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CHAPTER XVIII. COMB.

" THE combs of a bee-hive," says Bevan, "comprise a congeries of hexagonal cells, formed by the bees as a receptacle for honey or embryo bees. A honey-comb is allowed to be one of the most striking achievements of insect industry, and an admirable specimen of insect architecture. It has attracted the admiration of the contemplative philosopher in all ages, and awakened speculation not only in the naturalist, but also in the mathematician ; so regular, so perfect is the structure of the cells, that it satisfies every condition of a refined problem in geometry. "Each comb in a hive is composed of two cells, backed against each other; these cells, looking at them as a whole, may be said to have one common base, though no one cell is opposed directly to another. This base, or partition between the double row of cells, is so disposed as to form a pyramidal cavity at the bottom of each cell, as will be explained presently. The mouths of the cells, thus ranged on each side of a comb, open into two parallel streets ; (there being a continued series of combs in every well filled hive) these streets are sufficiently contracted to avoid waste of room and to preserve a proper warmth, yet wide enough to allow the passage of two bees back to back."

The width of the streets is greater adjacent to the brood combs than to the store, being almost half an inch between the former, while less than a third between the latter ; the bees are thereby enabled to hover their brood, as well as to cluster together in sufficient masses to keep themselves warm during the cold weather ; besides having access to their stores at all times. " There are only three possible figures of the cells," says Dr. Reid, " which can make them all equal and similar, without any useless interstices. These are the equilateral triangle, the square, and the regular hexagon. It is well known to mathematicians that there is not a fourth way possible, in which a plane may be cut into little spaces that shall be equal, similar and regular, without leaving any interstices. Of these three geometrical figures, the hexagon most completely unites the prime requisites for insect architecture. The truth of this proposition was perceived by Pappus, an eminent Greek philosopher and mathematician, who lived at Alexandria, in the reign of Theodosius the Great, and its adoption by bees in the construction of honey-combs was noticed by that ancient geometrician. These requisites are :

" FIRST. Economy of material.- There are no useless partitions in a honey comb ; each of the six lateral panels of one cell forms, also, one of the panels of an adjoining cell ; and of the three rhombs which form the pyramidal base of a cell, each contributes one-third towards the formation of the bases of three opposing cells, the bottom or center of every cell resting against the point of union of three panels, that are at the back of it.

" SECOND. ifconomy of room ; no interstices being left between adjoining cells.

" THIRD. The greatest possible capacity or internal space, consistent with the two former desiderata.

" FOURTH. Economy of material and economy of room, produce economy of labor. And in addition to these advantages, the cells are constructed in the strongest manner possible, considering the quantity of material employed. Both the sides and bases are so exquisitely thin, that it has been calculated that three or four, placed on each other, are not thicker than a leaf of common writing paper ; each cell separately weak, is strengthened by its coincidence with other cells." The wax of which the combs arc constructed is elaborated by the worker bee. (See Chapter in.)

COMBS SHOULD BE BUILT STRAIGHT Edit

Whenever bees are building comb, it is important to notice, at short intervals, whether they are making it straight. If found to deviate, proceed as follows: If slight, take a knife with a broad blade, and press the edge of the comb to the proper place, commencing at the end furthest advanced, and pressing each towards it, so that the centers of the comb correspond with the center of the frame ; this can usually be done by taking out the sash and honey-board. When the object cannot be accomplished fully in this way, lift out the frames, and after straightening each comb, place a store comb at the opposite side, and then place the newly built ones next; this places the projections in contact, one against another, which will cause the bees to cut away passages, and thus make even comb. If the new comb contains brood, as well as the old, then they may be alternated ; but if the new comb contains honey only, then alternate with sealed honey comb. Care must always be taken to keep the brood compact, unless the amount of bees is large ; in which case, one or two empty frames may alternate. Store combs and drone combs should be moved to the sides. In changing the combs, it is desirable to present a straight surface a sealed one to be preferred ; the new one, being built parallel to it, will be straight. If the space in the hive is such that the combs are again made to diverge, then place them to the opposite side, as before. A little timely attention to this particular will ensure combs sufficiently straight for all practical purposes.*

  • Some bee-keepers recommend what they erroneously call

" comb guides." (A comb guide proper is a sharp edge or corner in the frame, from which the comb is to depend, the bees usually choosing to follow this edge, rather than diverge to an even

CONDITION OF THE COMB IMPORTANT Edit

Comb is the honey bee's furniture, and like all else that is perishable, will endure a longer or shorter period in proportion to the care taken of it. If kept in good condition, the bees will inhabit the same comb and continue prosperous for ten or more years. I have known them to do well for fifteen years, and instances are recorded of still greater duration. Exposing a hive of bees to extreme heat or excessive dampness, whether in a cellar or other moist room, or in a shady place near the earth, not only injures the comb, but (as it is elsewhere shown) seriously affects the health of the bees. surface ; portions of comb are sometimes used for the same purpose.) These so-called comb guides are sheets of zinc or thin boards, and placed so that they intervene between the combs ; in this way, very straight, regular combs are made. Yet the economical bee-keeper cannot afford to use them, for the following reasons (besides it is a very unworkmanlike way of doing) : The space between two combs is three-eighths of an inch*"; (if brood, honey is less,) if these so-called comb guides (which should be of wood) are used, two spaces will be necessary; together with the thickness of guide, one-eighth, will make seven-eighths of an inch, in place of three-eighths inches, between combs. The proper thickness of a comb and one space is one and seven-sixteenths inches ; add to this one-half inch space and wood, and we have one and fifteen-sixteenths, over one-fourth of which is worse than useless room. For bees, in building comb, require the temperature in the hive to be ninety-four degrees, or nearly blood heat. To maintain this, requires great exertion of the bees during the cool nights, and not unfrequently during the day ; hence, it is obvious that a swarm cannot do this without a much greater consumption of stores, and even then it is impossible to cover the useless space and make as great progress as when no obstacle intervenes.

This will be understood by observing the effect upon them. The temperature steadily maintained in the midst of the cluster of bees during the season of active breeding is 94 Fahr., even though the outside temperature is below freezing point. But when the outside temperature is raised above 94, (which is frequently done by reflection when the main temperature would not range above 75) the bees arrange themselves in such numbers and manner, that by standing and vibrating their wings incessantly (these ventilators, as they may be called, are doubtless relieved by relays) a current of cool air is driven into the hive while the heated air is forced out. Thus a lower temperature is maintained within the hive than prevails outside. They however, if unable to keep the temperature at a sufficiently low point, leave the interior and cluster on the outside, seeking to get in the hade, not many remaining inside, except those engaged as ventilators ; thus by instinct and devoted labor, they save their combs and treasures from impending danger.

JSTot unfrequently, however, their efforts are unavailing; the combs become so nearly melted, that they part, of their own weight, and sink down a perfect ruin, involving the lives of the queen and many bees.

More frequently, however, only a partial melt takes place, which occurs in the comb used for breeding, as it contains cocoons left by the young bees, which are retentive of heat, and the wax composing the central foundation or bottom of opposite cells is thereby partially melted. This extends slightly outwards to the waxen walls of the cells. The comb, however, retains its shape, being held together by the lining membranes as well as the remaining sound walls near either surface of the comb.

The lives of the young brood are placed in jeopardy

some are destroyed, while others, being of a

different age, survive, although the wax is disintegrated in a slight degree. I apprehend, however, that the insensible respiration of the young bee penetrates the cocoon, and in combination with the heat, causes it to separate from the wax, and a partial decomposition to take place. This, however, is arrested as soon as the young bees emerge, by the moisture evaporating.

Notwithstanding the permanent damage thus sustained, the bees continue to use the same coml^ repeatedly, perhaps for years, particularly if freed from a repetition of injury ; decomposition having once been started, although again arrested, will set in on the return of the exciting cause, although that cause is slight.

Let the hive that has sustained damage, as above, be placed in winter quarters, which may be either a room containing large numbers of hives, or a cellar with either few or many. Also, if placed in a position that is shaded, if dampness is found to collect upon or within the hive, the combs of which have been subject to partial melt, decomposition again takes place, and the combs are soon rotten ; this is known by mold collecting. On examining them, they are found to pulverize easily, even when warm ; the bees avoid it as long as there is other room in which to build comb and store honey. It matters not at what age the combs are, when thus damaged ; if bad, they are practically worthless. Bees should not be located where excessive dust is blown to the entrance, as the bees in passing in carry it, and incorporate it with the comb.

HOW TO DETECT HALF-MELT AND COMB ROT Edit

This can be done by the smell. On opening the hive that is affected, a disagreeable odor will be perceived, resembling slightly that of carrion. The extent of the damage may be judged by the intensity of the smell ; this can only be discovered at a time when there is empty comb in the hive, as the smell disappears after the bees refill their hive, but to reappear the next spring. It can also be detected if bad, by breaking the comb ; the waxen walls are partly melted, but the lining cocoons retain it in shape. Comb, when good, has a slightly sharp and pungent smell, which is agreeable. A hive so affected will frequently live three or four years without swarming, but appearing strong in numbers. If the season be a good one, they may make a small amount of spare honey, but soon they dwindle away, till all disappear.

DAMAGED COMBS TO BE REMOVED Edit

When the damage is but slight, the affected portions of the comb should be pruned out so as to allow the bees to build new ones. But if bad, then transfer the bees into a new hive, and supply them with sound tjombs taken from other hives. For directions, see Chapter on Transferring.

stores collected before the flowers fail ; hence, starvation and a total loss are sure to follow. A hive suited to the purpose of transferring- bees has been the desideratum heretofore wanting. This want is fully supplied in the California hive. By means of the adjustable comb frame, the center bar of which is movable up or down, combs or parts of combs of any desired size, together with their contents, consisting of brood and stores, can be fitted in and firmly held in the frames by means of the metallic clamps. These clamps are easily prepared and applied, and are not offensive to the bees. As they are smooth and only grasp the comb by the edge, they cause but a slight loss of the young brood, as compared with the plan of " tying the comb in the frame with twine or tape." As the material used in tying must necessarily pass over the surface of the brood, the bees will cut out and remove all the young under it, causing a considerable loss. Nothing is more annoying to them than such appendages, which in many instances are the cause of their deserting the hive. When they remain, they cut out and remove the wrapping with great labor and difficulty ; this the humane bee keeper will avoid, at least as a matter of economy. It is a positive rule that bees should be transferred only when there is good pasturage, that will last at least one month afterwards. All the suitable comb jind stores are to be given to them as hereafter directed.

SEASON FOR TRANSFERRING Edit

The most suitable season for transferring is in the spring, when pasturage first becomes plenty, say about the time that peach trees come into blow. Hives rich in stores and strong in numbers may be changed one or two weeks earlier with safety, by giving them a large supply of honey. In the Sacramento, and other valleys having the same resources, the best time is from the 20th of February to the 20th of July, though it may be performed with safety one month later ; but I do not recommend it unless skill and care are exercised. In localities where the pasture fails in June, transferring ought not to be attempted Jater than the 1st of May.

PREPARATIONS. A hive, to receive the transfer, should have the frames provided with the metallic clamps : a box six inches deep, and of a size to fit on the mouth of the hive that the bees are to be driven from, is also necessary. (If the box is simply a square, with a movable cover, it is more convenient for dislodging the bees.)

Tools suited to remove the sides of the old hive, and a table or work bench should be at hand ; also, a wide dish to receive the honey, and a long-bladed knife to cut out the combs ; a roll of cotton cloth for smoking the bees, a wing or quill for brushing, and water for sprinkling them and washing hands, are the preparations required.

TIME OF DAY Edit

The time of day best suited to this purpose is late in the afternoon, or by candle-light. By commencing about one hour before sundown, the operation can be completed before dark. By transferring late in the day or evening, robbers are not so apt to be attracted by the broken honey, which is of great importance, for when they once get a start it is difficult to stop their depredations. It also gives the bees time to reorganize, and clean up the honey that is smeared over the combs before the following day.

TEMPERATURE. When the brood is to be handled in the open air, the temperature should be mild.

PLACE. If the operation is performed by day, the bees are driven out in a box and left on the stand where the hive stood. The combs, as they are taken out and freed from bees, should be taken into a room where the temperature is sufficiently warm to prevent a chill of the brood. Placing the combs and honey in a room also precludes the attraction of robbers. When the combs have been arranged as hereafter described, the hive containing them and the bees is set in the same place that the original hive occupied, and the bees hived as a natural swarm.

PLATE XLII, FIGURE 69. FIGURE 70.

When the operation is performed at night, the bees may be driven and managed in the same manner as by daylight, or all may be taken into a shop or cellar, out of the wind, where all the appliances are at hand.

HOW DONE Edit

If the bees are flying, commence by blowing smoke into the entrance, or elevate the hive and sprinkle the bees with pure cold water, and jar the hive for ten or fifteen minutes ; this will prevent the bees that are in the hive from leaving it, and give them time to fill themselves, and those that are out, time to return. The hive is then to be inverted, as represented in plate XLII, fig. 69. B is the hive, and A is the empty box set on the mouth of the hive for the reception of the bees that are now compelled to ascend. A cloth may be fastened around the joint to prevent the escape of the bees.* Now with a couple of light sticks commence striking the sides of the hive smartly and regularly, which is to be continued for about fifteen minutes. If there are any openings in what was the top of the hive, but as it now stands, the bottom, blow in smoke to accelerate their movements. At the end of the above time, lift the box which now contains a part of the bees, and without turning

  • A gum-elastic band three inches wide, and of a suitable length

to reach around the mouth of the box, will answer the two-fold purpose of holding the box firmly on the inverted hive, and preventing the escape of bees.

or jarring it, place it on a table as represented in fig. 70. A is the box and C is the table ; one side of the box is raised to admit the bees freely. Then with a hammer and chisel remove one side of the hive, to give easy access to the comb. The hive is to be placed with one side against and even with the table, so that the remaining bees can crawl into the box as they are driven from the hive, which is done by smoking or brushing them with a wing or quill. Then with a thin-bladed knife cut out the comb, and gently brush all adhering bees from each piece on the table, and see that they enter the box with the others. The first comb taken out usually contains stores, and should be laid on the table as represented in plate XLIII, fig. 71. D, the comb ; frame K, laid on as a measure to cut it by, so as to fit the frame as represented in fig. 72, which is prepared with metallic clamps to secure the comb in the frame, and is held upright by being stepped in a sill or block prepared for the purpose. When the comb is fitted and fastened, the frame containing it is placed in a hive ready to receive it ; beginning at one side, each comb is removed in the same manner. Each piece should be examined and the part containing the brood should have the preference. Having cut and fitted in the frames with as little loss as possible, the frames, when filled, should be placed in the new hive in such a manner that the brood is in a compact form. When the brood is all disposed of, fill the remaining frames with comb containing stores.

PLATE XLIII. FIGURE 72.

If there is more comb than fills the upper section of the frames, a second cross bar may be put in, so that there will be two portions of comb in the^same frame. When all is complete, the glass frame and the honeyboard are put in their places and the door closed ; the front slide is taken out, and if any honey has run from the combs, clean it out before commencing to hive the bees. A broad board is placed on a level with the entrance, and the bees are to be shaken out of the box on it and compelled to enter. When all are in, arrange the entrance so that the bees can pass out and in freely.

After all the frames are in 'their places, close the door and leave the lid open ; then hold the box containing the bees closely over the hive, and by a sudden- jar they will fall directly on top of the frames, whence they are easily compelled to go below, by brushing them with a quill or wing, or by sprinkling or smoking them. When this is effected, open the door and adjust the honey-board so as to prevent the bees reascending. When the hive is properly arranged and set on the original stand, the apertures are to be opened for the working of the bees. As soon as they have repaired and fastened the combs, which will be done in two or three days, commence to give them the remainder of the honey. This m^Jr be done by placing a portion of the comb under the cluster of bees, or in the chamber. When the honey is taken from this comb, let it be removed and more given, until the hive is well provisioned.

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