SPACE occupied by a single hive and its colony of bees is extremely small, but the profit therefrom can be considerable. As much as a hundredweight of honey may be secured in a good year. It may be only 30 to 40 lb. In a bad season – with weather unfavourable to bees – there may be no honey at all to take. It is a matter of good management and weather.
When and How to Start.
The beginner may make an active start in April, with the purchase of a complete colony – which means hive as well as bees, the whole thing complete, a going concern.
It will not be out of place to mention here that a colony of bees is not the same as a swarm. A swarm is a homeless exodus headed by the old queen of the hive which they recently left; the swarm may consist of about 10,000 workers and some drones.
The population of a hive in full swing numbers round about 50,000 workers, 300 drones, and one queen. A queen can lay 3,000 eggs a day during the honey-flow. She can lay drone eggs at will; the other eggs can develop into workers or queens, according to how the larva; are fed. The worker bees work, and in high summer a worker will slave itself to death in about six weeks.
Drones are in evidence only from May to autumn. They do not work. Their sole purpose in life is to fertilize any queen they may meet in flight, and the mating kills them. Drones which do not fulfil that purpose are expelled from the hive some time in August and perish.
Bees Don’t Gather Honey.
Bees gather nectar, not honey. Nectar is a liquid secreted by flowers, in receptacles called nectaries at the base of the petals.
A worker bee transfers that nectar to its internal ‘honey sac,’ where it undergoes part of the natural process which results in it becoming honey. The bee can also collect pollen at the same time, storing this in hollows on the inside of the thighs of the rear legs. Pollen is the fertilizing ‘dust’ produced by the male organs of flowers, and it forms, incidentally, part of the food of bee larva: in the hive. Loaded up, the worker flies back to its own hive, where other bees relieve it of its pollen load, storing this in certain cells; mixed with honey it becomes larva food.
The bee proceeds to disgorge its load of nectar in other cells where, after completion of certain fermenting processes, and drying, it becomes the honey of commerce.
Placing the Hive.
This should stand in such a position that some shade is afforded – bees do not like a hive to be in boiling sunshine. It should be among low trees, or bushes, or roses, where the air is reasonably still. In a windy or draughty spot bees are likely to be whirled about, perhaps dashed against the hive, when they are making for the hive-opening. What they like is to be able to slacken speed and go straight in without hindrance. The opening should face south, or south-east, or south-west; and not on to a pathway, for obvious reasons.
Hive and Fittings.
There are several types of hive. The beginner should choose one type, and stick to it; so that when a second hive is added all parts will be interchangeable.
The most commonly used is the W.B.C. hive, the initials standing for the name of a famous beekeeper, W. B. Carr. From the bottom upwards this consists of a floorboard, raised about 6 in. from the ground on four outward-sloping legs. The top front edge of the floorboard is sunken to allow bee-way in and out of the hive.
On the floorboard stands the brood (or body) box, 9 in. deep. This holds ten British Standard frames and a dummy. The purpose of the latter is to allow of space in the brood chamber being enlarged or contracted as necessary.
These frames hold wax honeycomb, which the bees fill with ‘brood’ (eggs, larva:, pupa;), honey, and pollen. A semi-circular portion of the lower part of each comb is filled with brood; above this semi-circular area, and in the two top corners, the cells are filled with honey.
Around the brood chamber (or body box) is the outer case of the hive, with a roof. On top of the vertical frames in the brood chamber is placed a quilt consisting of squares of sacking, old carpet, or calico, to conserve heat.
A conical bee escape is let into the front and another into the back of the roof. This is a cone of perforated zinc with a hole at the apex to enable bees trapped outside the quilt to rejoin the colony.
The frames (and also sections, which are dealt with in later paragraphs) can be obtained with ‘foundation’ in place; or it can be fitted in by the beekeeper. Foundation is a thin sheet of pure beeswax, impressed widi the hexagon cell (five to the inch) pattern which bees themselves invented. They draw this out to the depth necessary, and the result is a comb.
Extending the Hive.
Taking advantage of the bees’ habit of storing honey above the brood (this point was made in describing the brood chamber or box), a super is placed on top of the brood chamber when the honey is coming in briskly. The super, which is of exacdy the same area as the brood chamber but not so deep, accommodates ten shallow frames in which the bees store additional honey.
Additional supers can be added, according to the honey flow, which is dependent on the nectar available. But the queen must be confined to the brood chamber, otherwise she will lay eggs in the supers which the beekeeper intends shall contain nothing but honey. To keep her from the supers a ‘queen excluder’ is placed immediately on top of the brood chamber. The excluder is a sheet of metal with holes large enough to pass the worker bees but too small to allow the queen and drones to pass.
When the shallow frames are filled they are taken out of the hive and the honey extracted.
Instead of a super of shallow frames a rack of twenty-one sections may be provided. A section is a 4.I -in. square wooden framework containing honeycomb. When this honeycomb is filled it is cut out of the framework and eaten, wax and all; thus saving the trouble of extraction.
Before attempting to manipulate a hive the beekeeper provides himself with certain personal equipment. He dons a veil attached to a hat, the latter’s brim broad enough to keep the veil well away from his skin. The veil completely encircles head and neck, and is tucked well down inside the coat collar.
He takes the precaution of ensuring that no bees are imprisoned within die veil; its urgent object is to keep them out. He also wears gloves which go well up the cuff, with an elastic band to seal that path to any exploratory bee.
To keep the bees quiet whilst he attends to the hive he subdues them with a puff or two of smoke from a bellows device. This puffs out smoke from a smouldering cartridge (roll) of corrugated brown paper. The smoke puts the bees in a state of panic, which induces them to gorge themselves with stored honey, and in that condition they are disinclined to sting.
The procedure is as follows. A few puffs are given at the hive entrance. Then the roof is removed, the quilt edges lifted up and puffs are given along the frame edges. The quilt is flattened down again and a minute allowed to pass. Manipulation can then proceed, every movement made being gentle and unhurried and methodical.
Taking the Honey.
When the honey is ripe – that is, when the stored nectar has become real honey – the bees cap it with pure wax, which they have to manufacture. When filled with capped honey a super is prepared for removal in this fashion. A super-clearing board is placed under the super,.and the hive is left for a day. By that time all the bees will have left the super, which is then free for handling. They have left it by means of a one-way traffic hole in the clearing board, called the Porter Bee Escape – their only way out.
They have gone down to the next storey – either another super or the brood chamber – leaving die combs in the cleared super ready for extraction in the manner explained below. If it is a rack of sections and not shallow frames that are being dealt with, the sections are removed for use as they are, without the honey being extracted. A section when filled contains I lb. of honey.
Extracting the Honey.
A capped frame has to be uncapped before the honey can be extracted. This can be done with an ordinary carving knife, heated in a jug of hot water whose temperature is maintained by standing the jug in a saucepan of boiling water.
The capped frame is held close down to a shallow empty vessel, such as a meat-baking dish, at an angle which allows the sheet of capping to fall into the dish when the hot blade, quickly wiped dry, is passed, with a sawing action, from bottom to top of the frame.
Both sides uncapped in that manner, the prepared shallow frames are placed in die extractor. As the handle of the extractor is turned, centrifugal force comes into play and the honey is thrown out. It falls to the bottom of die extractor, where there is a tap to enable the extracted honey to be drawn off. This is then strained through a perforated funnel and bottled.
If movements are otherwise, bees cannot be handled with impunity. If the operator blunders about, they register speedy disapproval.
When the extraction has been completed, a super of ten shallow frames is ready for use again. The frames are not quite emptied of honey; a little always remains, for the extractor cannot remove it all. The super, with its frames, covered with a quilt, is placed back on the super-clearing board – which was left on the hive. In that board is a bypass, opened to allow the bees free access to the extracted comb.
Back in the comb again they clean it up, darn broken edges of cells, and take the remnants of honey down to the lower chamber if it happens to be the end of the honey season; if they decide there is opportunity to store more honey in the cleared super, they do so instead of taking the remnants below.
The super-clearer is removed, and the bees ‘get on with it.’ When the Bees Swarm.
The housing problem and an urge to perpetuate the species soon become matters of pressing importance. With probably 3,000 eggs a day hatching and honey coming in briskly, the hive begins, about April, to produce drones (from unfertilized eggs). As soon as the drones are flying, queen cells appear in the brood chamber. These special cells are vertical instead of horizontal and about the size of a peanut.
In a queen cell a fertilized egg is laid. The larva hatches out in three days and is fed with a special food known as royal jelly. On the ninth day after laying, the cell is sealed by worker bees; and on that day, if the weather is fine, a swarm will issue from the hive. If it is not fine they defer the flight, and the queen cell that was capped that day is destroyed – which is the reason why more than one queen is ‘made.’ So it goes on until they get a fine hour for the swarming.
Before they swarm they gorge themselves with three days’ rations (honey), then out they go – those which are to constitute the swarm. There are perhaps 10,000 of them,. together with the old queen.
The Bees That Remain.
The hive the swarm has left continues its normal activities, but the new queen meanwhile is in embryo. She emerges from the pupa stage sixteen days after the egg is laid – a virgin queen. Her first action is to tear down the other queen cells, if the bees will allow her to. If they won’t, other swarms, known as casts, will emerge, each headed by a virgin queen.
Some time after the twenty-first day from the egg being laid the virgin queen at the head of the old hive takes her mating flight, on which she will be fertilized by a drone – any drone, from any hive – whilst on the wing.
What to do With a Swarm.
The queen heading a swarm is not good at flying. She quickly comes to rest, the bees clustering around her, using the hooks of their legs to cling together in a mass.
They then send out scouts to locate a new home. This the enterprising beekeeper will provide with the least possible delay. Just as clustered swarms vary in size and weight, so they choose different resting places. They may be hanging in a position that makes it easy for a box to be placed beneath, the swarm then being shaken down into it. On such an occasion they are good-humoured, being gorged with honey, and not inclined to sting.
If the swarm is in an awkward place the beekeeper has to exercise his ingenuity, perhaps scooping them up with gloved hands and pouring them into a box.
When they are in the box (or whatever it is) this should be very gently inverted on the ground, with a stone under one edge to allow any ‘strays’ to get in and rejoin the swarm.
Meanwhile, a hive to receive them should be prepared, the swarm being transferred to it at nightfall when all the strays are in. The hive should be in the spot where it is to remain. If it has to be shifted later, when occupied, the shift must be carried out gradually, a few inches a day.
To get the swarm in, the top of the unoccupied hive should be removed. Six frames only should be in the brood chamber, and well spaced, on top of which the inverted box should be gently placed. The bottom of the box is then rapped smartly, or the box is jerked, so that the bees are emptied out on to the tops of the six frames.
The frames are then covered with a quilt, the roof placed on, and the hive left alone for the night. Next morning the other four frames can be inserted. The object in having only six frames in the brood chamber to begin with is to allow plenty of room for the bees to be rapped or jerked in.
Should the queen be lost, or accidentally killed, it will be necessary to acquire, by purchase, a fertile queen to take her place, with as little delay as possible.
The Hive in Winter.
When all nectar has gone from fields and gardens the bee year is over. It may be August, or September. It all depends on the blossoms available, and on the weather.
Activity is diminishing then in the hive. Food stores – such honey as the beekeeper has left to them – must be conserved for winter food. The drones have served their purpose, so these are all ejected, saving that much food. They are thrown out by the workers, to perish of hunger or cold. No more nectar can be gathered until the next spring, so the beekeeper himself must ensure that queen and workers do not go short. He must leave in a hive at least 30 lb. of capped honey; the alternative being to feed the bees with a sugar solution to make good whatever quantity of honey they lack at the beginning of winter.
The solution is made by mixing two parts of refined cane or beet sugar with one part of water, and this is fed to them by means of a ‘’rapid’ feeder placed over a hole cut in the top of the quilt, the cut piece being turned back so that it can be replaced when there is no further need of the feeder. The latter allows the bees easy access to the sugar solution. They take it below and store it in their cells for their winter food.
It is very necessary that all damp be excluded from the hive. If the roof is not absolutely waterproof it should be made so, and given a coat of paint. If snow lodges on the roof it should be brushed off before it melts, to prevent any possibility of moisture seeping in. If the hive is in a sheltered position there is little danger of a high wind overturning it. A precaution against this is to pass a piece of rope or strong cord over the roof and secure the ends to stakes driven into the ground on either side.