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CHAPTER VII Edit

HOW TO KEEP FROM KEEPING TOO MANY BEES

THE PROBLEM

"AYE, there's the rub!" For the beginner who wishes to keep a few bees, this is the most difficult problem to solve on the bee-keeper's slate, and it must finally be solved by each according to his own capacity and method.

We confess frankly that we were once driven out of the bee business because we were too successful. Caring for fifteen or twenty hives was a delightful avocation. We kept our colonies strong, for we wished to make comb-honey ; consequently, splendid swarms came off, and we had the fatal gift of seeing them when they came and of hiving them successfully. Thus our avocation began to intrench upon our vocation in a most alarming manner. W r hile we enjoyed taking care of our bees, we were nevertheless following the vocation which we had chosen, and which we liked best; and the time came when we were obliged to decide whether we would leave our regular business and become bee-keepers, or abjure bee-keeping and attend to our regular business.

We gave away what swarms we could and we sold some; but selling bees is a business quite as much as caring for them, so that was not practicable. Philo- sophically, we argued that since we had enough bees we would let the swarms that came off abscond and bid them God-speed; but here we reckoned without properly considering the amount of human nature which had fallen to our share. Although we knew that every swarm in our apiary above twenty would be an embarrassment and a tribulation, we could never rest content not to hive a swarm when it issued; and the more unattainable the place where it clustered and the less we wanted the bees, the more determined we were to secure that special swarm.

Such inconsistency brought its own punishment, and our only resource was to sell out; and for many years the spot in our garden which our apiary once occupied was never viewed without a sense of loneli- ness and longing for its busy little tenants. During these years we thought it over and finally came around to the right frame of mind, and firmly con- cluded to keep bees for our own honey and our own happiness. We limited our ambitions to ten hives; and last summer when our best-tested Italian queen took us unawares and departed with a large and enthusiastic following, we did not mourn; all we did was to venture to hope that the young queen left in the hive had mated with one of our own handsome drones, and not with a mad black prince from one of Mr. Coggshall's take-care-of-itself apiaries in our neighbourhood. As soon as our new brood made us sure that our queen had made no mesalliance we were entirely content.

Our lack of success in preventing swarming when trying to produce comb-honey was a source of great chagrin to us until we read that so eminent a bee- keeper as Mr. Hutchinson declared that "there is no way of preventing first swarms profitable to the comb-honey producer," and then our feelings were salved. The following are in brief a few of the more successful ways practised to prevent increase:

By clipping the queen's wings. Almost all bee- keepers practise this now, whatever their method of preventing increase or securing it. A queen with clipped wings is necessarily a "stay-at-home body," and the swarm will not leave without her. However, when depending upon this method it is very important to guard against the hatching of new queens, and this can only be done by closely scrutinising the brood- comb to discover and destroy the queen cells. The brood-frames should be examined in each hive about once a week during the months of June and July, if this method is to succeed. Many a time have we sat smilingly by and watched a swarm come out of the hive with great pomp and circumstance, only to sneak back when it was discovered that her majesty was unfit for travel.

By the use of a queen-trap. This is a device used by some instead of clipping the wings of the queen. It is a box of perforated zinc placed over the entrance of the hive, the slots in it large enough to allow the workers to pass in and out, and small enough to hold back the queen and drones. Although this method saves time, yet comparatively few recommend it. The cost of the trap is one objection ; but the greater objection seems to be that it inconveniences the workers when returning from the fields; and is, therefore, likely to affect the amount of honey stored, since much time is lost and some annoyance occa- sioned to the bees by being obliged to squeeze through ; it also scrapes the pollen off their legs. (Plate XVI. )

By giving-room. Supposing that our queen is clipped or confined, which is the first step, the next is to give plenty of room in the brood-chamber. Lack of room for brood and honey is one of the most potent reasons for inducing swarming. So the first thing to do after the disappointed swarm comes back to the hive is to tier up the supers. It is also well to remove from the hive a frame or two of brood which may be put in the hive of some weaker colony; in place of the removed frame is substituted another containing a starter of foundation; and the would-be swarm, finding that there is plenty to do, is content to remain at home for a time.

By extracting honey. It will often pacify a colony to take the frames from the brood-chamber and extract the honey from them. This may be done when the brood is present, if care is taken not to run the separator so rapidly as to throw out the larvae, a performance quite as distasteful to the young bees as to the consumer. However, this should not be practised unless much honey is coming in, as otherwise the brood may be starved.

By using large hives. Many bee-keepers of high standing have practically solved the swarming problem by using large hives. The Dadants, well known on two continents as successful apiarists, use the large Quinby hives in their own apiaries, and have introduced them into France and Switzerland. The Dadant-Quinby hive has about the capacity of a twelve-frame Langstroth. The frames are both deep and large, measuring 18^ by 1H inches, and so give the queen plenty of room. The Dadants have no trouble with swarming, as only enough swarms come off to make good the winter losses in their apiaries.

There are three reasons why we have not used these large hives: first, they are too heavy to handle well, being altogether too productive of backaches. Second, they are necessarily much more expensive, as wider pieces of perfect lumber are used in the making. Third, and most important to us of all, we find it difficult to produce comb-honey in a large hive; when the bees have so much room in the brood- chamber, they discover no reason for carrying honey up into the supers. If we made extracted honey, as do the Dadants and the European apiarists, we would certainly use the larger hives, simply to be rid of this nuisance of constant swarming. The colonies grow to be so much stronger in the larger hives that they are much better able to withstand the vicissitudes of winter than are smaller colonies, which is a great advantage.

By the brushing or shaking-out method. When the bees at the beginning of the honey-flow seem to be getting ready to swarm, the hive is moved to one side of the stand and on the exact site is placed another just like it, which contains frames set with foundation starters. As gently as possible the bees are shaken or brushed from the frames of the old hive upon the threshold of the new, great care being taken to include the queen. The supers from the old hive are then placed upon the new hive with a queen-excluder between. The old hive may stand beside the new one until the brood has emerged, when all of the inhabitants of the old tenement are shaken in front of the new habitation. This shaking of a colony into a new hive so surprises and confounds the bees that they get the impression that they have already swarmed, and go to work with all diligence in their new quarters. The partly filled supers from the old hive encourage them mightily in the ways of well-doing.

Py dividing swarms. This method we have practised with quite satisfactory results. The troublous question is just when to divide. If we divide too soon we weaken the colonies, and decrease the honey harvest. If we wait until too late, the bees do the dividing themselves. The process is as fol- lows : The queen's wings are clipped before the new queen is to emerge, and she is placed in a new hive furnished with brood-frames containing foundation- starters; enough of the bees are taken to the hive with her to start a good colony, and the deed is done. However, the fact remains that in this way the number of colonies is increased as much as if the swarm had come off naturally.

By removing the queen. Some apiarists remove the queen during the honey-harvest and cut out all the queen cells. They give the queen a nucleus if they wish more brood; meanwhile the colony will not swarm without her. Whether queenless bees are as easy in their minds and, therefore, as ready and enthusiastic in the task of gathering honey, is a mooted question. Bees, like people, work to the best advantage when they have fewest worries. One difficulty with this method is that before we are aware of it a queen may be reared despite our careful and onorous labours in hunting for queen cells. Another difficulty with this practice is the encourage- ment of the egg-laying workers, which is a most demoralising influence to introduce into a hive.

AFTER-SWARMS

An after-swarm is one that is led by a virgin queen and may come off within sixteen days after the first natural swarm departs; usually it occurs within a week. Most bee-keepers consider the after-swarm as a manifestation of "pure cussedness" on the part of a colony; but it is only a poorly adjusted method practised by the bees for getting rid of superfluous princesses. After the old queen decamps with her followers, there are usually several queens ready to emerge from their cells; the ordinary story, as told in books, is that the first queen that emerges hastens to slay her yet helpless sisters, or battles with them singly until but one queen is left in the hive; and this actually does occur often. However, there are differences between bee-colonies, as there are between individual people, and every young queen does not seem blood-thirsty; or perhaps in some instances the citizens restrain her from carrying out her murderous intent, and try to get rid of her by sending her forth with as many followers as can well be spared from the parent colony. Other queens may issue, and if this charitable instinct still persists, another and still another swarm may be sent out. This misguided kindness to young queens is as demoralising to the colony as unwise giving of alms is in the human world, and finally a swarm may be sent off so small that a teacup would hold it. Of course, this means certain death to all of its members. Finally the limit of endurance is reached, and with the last possible swarm are sent out all the young queens left in the hive save the one retained as queen mother. Whether the workers send out these bur- densome members of royalty as a measure of good riddance, or whether in their excitement they fail to guard the queen cells and so let them out and they voluntarily join the procession, is not as yet surely ascertained. One of the formalities of the after-swarm is that before it occurs the queen sounds her pibroch, a tune which probably excites her listening subjects to rash departure. The bee- keeper gets to know this sound very well, and when he hears it, he knows that an after-swarm will issue very soon unless he does something immediately to prevent it. One thing particularly exasperating about the after-swarm is that the virgin queen, being lighter bodied and lighter minded than the old queen, may take the occasion of swarming to get married, and go on her wedding journey; and thus is likely to lead her followers a mad chase and leave her proprietor so far in the rear that he loses the swarm entirely.

For the real reason of after-swarming we must look upon the colony as an individual; and as nature is wasteful in the production of individuals, these weak after-swarms are analogous to the weaklings among animals or plants, which must be sacrificed for some inscrutable reason on the altar of the preservation of the species.

PREVENTION OF AFTER-SWARMS

Mr. Hutchinson practises the following method: When the first swarm comes off he places it in a new hive like the old one, and puts the new hive on the exact site of the old one, while the latter is moved away just a little and faces in a different direction than before. The new hive has four or five frames with foundation starters, and on it is placed the super with partially filled sections from the old hive, with a queen-excluding board between the two; thus the new swarm, having no brood ready, will store in the supers until the brood-comb is built. Most of the bees from the old hive, returning from the field, will enter the new hive because the entrance to the old hive is turned away. The old hive is then turned a little each day, until its entrance, which should be contracted, is parallel to the entrance of the new hive, and very close to it. If, on the seventh day after the first swarm issued, the old hive be removed to some new location, its numbers will have been so depleted that there will be no attempt to send off after-swarms.

HOW TO UNITE COLONIES

If two colonies are weak late in the season, it is often best to unite them. This may be done by moving the hives nearer to each other, a little each day, until they are side by side. The queen of one colony is killed, the best frames from each hive are alternated with each other in one hive, .and the bees shaken into this; the other hive removed, and the one remaining placed midway between where the two stood. Sweetened water flavoured with peppermint may be sprayed over both colonies just before uniting, so that they will all be scented alike. The above is the method advised by Professor Cook.

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