames were intended as a loan, and not as a gift; and that having served to set them an example how they should work, you must now have them to teach other young swarms the same useful lesson; and that the new combs which they have built with such admirable regularity, are beautiful patterns for the empty ones which you must give them. In this way, the same combs may be made to answer for many successive swarms. [162]

Drone combs should never be attached to the frames as a guide, unless it is desired to have the bees follow the pattern, and build large ranges of drone comb, to breed a vast horde of useless consumers. Such comb, if white, may be used to great advantage in the surplus honey-boxes; if old and discolored, it should be melted for wax. I am now engaged in a course of experiments, which I hope, will enable me to dispense with the necessity of guide-combs for my frames, as they are sometimes difficult to be procured by those who have just commenced bee-keeping. As a general thing, however, every one, after a few weeks' experience, may have enough and to spare, for such purposes. Every piece of good worker-comb, if large enough to be attached to a frame, should be used both for its intrinsic value, and because bees are so wonderfully pleased when they find such unexpected treasures in a hive, that they will seldom desert it. A new swarm has been known to take possession of an old hive without any occupants, but well stored with comb. Though dozens of empty hives may be in the Apiary, they never unless under such circumstances, enter a hive, of their own accord. It might seem as though an instinct impelling them to do so, would have been a most admirable one, and so doubtless, it may seem to some that it would have been much better for man, if the earth had only brought forth spontaneously all things requisite for the support of man and beast, without any necessity for the sweat of the brow. The first and last frames in my hive, are placed about a quarter of an inch from the ends, and the others just half an inch apart. When first put in, it will be advisable to attach them slightly with a very little glue or melted wax, to keep them in their places, until they are fastened with propolis, by the bees. The rubbing of hives with various kinds of herbs or washes, has always [163] seemed to me, useless, and often positively injurious. There ought always to be some small trees near the hives, on which the swarms can cluster, and from which they can be easily gathered. If there are none, limbs of trees about six feet high, (evergreens are best,) may be fastened into the ground, a few rods in front of the hives, and they will answer a very good temporary purpose. It will inspire the inexperienced Apiarian with much greater confidence, to remember that almost all the bees in a swarm, have filled themselves with honey, before leaving the parent stock, and are therefore in a very peaceable mood. If he is at all timid, or liable, as some are, to suffer severely from the sting of a single bee, he should, by all means, furnish himself with the protection of a bee-dress. (See Bee-Dress.)

I shall, in another place, give the best remedies for the relief of a sting. As soon as the bees have quietly clustered around their queen, preparation should be made to hive them without any unnecessary delay. The headlong haste of some Apiarians, which, by throwing them into a profuse perspiration, renders them very liable to be stung, is altogether unnecessary. The very fact that the bees have clustered, after leaving the parent stock, is almost equivalent to a certainty that they will not leave, for at least one or two hours. All convenient despatch should be used, however, lest other colonies issue before the first one is hived, and attempt to add themselves, as they frequently do, to the first swarm. The proper course to be pursued, in such a case, will be subsequently explained. If my hives are used, the entrance on the whole front must be opened, so that the bees may have every chance to enter as rapidly as possible; and a sheet must be fastened to the alighting-board, to keep the bees from being separated from each other or soiled by dirt, for a bee thoroughly covered with [164] dust or dirt, is almost sure to perish. Unless the bees cluster at a considerable distance from the place where they are intended to be permanently stationed, the new hive which receives them may stand on the Protector in its proper place, with the sheet tacked or pinned to the alighting-board, and spread out over the mound in front of the entrance. If the common hives are used, they must generally be carried to the swarm, and propped up on the sheet, so as to give the bees a free admission. When the bees alight where they can be easily reached from the ground, the limb on which they have clustered, should, with one hand, be shaken, so that they may gently fall into a basket held under them, by the other. If the basket is sufficiently open to admit the air freely, and not so open as to allow the bees to get through the sides, it will answer all the better. The bees should now be carried very slowly to their new home, and be gently shaken, or poured out, on the sheet, in front of it. If they seem at all reluctant to enter, take up a few of them in a large spoon, (a cup will answer equally well,) and shake them close to the entrance. As they go in, they will fan with their wings, and raise a peculiar note, which communicates the joyful news that they have found a home, to the rest of their companions; and in a short time, the whole swarm will enter, and they are thus safely hived, without injury to a single bee. When bees are once shaken down on the sheet, the great mass of them are very unwilling to take wing again; for they are loaded with honey, and like heavily armed troops, they desire to march slowly and sedately to the place of encampment. If the sheet hangs in folds, or is not stretched out, so as to present an uninterrupted surface, they are often greatly confused, and take a long time to find the entrance to the hive. If it is desired to have them enter sooner than they are sometimes inclined [165] to do, they may be gently separated, with a feather, or leafy twig, when they cluster in bunches on the sheet. On first shaking them down into the basket, multitudes will again take wing, and multitudes more will be left on the tree, but they will speedily form a line of communication with those on the sheet, and enter the hive with them; for many of them will follow the Apiarian, as he slowly carries the basket to the hive.

It sometimes happens that the queen is left on the tree: in this case, the bees will either refuse to enter the hive, or if they go in, will speedily come out, and all take wing again, to join their queen. This happens much more frequently in the case of after-swarms, whose young queens, instead of exhibiting the gravity of the old matron, are apt to be constantly flying about, and frisking in the air. When the bees cluster again on the tree, the process of hiving must be repeated.

If the Apiarian has a pair of sharp pruning-shears, and the limb on which the bees have clustered, is of no value, and so small, that it can be cut without jarring them off, this may be done, and the bees carried on it and then shaken off on the sheet.

If the bees settle too high to be easily reached, the basket should be fastened to a pole, and raised directly under the swarm; a quick motion of the basket will cause the mass of the bees to fall into it, when it may be carried to the hive, and the bees poured out from it on the sheet.

If the bees light on the trunk of a tree, or any thing from which they cannot easily be gathered in a basket, place a leafy bough over them, (it may be fastened with a gimlet,) and if they do not mount it of their own accord, a little smoke will compel them to do so. If the place is inaccessible, and this is about the worst case that occurs, they will [166] enter a basket well shaded by cotton cloth fastened around it, and elevated so as to rest with its open top sideways to the mass of the bees. When small trees, or limbs fastened into the ground, are placed near the hives, and there are no large trees near, there will seldom be found any difficulty in hiving swarms. If two swarms light together, I advise that they should be put into one hive, and abundant room at once be given them, for storing surplus honey. This can always be readily done in my hives. Large quantities of honey are generally obtained from such stocks, if the season is favorable, and they have issued early. If it is desired to separate them, place in each of the hives which is to receive them, a comb containing brood and eggs, from which, in case of necessity, a new queen may be raised. Shake a portion of the bees in front of each hive, sprinkling them thoroughly, both before and after they are shaken out from the basket, so that they will not take wing to unite again. If possible, secure the queens, so that one may be given to each hive. If this cannot be done, the hives should be examined the next day, and if the two queens entered the same hive, one will have killed the other, and the queenless hive will be found building royal cells. It should be supplied with a sealed queen nearly mature, taken from another hive, not only to save time, but to prevent them from filling their hive with comb unfit for the rearing of workers. (See Artificial Swarming.) Of course, this cannot be done with the common hives, and if the Apiarian does not succeed in getting a queen for each hive, the queenless one will refuse to stay, and will go back to the old stock.

The old-fashioned way of hiving bees, by mounting trees, cutting and lowering down large limbs, (often to the injury of valuable trees,) and placing the hive over the bees, frequently crushing large numbers, and endangering the life of [167] the queen, should be entirely abandoned. A swarm may be hived in the proper way with far less risk and trouble, and in much less time. In large Apiaries managed on the swarming plan, where a number of swarms come out on the same day, and there is constant danger of their mixing,[16] the speedy hiving of swarms is an object of great importance. If the new hive does not stand where it is to remain for the season, it should be removed to its permanent stand as soon as the bees have entered; for if allowed to remain to be removed in the evening, or early next morning, the scouts which have left the cluster, in search of a hollow tree, will find the bees when they return, and will often entice them from the hive. There is the greater danger of this, if the bees have remained on the tree, a considerable time before they were hived. I have invariably found that swarms which abandon a suitable hive for the woods, have been hived near the spot where they clustered, and allowed to remain to be moved in the evening. If the bees swarm early in the day, they will generally [168]begin to work in a few hours (or in less time, if they have empty comb,) and many more may be lost by returning next day to the place where they were hived, than would be lost, by removing them as soon as they have entered; in this latter case, the few that are on the wing, will generally be able to find the hive if it is slowly moved to its permanent stand.

If the Apiarian wishes to secure the queen, the bees should be shaken from the hiving basket, about a foot from the entrance to the hive, and if a careful look-out is kept, she will generally be seen as she passes over the sheet, to the entrance. Care must be taken to brush the bees back from the entrance when they press forward in such dense masses that the queen is likely to enter unnoticed. An experienced eye readily catches a glance of her peculiar form and color. She may be taken up without danger, as she never stings, unless engaged in combat with another queen. As it will sometimes happen, even to careful bee-keepers, that swarms will come off when no suitable hives are in readiness to receive them, I shall show what may be done in such an emergency. Take any old hive, box, cask, or measure, and hive the bees in it, placing them with suitable protection against the sun, where their new hive is to stand; when this is ready, they may, by a quick jerking motion, be easily shaken out on a sheet, and hived in it, just as though they were shaken from the hiving basket. If they are to remain in the temporary hive over the second day, they ought to be shaken out on a sheet, and after their comb is taken from them, allowed to enter it again, or else there will be danger of crushing the queen by the weight of the comb.

I have endeavored, even at the risk of being tedious, to give such specific directions as will qualify the novice to hive a swarm of bees, under almost any circumstances; for I know the necessity of such directions and how seldom [169] they are to be met with, even in large treatises on Bee-Keeping. Vague or imperfect directions always fail, just at the moment that the inexperienced attempt to put them into practice.

Before leaving this subject, I will add to the directions for hiving already given, a method which I have practiced with good success.

When the situation of the bees does not admit of the basket being easily elevated to them, the bee-keeper may carry it with him to the cluster, and then after shaking the bees into it, may lower it down by a string, to an assistant standing below.

That Natural Swarming may, with suitable hives, be made highly profitable, I cannot for a moment question. As it is the most simple and obvious way of multiplying colonies, and the one which requires the least amount of knowledge or skill, it will undoubtedly, for many years at least, be the favorite method with a large number of bee-keepers. I have therefore, been careful to furnish suitable directions for its successful practice; and before I discuss the question of Artificial Increase, I shall show how it may be more profitably conducted than ever before; many of the most embarrassing difficulties in the way of its successful management being readily obviated by the use of my hives.

1. The common hives fail to furnish adequate protection in Winter, against cold, and those sudden changes to unseasonable warmth, by which bees are tempted to come out and perish in large numbers on the snow; and the colonies are thus prevented from breeding on a large scale, as early as they otherwise would. Under such circumstances, they can make no profitable use of the early honey-harvest; and they will swarm so late, if they swarm at all, as to have [170] but little opportunity for laying up surplus honey, while often they do not gather enough even for their own use, and their owner closes the season by purchasing honey to preserve them from starvation. The way in which I give the bees that amount of protection in Winter, which conduces most powerfully to early swarming, has already been described in the Chapter on Protection.

2. Another serious objection to all the ordinary swarming hives, is the vexatious fact that if the bees swarm at all, they are liable to swarm so often as to destroy the value of both the parent stock and the after-swarms. Experienced bee-keepers obviate this difficulty, by uniting second swarms, so as to make one good colony out of two; and they return to the parent stock all swarms after the second, and even this if the season is far advanced. Such operations consume much time, and often give much more trouble than they are worth. By removing all the queen cells but one, after the first swarm has left, second swarming in my hives will always be prevented; and by removing all but two, provision may be made for the issue of second swarms, and yet all after-swarming be prevented. The process of returning after-swarms is not only objectionable, on account of the time it requires, having often to be repeated again and again before one queen is allowed to destroy the others; but it also causes a large portion of the gathering season to be wasted; for the bees seem unwilling to work with energy, so long as the pretensions of several rival queens are unsettled.

3. Another very serious objection to Natural Swarming, as practiced with the common hives, is the inability of the Apiarian who wishes rapidly to multiply his colonies, to aid his late and small swarms, so as to build them up into vigorous stocks. The time and money which are ordinarily spent [171] upon small colonies, are almost always thrown away; by far the larger portion of them never survive the Winter, and the majority of those that do, are so enfeebled, as to be of little or no value. If they escape being robbed by stronger stocks, or destroyed by the moth, they seldom recruit in season to swarm, and very often the feeding must be repeated, the second Fall, or they will at last perish. I doubt not that many of my readers will, from their own experience, endorse every word of these remarks, as true to the very letter. All who have ever attempted to multiply colonies by nursing and feeding small swarms, on the ordinary plans, have found it attended with nothing but loss and vexation. The more a man has of such stocks, the poorer he is: for by their weakness, they are constantly tempting his strong swarms to evil courses; so that at last, they prefer to live as far as they can, by stealing, rather than by habits of honest industry; and if the feeble colonies escape being plundered, they often become mere nurseries for raising a plentiful supply of moths, to ravage his whole Apiary.

I have already shown, in what way by the use of my hives, the smallest swarms that ever issue, may be so managed as to become powerful stocks. In the same way the Apiarian can easily strengthen all his colonies which are feeble in Spring.

4. As the loss of the young queens in the parent stock after it has swarmed, and in the after-swarms, is a very common occurrence, a hive which like mine, furnishes the means of easily remedying this misfortune, will greatly promote the success of those who practice natural swarming. A very intelligent bee-keeper once assured me, that he must use at least one such hive in his Apiary, for this purpose, even if in other respects it possessed no superior merits. [172]

5. Bees, as is well known, often refuse to swarm at all, and most of the swarming hives are so constructed, that proper accommodations for storing honey, cannot be furnished to the super-abundant population. Under such circumstances, they often hang for several months, in black masses on the outside of the hive; and are worse than useless, as they consume the honey which the others have gathered. In my hives, an abundance of room for storing honey can always be given them, not all at once, so as to prevent them from swarming, but by degrees, as their necessities require: so that if they are indisposed, for any reason to swarm, they may have suitable receptacles easily accessible, and furnished with guide comb to make them more attractive, in which to store up any amount of honey that they can possibly collect.

6. In the common hives, but little can be done to dislodge the bee-moth, when once it has gained the mastery of the bees; whereas in mine, it can be most effectually rooted out when it has made a lodgment. (See Remarks on Bee-Moth.)

7. In the common hives, nothing can be done except with great difficulty, to remove the old queen when her fertility is impaired; whereas in my hives, (as will be shown in the Chapter on Artificial Swarming,) this can easily be effected, so that an Apiary may constantly contain a stock of young queens, in the full vigor of their re-productive powers.

I trust that these remarks will convince intelligent Apiarians, that I have not spoken boastfully or at random, in asserting that natural swarming can be carried on with much greater certainty and success, by the use of my hives, than in any other way; and that they will see that many of the most perplexing embarrassments and mortifying discouragements under which they have hitherto prosecuted it, may be effectually remedied.

Bee Culture: Natural Swarming and Hiving of Swarms
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