CHAPTER I Edit
WHY KEEP BEES
THE reasons for keeping bees are many and various ; for it is an industry as many-sided as the cells of a honey-comb, one of its chief charms being that it appeals equally to "many men of many minds." To know all the reasons why one should keep bees one must be conversant with the history of man; he must be familiar with the Vedas of India and master of the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt; he must study the life of the common people in the Hebrew Scrip- tures and the classic literatures of Greece and Italy, and must be able to translate into terms of common human experiences the myths and legends of diverse peoples. For bees have been a part of the conscious life of man from the beginning. Not only have they sweetened his daily bread with beneficent honey, but they have had their place in his religious rites, and also in his family observances, as millions of happy lovers may attest who have experienced the " honey- moon." However, lacking the erudition necessary to enumerate all, the author of this book is quite content to mention a few of the more cogent reasons why anyone should, in this day and generation, undertake the keeping of bees.
One may keep bees for the sake of the honey, which is a most legitimate and fit reason. Honey is a wholesome and delicious addition to the family table. Though it is a luxury, yet it may be afforded by one living in moderate circumstances, if he be willing to give a modicum of time and care to the happy little creatures that gladly make it for him, free of all expense. But for the one possessed of great wealth, and able to corner the honey-market any day, there is sure delight, as well as education, in raising his own honey. Any person of experience well knows that the honey made by one's own bees has quality and flavour superior to that made by other people's bees. In fact, the only way to become a connoisseur of honey is to keep bees, for thus only may one learn to discriminate between honey made from basswood and that gathered from clover; or to distinguish, at first taste, the product of orchard in bloom from that drawn from vagrant blossoms, which, changing day by day, mark the season's processional. He who has once kept bees and be- come an artist in honey-flavours, would never again, willingly, become a part of the world at large, which, in its dense ignorance, dubs all white honey "bass- wood" or "clover" indiscriminately, and believes all dark honey is gathered from buckwheat.
Some, perhaps, might keep bees for the sake of making money. For him who would get rich keeping bees, this book manifestly is not written; its title explains that it is meant to show how to keep bees, and not how to make bees keep him. The person who would, from the first, make bee-keeping his chief work should receive his training in a large apiary. As a vocation it demands the entire time and energy of a shrewd and able person to insure success; of such, America already has a great number, with yearly incomes varying from $1,000 to $10,000. However, the desire to make the bees keep them- selves and add more or less to the family income is a practical and sensible reason for keeping bees. Fifteen or twenty colonies may be managed with comparatively little time and attention and the work may be done largely by women or the younger mem- bers of the household. If proper care be given to such an apiary, it will prove of material benefit to the family purse; for, if the season be favourable, the product of one colony should net the owner from four to ten dollars. We know of boys who have thus earned their college expenses ; and many women have bought immunity from the drudgery of the kitchen with money paid them for their crops of honey. It should be borne in mind that honey-money is not obtained without thought, energy, and some hard work. The bees would have been less beneficent to mankind had they bestowed honey without de- manding a return in care and labour.
Many have kept bees as a recreation, and there is none better. It gives delightful and absorbing oc- cupation in the open air and is not merely a rest from mental and sedentary labours, but is a stimulus to health and strength as well. In the various bee journals are recorded testimonials from thousands who, when tired, ill, and nervously worn out, began bee-keeping, and through it regained vigour and found a new interest in life. Notwithstanding the fact that bees have honest stings, they can work the miracle of changing a dyspeptic pessimist into a cheerful optimist with a rapidity and completeness that merits our highest admiration.
A love for natural science is a very good reason for keeping bees. Nowhere are there more fascinating problems for the investigator than those still unsolved in the hive. Of all the lower animals, bees are, per- haps, the most highly developed in certain ways; and it is more probable that the mysteries of the eternal heavens and the distant stars be made plain than that we ever learn the truths that underlie the development of the "Spirit of the Hive."
Another reason for keeping bees is the insight to be gained therefrom into the conditions of perfect communism. The bees and their relatives are the most intelligent and consistent socialists that have yet been developed in this world; and, through studying their ways, one may discern with startling clearness how the perfect socialism grinds off all the projecting corners of the individual until it fits perfectly in its communal niche. In the hive indi- vidual traits, as exemplified in kindness, selfishness, love and hate, are moved up a notch in the scale and characterise the whole community, even though they are eliminated from its members. If one is a social philosopher, he may become very wise, indeed, by studying the results of the laws of socialism which have been executed inexorably through count- less centuries in the bee commune.
Last, but by no means least, one may keep bees because they belong to home life and should have place in every well-kept garden or orchard. There is no more beautiful domestic picture to be found in the world than a fine garden with a row of holly- hocks hiding the boundary fence and affording a fitting background for a neat row of white hives. It is not alone the aesthetic beauty the bees bring to the garden which touches the deeper currents of feeling and is productive of profound satisfaction ; it is some- thing more fundamental; for since the thyme of Hymettus yielded nectar, the happy hum of the bee has yielded comfort to the human senses. The garden without bees seems ever to lack something; mayhap, the silent longing of the flowers for their friendly visitors, intangible but real, so permeates the place that we are dimly conscious of it. Be that as it may, the perfect garden can only be attained through the presence of happy and populous bee- hives.