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CHAPTER IV Edit

THE HOME OF THE BEES Edit

THE natural home of the honey bee before it became domesticated was in the heart of a forest tree, or in the cleft of a rock, sheltered from the wind and rain, and more or less protected from the cold.

That the remembrance of their early homes still remains is shown by the fact that when a swarm is not hived, and gets away before its owner can care for it, they are apt to seek the interior of a partially decayed tree, entering and emerging through a knothole. It is not uncommon to find a tree thus tenanted by a vagrant swarm. I have also found many swarms that have made their homes under the weather boards of a house or under the eaves of a garret; only a few years ago I removed a swarm of bees from a bird box, where the bees had driven the birds from their homes and taken complete possession.

Whether a swarm finds its home in a modern hive or in the heart of ail old tree, the first thing they proceed to do is to remove all trash and render it scrupulously clean, for they are the most cleanly little creatures in existence. Again and again have I seen bee trees where the process of decay had already begun, but no sooner had a swarm of bees taken possession than they at once removed all decayed wood, and so completely varnished its interior with propolis, or bee-glue, that future decay was impossible.

We are, however, more interested in the modern home, or hive, of the bee. Lifting its lid and glancing within, we find a set of eight or ten frames of comb, according to the size of the hive. We say "frames" of combs, for no up-to-date beekeeper would think of throwing a swarm of bees into an empty hive and permitting them to build their combs in every direction, as this would render manipulation of the hive an impossibility. The late Lorenzo Langstroth was the inventor of the movable frame hive with bee space, and his invention has revolutionized the industry. These frames fit the hive bodies and have a bee space all around them so as to leave no space for the bees to build bur and brace combs, which would make it impossible to lift them out to examine the brood, find the queen, and do such other work as from time to time is essential.

By the use of frames it is possible to lift out a single frame of comb at a time without tearing each comb from the sides of the hive, as each comb is nicely built in the frame and bound on all sides by wood. To insure straight combs and a large proportion of worker cells, all progressive beekeepers place in each frame before the time of hiving the swarm a large sheet of wax foundation, which nearly fits the frames, and on which have been stamped the rudiments of cells.

These sheets of foundation are wired in, so that when the combs are built out from them each comb is held securely in place and no danger of the comb breaking loose from the frame is possible in handling or when extracting the honey. This foundation must of necessity be pure beeswax melted and moulded, as the bees will not accept or work on any substitute that has been found, so that, the foundation being pure beeswax like the comb that is built on it, the honey is in no sense adulterated.

Many thousands of pounds of foundation are used annually by beekeepers, and this has given rise to the popular notion that it is possible to make artificial combs, fill them with glucose, cap them, and sell them as pure honey. It might be said here that there never yet has been produced a pound of artificial comb honey, and so determined are the beekeepers to stop the lie that the National Beekeepers' Association offers a standing reward of $1000 for the first pound of artificial comb honey that shall be produced.

Looking down into the home of the bees, we find a number of frames of comb running from front to back of the hive and covered by clustering bees. These combs constitute the furniture of the bees, for in the cells of the combs they rear their young and store their honey. The bees usually begin at the tops of their frames and build their combs downward until every frame is nicely filled.

These combs are made of wax, which the bees manufacture from the honey with which they have filled their stomachs. Hanging in clusters, they produce small pentagonal disks of wax from the little wax scales or pouches on the under side of the abdomen of the worker bee. The work of wax-building, like that of feeding the eggs, is done mostly by the young bees, as the older bees seem to have lost the wax-producing power with old age. It usually takes the bees about twentyfour hours to produce wax after having gorged themselves with honey, and they will consume from nine to ten pounds of honey to produce a pound of wax. Sometimes, but not often, a colony will use pieces of old comb in waxbuilding, but generally they prefer the fresh disks, as being more pliable.

Their cells are hexagonal in shape, thus conforming to one of the main principles of mathematics, in the matter of occupying all available space and also of securing the greatest structural strength. The cells are not horizontal, but incline from their opening to their bottom, so as to be filled with honey the more easily by the bees and to prevent their running over.

The comb is a trifle over an inch in thickness, with cells on each side, and in their natural state the bees space their combs about ^e of an inch apart, so that they may travel with comfort between them. These combs when first built are a beautiful white, but they soon become discolored, and when old will be almost black, but this does nc t impair their usefulness, as they will last for several years. Being non-conductors of heat and cold, they become a perfect medium for keeping the bees warm, and likewise usually prevent the honey from granulating.

The cells in which the workers ars reared are much smaller than those in which they rear their drones. While it cannot be said that all cells are mathematically correct, it can be generally stated that there are about twentyfive cells to a square inch.

It cannot be said that the bees act with intelligence in the matter of cell-building, first building worker and then drone cells, for recent experiments seem to prove that they are simply reflex machines, obeying without violation a law of nature.

Besides the combs we will find that the bees have used some propolis, or bee-glue, with which they have stopped the cracks of their hive and rendered it rain and wind proof. For some reason the bees cannot tolerate any foreign object in their homes, and should a piece of wood or other movable substance be thrown into their hives, they will immediately proceed to tightly propolize or glue it in place. I have known of instances where squirrels, snakes, mice, and even toads, have invaded a hive and been stung to death, and the bees, being unable to remove the carcass, have covered it with a thick coating of propolis until it has been literally embalmed or mummified. The propolis is secured from resinous trees, and when first gathered is so sticky that the bees smear it over their hives at once. Certain races of bees gather more propolis than others, the Caucasians particularly being generous, in fact too generous, in its use. There is no doubt that while propolis is troublesome when prying off the lids of hives, and taking out the frames, it is nevertheless a preservative to the wood of the hives and adds to their life and usefulness.

It was their love for propolis or glue that led to the wide publication some years ago of the story of the funeral of a German beekeeper, whose coffin, as it was carried from the house to the hearse, was covered by the bees, who clustered upon it as a token of their esteem for their departed keeper. The truth was, the bees were securing some of the fresh varnish with which the coffin was polished, and were perfectly oblivious of the fact that their owner had left them. A superstitious custom is still practised in some parts of Europe on the death of a beekeeper of draping the hives with black ; a relative of the dead man then whispers into the entrance of each hive the sad intelligence that their owner is no more. It is believed by many such people that if this is not done the bees will leave the hives and will not return.

As we examine the combs in the home of the bees, we shall find some of the cells containing honey, others pollen, while nestling in still others we find the developing brood. In taking care of the brood as well as maintaining themselves, the bees require water, pollen, and honey; thus we find it present in their homes at all times.

Honey is not a product of the bees in that they manufacture it, though it undergoes a chemical change in their honey-sacs, but is a nectar gathered from various blossoms, and, together with pollen and water, constitutes their principal food.

When first gathered, this honey or nectar is very thin and may easily be shaken from the combs like so much sweetened water, and in fact it contains a large percentage of water, but after the bees have evaporated the water by fanning it after it has been stored in the cells, it becomes thick and ripe. It is generally thought also that the bees mix with it a small percentage of formic acid to act as a preservative, and the sour taste of some honey while in process of evaporation seems to prove this.

Honey, being gathered from many sources, has distinctive flavors, and even a novice can distinguish the difference between buckwheat, basswood, and clover honey. While we may have our individual preferences as to flavor, yet the bees seem willing to extract nectar from any available source, though there are times when they will hardly notice any other flowers if they have access to basswood. Ripe honey sealed in the comb seldom granulates unless exposed to extreme cold, as each cell is practically air-tight.

Honey, pollen, and water are mixed with chyle, a secretion of the chyle-stomach of the nurse bees, and fed the worker larvae for about three days, when the chyle is withdrawn and more honey and pollen substituted. During the winter months and early spring, more or less water is secured from the condensation of moisture in the hives, but as the season advances the bees make frequent visits to neighboring streams and pools, and at times are so plentiful around the drinking-troughs of stock as to become a nuisance. The pollen is gathered from the various flowers and is carried to their homes by the bees in the little pollen baskets on their legs.

In the early spring, when the bees are active and the pollen scarce, a good substitute can be found in rye flour, and when a box containing a quantity of it is placed in the bee yard, it is astonishing to see how readily they will accept it and carry it away to their hives. The hardest work a bee has to perform is that of pollen-gathering, and only the strongest bees in the colony engage in this work, while others are constantly gathering propolis, water, and honey.

The young or nurse bees have all they can do to feed the larvae, and to maintain a proper temperature of about ninety-eight degrees in the hive, without which the eggs will not hatch. About ten thousand bees are required in the hive to keep the incubator at work, for the hive is literally an incubator. The honey-gathering force of the hive is composed of all bees above this number, so the advantage of having large colonies at the time of the honey flow is manifest. Thus we have seen that the things present in the home of the bees are combs, honey, propolis, pollen, with a little silk used for lining the cells for the larvae, besides the bees and larvae.

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