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THE PASTOR OF THE BEES

BY CHARLES D. STEWART

I

WHEN you walk into a grocery store and look about you upon all the wondrous works of God, your mind must linger often upon the honey. For those who prefer it in the comb, the bees have put it up in one-pound sections, all neatly built into frames of basswood four and a quarter inches square. For those who might want to buy the sweetness without the wax, and are willing to forgo the privilege of having those delicate cells break inwardly upon the tongue, it comes clear and beautiful in a bottle. In either form it is delightful; though, as for me, I have always felt that honey is a work that is worthy of a frame.

In order to get the bees to produce honey for him, man must proceed by taking the measure of the bee. It has been found that the thickness of a working bee of the standard strain is

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% of an inch, that being the width of opening she can pass through without discomfort. A somewhat ampler and freer fit, to be used in parts of the hive where more freedom is allowable, is from three sixteenths to three eighths of an inch; but nowhere in the brood department must this latter measurement be exceeded.

If a swarm of bees were allowed to conduct a hive according to their own notions, they would do about everything that a man does not want. Their principal concern in life is the raising of young; consequently honeycomb, in a state of nature, is filled with bee life

in every stage of development from the egg to the full-grown insect. Some cells will contain the eggs, almost microscopically small; others little white worms; others big fat grubs; others quiescent nymphs or pupa; still others the stores of pollen or flower dust upon which the young are fed. Others, again, contain the supply of honey for present and future needs; and it is this sort of indiscriminate mixture that drips from the paw of the bear and constitutes the sort of meal that a bear likes to sit down to. But it is hardly the sort of honey that the grocer would offer to a customer.

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A hive, therefore, is built with upper and lower stories. In the lower story the bees are allowed to manage their affairs somewhat as they would in a state of nature, while the upper part is to receive the clear, broodless honey for the use of man. A screen of sheet zinc having oblong holes of an inch in width, or a grid of smooth wires accurately spaced, is usually placed between the two stories. This arrangement permits the workers to pass upward with their loads of nectar while it prevents the passage of the bigger-bodied queen when she goes on a quest for more cells to lay eggs in. The result is obvious. With no eggs going into the upper story, there will be no little white worms, no big fat grubs, no nascent nymphs, and no store of special food for the feeding of the young; and the clear comb honey will be fit to grace the big cut-glass bowl and attract to its scintillating self all the

finer allusions of the grace before

meat.

In modern practice the zinc excluder, with its sharp edges burred by the die, is being displaced by the grid of smooth wire which does not wear out the bee's wings so quickly, and consequently affords a bigger yield of honey. In this case the spacing is but of an inch, and most ingenious means are used to space the wires so accurately.

This standard opening in the queen excluder, while it serves such a useful function in honey production, is, nevertheless, among the less important of the measurements used in the management of the bee. Far more fundamental is what is known as the 'bee space,' a measurement ranging from three sixteenths to three eighths of an inch, beyond which limits error must not go. The bee space, the basic secret in hive building, was discovered in this country in 1852. Its exact limits were determined, not by the simple means of measuring a bee's body, but by experiment with the nature and psychology of the bee at work. Its importance is such that it has worked a world-wide revolution in hive building and in methods of beekeeping.

Up to the year 1852, man had no practical means to regulate and control the interior economy of a beehive. It was a closed world to the beekeeper; he could only enter it and take his share by killing the bees with sulphur, or by turning it upside down and acting as an invader and destroyer. This was because the modern hive with movable combs had not been invented; and this is but another way of saying that the Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, a Congregational minister who loved both bees and men, had not yet appeared upon the scene. He not only discovered the principle, but he devised the hive which gave it practical and permanent application. All other inven

tions pertaining to the hive, such as the queen excluder, are subsequent and secondary in their nature; for, without the movable-comb hive itself, they would be useless.

This measurement and principle called a bee space affects honey production in so many ways, and ramifies the discipline of the hive to such an extent, that it may be said to comprise the whole art of bee management. A little explanation of the fundamental facts of bee life will make this easily understood. And moreover it will help us appreciate the life work of a man about whom the public knows too little.

II

Nature did not intend a swarm of bees to produce a great surplus of honey over and above the amount needed to raise their young, found new colonies, and support them through the greater part of the year. In the few short weeks of honey flow, the bees must hurry in enough to last them through all the flowerless months of fall and winter and spring; and so great is the rush of life with them, in periods when the nectar is coming, that they work themselves to death almost as rapidly as new generations can be raised. If man wants them to lay by a considerable extra store for his own use, he must make certain changes in their way of life.

First, he must relieve them of the task of making wax and shaping it into cells. To make one pound of wax, bees must use from seven to fifteen pounds of honey, eating and digesting it and extruding it from their bodies in the form of wax scales. Wax is a form of animal oil or fat, and it takes a great deal of food to make a little fat. While doing this, great numbers of bees hang inert from the roof of the hive; so that, in making material for comb building,

they not only consume a great deal of honey, but they lose time during which they might otherwise be working afield and bringing in more nectar. There is here a loss in two directions.

Second, he must see to it that the colony does not produce the thousands of drones which nature prompts it to nurse and nurture and support in adult idleness. These shining gentlemen of leisure could not gather nectar and pollen even if they had a mind to, for nature has not provided them with the special bodily parts needed in such work. They live upon the honey which the other bees bring in and deposit in the cells. Their life is a pleasant one while it lasts. They hang about the entrance of the hive, taking the sun and making idle excursions in the most inviting hours of the day. It has been estimated that it takes the labor of six working bees to support one healthy drone. And yet the bees are inclined to raise them in great numbers. If this were all, it would not be so bad; but every drone that is hatched and raised requires the use of one of those waxen cradles or cells, which, if it were not being occupied by a drone, would serve to produce a worker. The drone not only consumes honey himself, but he reduces the number of bees that are making it. Besides this, when he is not basking outside in good weather, he is cumbering the surface of the combs and getting in the way; and thus the raising of drones, like the making of wax, involves loss in several directions. Certainly, if man is to have much honey for himself, he must contrive a way to keep the queen from laying so many drone eggs.

Third, he must keep the bees from 'swarming.' Bees have an instinct which prompts them, at the height of a honey flow, to subdivide their community, sending out a delegation to establish a new colony. The greater part of

the swarm, consisting of the older working bees and the queen, will be seized with the moving fever; and some day when the weather is just right they will make their exodus to the promised land, leaving behind only enough bees to tend the thousands of young in their cradles and give a proper start to the new generation that will inherit the hive. The absconders, settling first on a near-by bush or tree, and making sure that the queen is with them, strike out for some hollow tree or other suitable habitation; and, once started, they will never turn back, no matter what fortune may befall them. They have made their last will and testament, leaving all to the children, and there is no danger that the old hive, with its accumulated riches of honey and its complete furniture of comb, will ever see them again.

Having parted with everything, they must now start the world all over again, like Robinson Crusoe or Adam; and this is a most strenuous and risky undertaking when you consider that a bee can do nothing in a home without furniture, and that all her prosperity depends upon the weather. We have already seen that this furniture costs a great deal in time and effort, to say nothing of the honey that must be laid by. In the new home the bees will have to work hard while the honey flow is on to get enough comb built and enough nectar stored away to keep the colony over winter. At best they will hardly have more than enough to last them; and as for the depleted swarm that they left behind, they will have to increase and multiply, starting with a new queen; and the newly hatched bees will have to improve each shining hour if they are going into winter with a big, warm cluster of bees and sufficient food to support the population.

From the standpoint of a bee owner, this habit of swarming is unnecessary

and foolish. It is evident that if a colony of bees can break off work right at the height of the season, and start the world all over again by building expensive new combs, they have a great deal of energy to spare. And if this surplus energy were kept at home and devoted wholly to honey making it would bring large results. Fifty to a hundred pounds of honey would be gained by each colony- and in some localities a much greater amount; and the beekeeper could carry away this much without taking any that the bees would need for their proper support.

That it is quite unnecessary for bees to leave the home hive can be shown by a simple example in arithmetic. As the queen lays a certain maximum number of eggs a day about three thousand -and it takes twenty-one days for a worker to hatch and come to maturity, and the life of a worker in the busy season is about five weeks, it is plain that the size of a swarm is limited and fixed by these figures. The bees do not swarm because they are crowded out by a continual increase in numbers. Moreover, the size of the lower story or brood chamber has been calculated with these figures in mind, remembering that every square inch of comb contains fifty-five cells twenty-seven to twenty-eight on each side. As the hive builder has computed these measurements with fair accuracy in the brood chamber, and as the beekeeper is quite willing to furnish them with new upper stories as fast as they fill them, it is plain that bees can have no real excuse for acting as they do. Their custom of having but one queen, whose capacity is limited and whose laying season is short, together with the high rate of mortality among her offspring, makes a set of conditions which keep the possible size of a swarm within bounds and make it somewhat standard. Hence

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they could they could if they would only listen to reason as the beekeeper sees it— just as well stay at home and keep on making honey. The one brood chamber would accommodate them all; and that surplus energy which they use for colonizing could be turned into surplus honey in the upper stories. It is one big swarm with a single queen, not two small swarms with two queens, that can find time to make honey for man's benefit.

What most people do not know, though it is a main factor in the beekeeper's calculations, is that honeycomb is not a perishing and temporary thing. The same comb serves the purposes of the bees year after year; it has been known to be good at the end of twenty years and even longer. The house of the bee is a permanent institution, intended to serve future generations and hold the honey of many summers in the place in which it was founded. It is only the inhabitants that change. And right here is where the bee's conduct seems most outrageous to the mind of the bee man. The queen, going her spiral round from cell to cell, needs only a certain area of comb. After twenty-one days, at three thousand or more eggs a day, her brood begins to hatch, and the empty cells are ready for her to use over again. These cells, together with enough cells to hold the current and winter supplies, would serve for all time; and thus the bees, having never any comb to build for themselves, could spend their whole superfluity of time in putting honey in the upper story for the use of man. It is perfectly logical, entirely natural a consummation devoutly to be wished!

The attitude of the beekeeper as he stands, pencil in hand, and contemplates the promising facts and figures, is quite understandable. It is plain that if we are to have honey in any quantity

we must devise some way of keeping the whole swarm in one house. We must checkmate nature in that instinct to start a new colony. The surplus of energy that is put into such enterprises is just the energy we need to supply us with honey.

III

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Strange as it would seem to a beekeeper of a hundred years ago, thousand years ago, for that matter, all these things are quite easily done. In all those little white boxes that stand in rows in any farmer's yard-boxes of white magic that are not half as simple as they look it is a matter of everyday practice. And the way it is done is simple enough in the telling.

In the production of extracted honey, the problem of relieving the bees of the work of wax making is solved by movable combs. The bees build their combs in large, light wooden frames, which are free to be lifted out of the hive and as freely returned to it. Upon being removed full of ripe honey, a long knife is drawn across the surface of the comb so as to cut off the capping of the cells, thus releasing the warm and quite liquid honey. A centrifugal machine, whirling the comb rapidly inside a metal container, causes every last drop of honey to fly out of the cells and leaves them fairly clean; after which the frames of uninjured comb, of which there are usually ten to a story, are put back in the hive to be refilled by the bees. There is thus no delay in building cells to accommodate the swift bounty of summer. There is no hanging in festoons from the roof of the hive to consume honey and produce wax. The bees instead hurry in more and more of the golden hoard while the nectaries are flowing and before a change of weather causes them

to close. It is a labor-saving system of great importance to the managers of bees.

The second problem, that of preventing the queen from laying male eggs and producing drones, is accomplished by means of sheets of wax run through a pair of engraved rollers working like a wash wringer. Bees build their cells of two sizes, those intended for the reception of male eggs being one fourth of an inch across, while those that are to receive worker eggs measure one fifth of an inch. The queen, going her rounds from cell to cell as methodically as a farmer dropping corn in rows, lays eggs that are very small, first thrusting her head into each cell as if to inspect its condition. When she comes to one of these larger cells she will deposit a male egg in it, while one of the other cells, intended to hold a bee of the opposite or worker sex, will receive an egg such as its size calls for.

The queen, by a miraculous-seeming provision of nature, has power to control the sex of the eggs she lays. Man has taken advantage of this state of affairs by engraving on the metal rolls which make the sheets of wax the outline of cells of the worker variety. A sheet of this comb 'foundation' is fastened into the frame into which comb is to be built; and the bees, willingly making use of what man has begun for them, rapidly draw out the wax into cells which produce nothing but worker bees. When comb gets old or broken in handling, or is damaged in the centrifugal machine, it is renewed in this way; and the beekeeper has always a spare stock of comb large enough to meet the demands of the busiest season. And he uses the same comb over and over, catching the honey crop as fast as the bees bring it in.

While this is the practice in producing extracted honey, comb honey is in

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