CHAPTER XXII. OVERSTOCKING.
THE question of overstocking a country with bees is a very important one to all who are interested in bee-keeping. What is wanted to be known, is the number of hives that may be kept with the greatest profit to their owner, in any particular district. As the amount of pasturage afforded differs in each, there can be no fixed number named. Mr. Langstroth says :
- " There is probably not a square mile in this whole country which is overstocked with bees, unless it is so unsuitable for bee-keeping
as to make it unprofitable to keep them at all."
His assertion will hold good wherever natural swarming is depended on as the means of increase. Nature has provided effectual guards to insure the continuance of each particular race of created things. Hence, the bee is endowedVith the propensity of acquisitiveness to such a degree, that if not sufficiently gratified by Fiord's bounty, it is turned to the destruction of its weaker neighbors whose stores, though small, are borne away in triumph. Thus the tendency to over-population is constantly held in check. *We also find, that as soon as bees become diffused over a country, their propensity to swarm is greatly lessened ; regulated, however, to a certain extent, by the productiveness or non-productiveness of the seasons.
If, on the other hand, excessive artificial increase is made, or unusual numbers concentrated at any given point without a corresponding amount of pasturage, then, overstocking will be the inevitable result. The distance to which bees extend their flight in search of food will occasionally be three or more miles, yet if compelled to fly over half that distance they work to greater disadvantage, and cannot accumulate so large a store, as when the pasturage is within the latter range.
The following extract of a letter from Mr. Wagner, of York, Pa., to Mr. Langstroth, published in " Hive and Honey Bee," page 800, shows the experience of the largest cultivators in Europe : " In reply to your inquiry respecting the overstocking of a district, I would say that the present opinion of the correspondents of the Bienenzeitung appears to be that it cannot readily be done. Dzierzon says, in practice at least,' it never is done'.
And Dr. Radlkofer of Munich, the President of the second Apiarian Convention, declares that his apprehensions on that score were dissipated by observations which he had opportunity and occasion to make when on his way home from the convention. I have numerous accounts of apiaries in pretty close proximity, containing from two hundred to three hundred each. Ehrenfels had a thousand hives, at three separate establishments, indeed, but so close to each other that he could visit them all in half an hour's ride, and he says that in 1801 the average net yield of his apiaries was two dollars a hive. In Russia and Hungary, apiaries numbering from two thousand to five thousand colonies are said not to be unfrequent ; and we know that as many as four thousand hives are oftentimes congregated, in autumn, at one point on the heaths of Germany. Hence, I think we need not fear that any district of this country, so distinguished for abundant natural vegetation and diversified culture, will be very speedily overstocked, particularly, after the importance of having stocks populous early in the spring comes to be appreciated. A week or ten days of favorable weather at that season, when pasturage abounds, will enable a strong colony to lay up an ample supply for the year, if its labor be properly directed."
Mr. Kaden, one of the oldest contributors to the Bienenzeitung, in the number for December, 1852, noticing the communication from Dr. Radlkofer, says :
- I also concur in the opinion that a district of country
cannot be overstocked with bees, and that, however numerous the colonies, all can procure sufficient sustenance, if the surrounding country contain honeyyielding plants and vegetables in the usual degree. Where utter barrenness prevails, the case is different of course, as well as rare.' ' :
The following extract from " The Life of North American Insects," by B. Jaeger, published in 1859, explains why so many more bees are kept in some countries than there are in others. " In some countries, bee culture has the preference before all other agronomical occupations."
In the same work I find the following :
- " There is a ' Patriotic Apiarian Society of Bavaria ' which
is a most laudable institution, and its laws ought to be translated into the language of every country where bees are known.
- "It is not permitted for a peasant to have his own
apiary, but a particular favorable spot is pointed out by the society, in which the different proprietors deposit their hives. This place is under the management of a skillful apiarian, appointed by the society ; and it is ordained that no more than one hundred and fifty hives shall be kept in one place, and each establishment must be four miles distant. A trifling tax is levied upon each hive not belonging to the society ; and thus the peasant looks forward, at the end of the year, to a certain profit, with a very slight outlay, and without any demand upon his time or labor. Should a poor peasant wish to become the proprietor of one or more hives, he applies to the society, who immediately accede to his wishes, and an annual reduction is made from his profits until the society is repaid the value of the hive it has bestowed."
Mr. Quinby, one of the most extensive and practical bee-keepers in the United States, gives his opinion as follows: What number of stocks "(hives of bees)" can there be kept in one place? is a question often asked.
That is like Mr. A. asking farmer B. how many cattle could be pastured on a lot of ten acres. Farmer B. would wish to know how much pasture said lot would produce, before he could begin to answer: since one lot of that size might produce ten times as much as another. So with bees ; one apiary of two hundred stocks might find honey in abundance for all, and another of forty might almost starve, like the cattle it depends on pasture."
He (Quinby) further says :
- " I have had for several years three apiaries, about two miles apart,
averaging in spring a little more than fifty in each. When a good season for clover occurs, twice the number would probably do equally well, but in some other seasons I have had too many, so that my average is nearly right. I will further say, that within a circle of three or four miles there are kept about three hundred stocks."
The following quotation from Bevan will more fully explain the matter :
- " In the British Isles, in France, Switzerland and
many other countries, there are not only great vicissitudes, attended on the one hand by parching droughts, and on the other by a long continuance of wet weather, but there are also very marked differences in honey sources, not only throughout extensive districts, but even in the same vicinity ; and each of these causes, wherever it operates, must evidently produce a considerable effect upon the harvest of honey. To say, therefore, that a particular system of management will in any situation uniformly cause a great product of wax and honey, betokens a want of due attention to the sources whence honey is procured, and attributes to a system what is chiefly due to the locality in which it has been adopted. There are not wanting cases in which it has been necessary to feed bees in one district, at the very time that in its neighborhood were others actively engaged in storing their warehouses with honey.
C M. Huber lived at Cour, near Lausanne ; he had the lake on one side of his domicil and vineyards on the other. He soon perceived the disadvantage of his position (as regarded his bees). When the orchards of Cour had shed their blossoms, and the few meadows in the neighborhood had been mown, he saw the stores of his stock hives diminish daily, and the labors of the bees cease so entirely that even in summer they would have died of hunger had he not succored them. In the meantime, though matters were going on so badly at Cour, the bees at Renan, Chabliere, at the woods of Vaux, of Cery, and places at the distance of only half a German league, were living in the greatest abundance, threw numerous swarms, and filled their hives with wax and honey.
Again, Huber himself says :
- "They succeeded no better at Vevay, although it is
not more than half a league from the place to Hontville, where they thrive remarkably well."
Similar disparities in the productiveness of neighboring localities are by no means uncommon in this country, and who can be so deficient in discernment, as not to perceive that the adoption of any system, however judicious, would be attended with different results in these different localities. We are informed by White, that whilst in the bleak country of Cambridge, seventy or eighty hives may be seen in a single farm-yard, supported, no doubt, by the neighboring heaths, Suffolk, with its beautiful inclosures and fine gardens, yields so scanty a supply of honey, that he thought Halton could not maintain a dozen colonies.
In the spring of 1859, my brother (W. C. Harbison) and myself commenced, at our place situated three miles below Sacramento City, on the east bank of the Sacramento river, with sixty-eight colonies, most of them weak in fact, not equal to half the number of full ones. There were but five other hives within three miles, and but few at that distance. Up to the middle of May, the bees had more pasture than they needed ; by that time, however, the stock had been so largely increased, as to cause a perceptible decrease in the amount of their gatherings ; we then separated the stock, taking portions to three other places, leaving about one mile space between the lots. The quantity of honey gathered by the remaining stock was immediately increased, while the smaller portion of the stock, removed to the greatest distance, gathered twice as much as those of equal strength left standing in the main apiary. While the small stocks of twenty-five, forty and fifty-nine hives each continued to gain slowly through June, the large stock of upwards of two hundred hives would have rapidly grown lighter but for liberal feeding. However, during July and August the pasture was so abundant as to afford the bees all the honey they could gather. But during September and October there was evidently not enough pasturage in reach to feed so many bees during these months ; while stocks consisting of from ten to twenty hives, sold and carried from five to twenty miles away from any other bees, and in no better pasturage, but each bee having a large range, gathered and stored honey rapidly during the same time.
In the spring of 1860 there were upwards of two hundred and twenty hives of bees located at different places, but confined to the same range of pasturage that the bees of the seventy-three hives were the previous year. The result was, that the pasture was so thoroughly overstocked that constant feeding was required. Even with that assistance, there were not over one hundred and fifty colonies increase, part of which were-natural swarms and the balance divisions. Although a number of full hives were left standing, for the purpose of making surplus honey, not one of them succeeded in filling a single box during the whole season. This great deficiency of pasturage was, to some extent, owing to the clearing up of a considerable quantity of land that had afforded pasturage the previous year.
Another case of overstocking occurred during the months of July and August, at a place seven miles from my residence, where we had located an apiary of one hundred hives, most of which had the main apartments of their hives full, and had commenced to fill their surplus honey boxes, at the time another stock of one hundred and twenty-five hives was brought from a distance and placed a little over one mile from ours, but in the immediate vicinity of the same pasturage where they fed. There were then not less than four hundred hives of bees within a range of three miles long by one broad. The result was, that our bees immediately ceased to store surplus honey in the boxes, and were barely able to procure enough to fill out the empty combs in the main breeding apartments.
Thus, a large amount of honey that would have been obtained from the stock previously existing in that neighborhood, was cut off by the large additional stock placed in the same vicinity ; while the latter were benefited, to some extent, by their new location, (they having been removed from a place where all the bees were in a. starving condition, except where fed) yet their gain would have been vastly greater had they been taken to an unoccupied pasture. Perhaps the most remarkable case of overstocking on record, occurred in the city of Sacramento, in the year 1860. At the commencement of the season, there were between eight and ten hundred hives of bees within a space of two miles square. The result was disastrous to most persons engaged in the business. After being at a heavy expense for hives and feed, many of their bees died from starvation and disease, or were so reduced as to be practically worth. The same results attended bee-raising in the city of San Francisco, and also in several other places in the State of California during the same year. It is true, the season was less favorable for the production of honey than some previous ones ; yet wherever a limited number of healthy stock was kept in the vicinity of good pasture, they increased and made honey nearly equal to the average of previous years. The testimony of such apiarists as Huber, Bevan, and Quinby, which I have here introduced, (that of others is not wanting) is sufficient of itself to prove that each locality has a capacity to sustain a certain number of bees profitably. Increase that number, without a proportionate increase of pasture, and the production of surplus honey will decrease in proportion to the increase of the number of the colonies. Bee pasturage can be increased at pleasure, and pajas large a profit to the producer as any ordinary crop raised by the farmer; and I would here call the especial attention of the latter to this fact. While all cannot enter largely into the business of bee-raising, yet every owner or occupant of a few acres of land should have his own table supplied with homemade lioney, as regularly as with home-rnade butter.
There are unsightly wastes on almost every farm where food-producing trees and plants would grow, and pay a profit for this one purpose alone ; besides, it would add to the health and beauty of the premises.