CHAPTER I Edit
BEES FRUIT HONEY AND MONEY Edit
A HIVE of bees nestling in the grass in -*- the orchard is neither artistic nor ornamental in the eyes of most people, and the sentiment it inspires may even be one of fear. But when we consider that within its narrow confines there is housed a teeming population of over thirty thousand of the busiest little folk in the world, the feeling changes from fear to amazement at the wonderful work that is there going on.
Judging from the size of the population, we should naturally infer that pandemonium would reign; and this belief would be strengthened by the constant bustle and hum that accompany the bees as they come and go from their humble home to the fields in quest of nature's sweets.
Instead of chaos being the order of things, the very reverse is true; and each denizen of the hive has its allotted task which it busily and joyfully performs, and that with clocklike precision.
The young bees for the first few days of their existence spend their time in taking care of their developing brothers and sisters, feeding the larvae a food made of a mixture of honey, pollen, water, and a secretion from the glands of the head and chyle-stomach, and only varying this task by an occasional play spell of flying in front of the hive during the early part of the afternoon. Other bees, fully matured, are afield in quest of pollen from the flowers, while others are gathering propolis, or bee-glue, with which to firmly fasten the lids and bottom boards of their homes. Others still are carriers of water, while the main force of field bees are busily engaged in sipping from the flowers the nectar awaiting them.
At the entrance of each hive is a number of sentinel bees, armed with their sharpened spears, ready to repel robber bees from strange hives, or whatever else may threaten to disturb them. No bee returning from the field can pass the vigilant sentinels without the proper countersign, and that countersign is the distinctive odor of the colony to which it belongs, for this is the only means of identification the bees possess; and so powerful are their organs of sense, that a strange bee seldom passes by them. These sentinels are relieved from time to time, but at all times, during the genial days of spring, summer, and early fall, the entrance to their little homes is fully guarded.
With a mother queen to rule them and provide the offspring to take the place of the old bees that are constantly dying (for the average life of a worker bee is only about five weeks), the work of rearing the young, the building of comb, and the storing of honey against a rainy day goes steadily on.
With a knowledge of these facts does not the aspect of the hive change from a commonplace- looking box to a veritable kingdom, presided over by royalty, which challenges our interest and admiration, and at once inspires in us the purpose to become the better acquainted with it?
Another thing we should not overlook and we are liable to do so if we look at the hive only from the standpoint of the number of pounds of honey it is likely to produce is, that bees bear a close and vital relation to the matter of fruit production in the neighborhood. The real mission of the honey bee after all is not the production of honey, for that is only incidental, but rather to insure the proper pollination of our fruit blossoms, and were it not for their active agency in this department of agricultural life, the fruit output of the country would be astonishingly small. A careful examination of the body of a worker bee will reveal that nature has clothed it in a coat of fuzzy down, and as the little fellow enters the blossom in search for its hidden sweets, the particles of pollen adhere to the down, so that as the bee goes from flower to flower, it unconsciously performs the work of cross pollination.
It is a remarkable fact that nature gives the nectar-secreting organs only to those blossoms whose fruit demands the pollination of their seeds.
There have been certain sections of the country, where soil and climatic conditions were in every respect favorable to fruit production, yet there was a surprising lack of fruit, and careful examination has shown that bees were not present in the neighborhood. Horticulturists were thus led to import bees from a distance, with almost immediate benefit to the orchards. So, if for no other reason than that of securing a good quantity and quality of fruit, bees have proved a real blessing to the farmer and the suburbanite. The phase of bee-keeping, however, that most appeals to the average man or woman, is that of honey production, and in this respect it is an unusually safe undertaking.
It is surprising how locations, apparently most unpromising, will often produce a crop of honey from sources hitherto unsuspected, and yet it is a fact that the bees by their mar vellous industry, and long flights of as much as five miles from home, will year after year richly reward their owners by a substantial surplus.
There are possibly not over two hundred persons of all classes, including many professional men and women, in the United States who make bee-keeping a sole means of livelihood, and though the possibilities of profit are almost infinite, the majority of people are contented to keep from two to twenty-five hives of bees as a side line. Some of the most successful beekeepers are women, their deft fingers making them particularly adapted to the rapid handling of bees, especially in commercial queen-rearing, of which we shall speak later on. Smokers with which to subdue the colonies, veils for the faces, and gloves for the hands will enable the most timid to keep bees with perfect safety, and to go through the entire season without experiencing the slightest annoyance from stings.
How much honey a single hive of bees will produce in a single season, and how profitable bees may become, are questions that are frequently asked by the prospective beekeeper, and in answer it may be said that results will depend upon the flora of the locality, the amount of care given to the bees, and the conditions under which they have been wintered. It is an undisputed fact that bees are the most profitable of stock that can be kept, as their keeping involves little outlay beyond the initial expense of the proper outfit, and a small amount of time given them. There is a large number of business men who have suburban homes, and keep a few colonies of bees, giving to their care only the time remaining after they return home late in the afternoon, or in the early morning before going to business, yet who have made a marked profit from the keeping of their few hives. The writer has had individual colonies that have given as high as one hundred and twenty pounds of comb honey each, which was sold to the neighbors for twenty-five cents a pound, leaving a net profit of over $25 a hive; this, however, was exceptional, though I have known a number of people who have kept a few hives of bees to average this and more from every hive.
It should be remembered that when a large number of hives are kept in a limited territory, the output per hive will diminish in proportion to the number of hives kept in the home yard, as there will be more bees for the blossoms to support, but where not more than seventy-five hives are kept in a fairly large section, there should be little difficulty in reaping a profit close on to $5 or $6 per hive. Unless one is located in the buckwheat or alfalfa section of the country, the better plan would be not to overstock the home yard, but rather resort to a system of outyards, placing fifty to sixty hives of bees in, say, three yards, one at the home and the others three miles from the home in opposite directions, all of them being easy of access. In this way the possession of, say, one hundred and fifty hives of bees in the hands of an experienced person should provide a fair income, especially if the product is sold in the neighborhood at retail prices.
There is a large number of people who keep only three or four hives of bees to supply their own table, and an occasional gift of honey to a friend, who get great pleasure from keeping them, and who like to point with pride to the comb of immaculately white honey on the table as the product of their busy bees. When it comes to a production of honey which runs up into tons, then the placing of the product comes under the heading of How to Dispose of the Crop, of which we will speak in a later chapter.
By all means get some bees, and be sure that you will never regret it; for the writer, after fifteen years' experience in the keeping of bees, is as enthusiastic as when, many years ago, he became the proud possessor of an oldfashioned hive, and acquired the "Bee Fever," from which he has never recovered, and never expects to recover.