CHAPTER VI Edit
THE SWARMING OF BEES
WHY BEES SWARM
IN case of most of the higher animals, including man, the species are spread over the face of the earth through the simple plan of "marrying off" the younger individuals, and allowing them "to set up for themselves." As there is no individualism, no indulging in love or hatred for each other among the perfect socialists, this plan is manifestly not at all adapted to provide for the increase of social insects where the colony acts as an individual. The bee plan is as follows: When a colony gets large enough and strong enough it divides into two. As the Amoeba, the simplest of animal organisms, divides the individual in order to multiply its numbers, so the bee-colony as an organism divides and mul- tiplies. It is interesting that the method of increase characteristic of the lowest order of animals should repeat itself among beings so highly organised physically, when the individuals merge into a social unit. This analogy might well give the social philosophers an opportunity for some real thinking.
Much discussion has found place in human annals as to whether the queen or the workers take the initiative in this hegira of the bees, and much evidence is advanced on both sides of the question. But it is a profitless discussion for us to indulge in; the more we study bees, the more firmly we are convinced that we know little of the forces which govern the bee body politic. We only know that at certain seasons of the year when the successful colony has plenty of brood and honey, the old queen and many of the old and experienced citizens, go away from the hive and form a new colony elsewhere, leaving the young queen and the younger bees in possession of the homestead, thus reversing the human custom. While in the air, or when clustered, the swarm looks sufficiently large to be composed of the whole colony, yet the swarms are smaller than they look, for rarely more than 20,000 bees go away with the old queen.
WHEN BEES SWARM
The swarms usually come off in June in a climate like that of New York State. Some strong colonies may swarm in May if the season is early, thus making us glad; for the old verse, "A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay," is based upon practical experience.
The when and the immediate why of the swarming of bees are closely connected. There are several conditions which conduce to swarming : the presence of young queens ready to issue from the cells; the crowding of the hive with brood, bees, and honey; the presence of too many drones; the extreme heat of an overcrowded hive on a hot day; this latter is a most cogent reason, and it is well for the bee-keeper to shade his hives to prevent this. The swarms are likely to issue between 9 A. M. and 2 p. M., although enough swarms come off at unseemly hours to make any rule valueless except as a prophecy. (Plate XL)
HOW TO HIVE A SWARM
"The bees are swarming!" These are magical words, which arouse every member of that family whose pride is a few hives in the garden. It is a cry that starts the sluggish blood, and sends a quiver of excitement up and down the spinal column while one rushes to the scene of action. How gracefully that moving mass of black particles undulates in the air, as if it were a drifting cloud instead of a self- willed, one-minded colony of socialists! How the heart rises and sinks inversely to this rise and fall, and how hopeless it seems when the swarm lifts itself superbly over all surrounding obstacles, and disappears above the tree tops! No one who has had this experience will wonder at the ancient cus- tom which obtains even now in the country districts on such occasions of beating tin pans, ringing bells, and shouting "whoa" at the top of the lungs. All of this racket had its inception in the needs of the bee-keeper to adequately express his feelings at this crisis. If the bees ever stopped and settled because of this din, it was probably from sheer amazement at witnessing such folly on the part of human beings; this explanation would hold, perhaps, if bees ever evinced any interest in human beings, except when they obstruct the bee-path. However, most of our ancient customs were founded in utility, and it is not likely that this traditional pandemonium would have been practised for centuries without some reason. Mr. Root, who thinks before he speaks, suggests that the swarm follows the queen and the scouts through listening to their song, that of the queen being easily distinguished from the hum of the workers when on the wing; and that it is quite possible, therefore, that the noise, if loud enough to drown the voice of the queen, would cause confusion on the part of the flying bees and a consequent settling. But from what we remember of our own early experience, we are convinced that the bees were less confused by the noise than were the people engaged in making it.
The next most widely practised of the ancient methods is that of throwing dirt on the swarm to stop it; this certainly is efficacious if there happens to be enough loose earth at hand. However, throw- ing dirt is a reactionary performance in the physical as well as the moral sense; and usually the bee- keeper who throws dirt at a soaring swarm must needs stop soon to get the motes out of his own eyes before he is able to see where the swarrn has alighted.
In these enlightened days everyone who has a cherry tree or an apple tree, a currant bush or a potato patch, is sure to have a fountain pump of some sort; and never is this instrument a greater boon than when it throws a fine spray upon an absconding swarm of bees. It brings them to a stop very soon; it may injure the feelings of the bees, but it certainly does not injure them physically, as it simply impairs their power of flight by wetting the wings. Even after a swarm has settled, a little sprinkle of water will keep it clustered safely until the hive is made ready to receive it.
It is highly desirable that the swarm should clus- ter on the tip of a branch not far from the ground; for then the process of hiving is comparatively sim- ple. My personal plan has been to place a sheet, kept for the purpose, on the ground near the cluster- ing swarm; place on this a covered hive filled with frames containing brood foundations. Lift the front edge of the hive about an inch by putting blocks under the two corners; then cut the branch above the cluster, and taking it in hand shake the bees off in front of the hive and placidly watch them hive themselves with true bee celerity. This use of the sheet is a habit formed in childhood, and I persist in it, though my partner derides the practice. He shakes the bees down on the board on which the hive is standing; or he takes the top off the hive, and shakes the bees down among the frames in the most summary fashion. But I think the sheet makes a softer mattress for the little citizens to fall upon, and certainly they find their way from it more easily into the hive. I am a conservative person, and like to do things as I always have done them before a conser- vatism that is by no means dangerous in our apiary where the senior partner is given to new ways and many inventions. If the bees alight high in a tree, then our methods have been to get at them by climbing the tree, or attaining the branch by the use of a ladder. How- ever, I doubt if there was ever a fruit found on any tree that needs quite so much care in the picking as does this; and it is decidedly a ticklish performance to clamber down a tree holding gingerly a branch laden with a swarm of bees in one hand and clutch- ing at supporting branches with the other. Some- times the bees are not accommodating enough to alight on the end of a branch that may be cut off. They may even go so far as to cluster on the large branch itself; then there is nothing to do but to brush them off in a box with a bee brush, a per- formance which they object to; or to dip them off with a tin dipper, or to jar them into a basket, and then to dump them out in front of the hive. The most embarrassing situation of all is when the swarm clusters on a tree trunk. Squaring the circle is not a much more difficult feat mathematically than to brush all the bees into a square box from this cylin- drical position. It is usually necessary to bring the smoker to help in elucidating this problem; for, paradoxical as it may seem, smoke properly applied clears up many a situation in the bee business.
If only one were able to find the queen in the clus- tering swarm and secure her by placing her in the hive, the work would be easy, for the other bees would soon follow. But to hunt for the queen in the clustering swarm is, for most of us, quite like hunting for the traditional needle in the haystack; and while we are hunting we are wasting precious time, as the swarm may make up its collective mind to remove from our vicinity its component atoms. In shaking, or dipping, or brushing the bees into the hive, we should remember to deal with them as gently as the situation and mental perturbation will permit.
Sometimes the bees seem to feel defrauded at hav- ing a house chosen for them, and insist upon swarm- ing out of their new quarters within a day or two after they are placed in possession. Thus it is a wise precaution to give the hives of the newly swarmed attention for two or three days, lest they indulge in this sort of perversity. If the bees seem unsettled and unhappy, and hang around home instead of going into the fields to work, it is advisable to place in the middle of the hive a frame of unsealed brood taken from some other colony. A bee's motherly instinct may always be depended upon, since caring for the young is a shining civic virtue as well as a domestic duty among the bee people. When there are helpless larvae to care for, the bees willingly forego every personal inclination to pack up and move, and cheerfully proceed to give the youngsters every attention.
When the self-appointed scouts of a bee colony start out house-hunting for the swarm which is about to issue, they evidently examine the premises care- fully; if they find a house for rent in the immediate neighbourhood, they are likely to go no farther in their quest. Thus it is the practice of many bee keepers to place about the apiary hives empty, except for brood-frames filled with foundation, hoping thus to entice the swarms to take possession, and save all trouble. Mr. Root goes so far as to advise that such hives be fastened in the lower forks of trees in the neighbourhood of the apiary, and thus provide a most expedient bee tree. A decoy hive should not contain more than three brood-frames, as other frames may be added when the bees move in. The reason for this is that the sheets of wax foundation, when sufficiently close together for the convenience of the bees, prove also entirely convenient for the occupancy of the bee moth; and one ought to be particular about one's tenants when renting houses in the apiary.
Mr. West's device for saving swarms is the most alluring of any about which we have read. Since the clipped queen cannot fly, she expresses the as- piration within her breast by climbing anything at hand, like a blade of grass or a shrub. Mr. West observing this, drives a bare, forked branch into the ground a few inches in front of the hive, having cleaned the ground between it and the hive of all obstacles. This branch having a few twigs upon it, is leaned away from the hive entrance. The queen promptly climbs this tree, like Zaccheus, and the swarm clusters around her and remains there con- veniently at hand for hiving.
MAXIMS FOR HIVING BEES
Clip the old queen's wings.
Go through the hives every ten days to destroy queen cells.
As the swarming season approaches, have hives ready with foundation in brood-frames, and hive- stands ready to receive them. Keep a serene spirit while hiving bees.
The hive in which the colony is placed should be kept cool and not heated from standing in the sun; it should be shaded, as the swarm will not enter a hot hive.
If the bees refuse to accept a hive, give them a frame of unsealed brood to reconcile them.