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A neighbor who wished to purchase some stock hives in the fall,
requested my assistance in selecting them. We applied to a perfect
stranger; his bees had passed the previous winter in the open air. I
found on looking among them that he had lost some of them from this
cause, as the excrement was yet about the entrance of one old
weather-beaten hive, that was now occupied by a young swarm, and was
about half filled with combs.

I saw at once what had been the matter, and felt quite confident that I
could give its owner a correct history of it. "Sir," said I, "you have
been unfortunate with the bees that were in this hive last winter; I
think I can give you some particulars respecting it."

"Ah, what makes you think so? I would like to hear you guess; to
encourage you, I will admit that there has been something rather
peculiar about it."

"One year ago you considered that a good stock-hive; it was well filled
with honey, a good family of bees, and two or three years old or more.
You had as much confidence in its wintering as any other; but during
the cold weather, somehow, the bees unaccountably disappeared, leaving
but a very few, and they were found frozen to death. You discovered it
towards spring, on a warm day. When you removed the combs, you probably
noticed a great many spots of excrement deposited on them, as well as
on the sides of the hive, particularly near the entrance. Also one-half
or more of the breeding cells contained dead brood, in a putrid state;
and this summer you have used the old hive for a new swarm."

"You are right, sir, in every particular. Now, I would like to know
what gave you the idea of my losing the bees in that hive? I can see
nothing peculiar about that old hive, more than this one," pointing to
another that also contained a new swarm. "You will greatly oblige me if
you will point out the signs particularly."

"I will do so with pleasure" (feeling quite willing to give him the
impression that I was "posted up" on this subject, notwithstanding it
savored strongly of boasting).

I then directed his attention to the entrance in the side of the hive,
where the bees had discharged their faeces, on the moment they issued,
until it was near the eighth of an inch thick, and two or three inches
broad; that yet remained, and just began to cleave off. "You see this
brown substance around this hole in the hive?"

"Yes, it is bee-glue (_propolis_); it is very common on old hives."

"I think not; if you will examine it closely, you will perceive it is
not so hard and bright; it already begins to crumble; bee-glue is not
affected by the weather for years."

"Just so, but what is it, and what has that to do with your

"It is the excrement of the bees. In consequence of a great many cells
containing dead brood, which the bees could not enter, they were unable
to pack themselves close enough to secure sufficient animal heat to
exhale or drive off the water in their food, it was therefore retained
in their bodies till they were distended beyond endurance--they were
unable to wait for a warm day--necessity compelled them to issue daily
during the coldest weather, discharging their faeces the moment of
passing the entrance, and part of them before. They were immediately
chilled, and could not return; the quantity left about this entrance
shows that a great many must have come out. That they came out in cold
weather is proved by its being left on the hive, because in warm
weather they _leave_ the hive for this purpose."

"This is a new idea; at present it seems to be correct; I will think it
over. But how did you know that it was not a new swarm; that it was
well filled?"

"When looking under it just now, I saw that combs of a dark color had
been attached to the sides near the bottom, below where those are at
present; this indicates that it had been full, and the dark color that
it was not new. Also, a swarm early and large enough to fill such a
hive the first season, would not be very likely to be affected by the
cold in this way."

"Why not? I think this hive was crowded with bees as much as any of my
new swarms."

"I have no doubt they appeared so; but we are very liable to be
deceived in such cases, by the dead brood in the combs. A
moderate-sized family in such a hive will make more show than some
larger ones that have empty cells to creep into, and can pack closer."

"But how did you know about the dead brood?"

"Because old stocks are thus often reduced and lost."

"What were the indications of its being filled with honey?"

"Combs are seldom attached to the side of the hive farther down than
they are filled with honey. In this hive the combs had been attached to
the bottom, consequently must have been full. Another thing, unless the
family is very much reduced, the hive is generally well stored, even
when diseased."

"Why did you suppose it was near spring before I discovered it?"

"I took the chances of guessing. The majority of bee-keepers, you know,
are rather careless, and when they have fixed their bees for winter,
seldom give them much more attention, till they begin to fly out in the

"But what should I have done had I discovered the bees coming out?"

"As it was affected with dead brood, it was but little use to do
anything; you would have lost it eventually. But if it had been a stock
otherwise healthy, and was affected in this way only because it was a
small family, or the severity of the weather, you could have taken it
to a warm room, and turned it bottom up; the animal heat would then
convert the most of the water contained in their food into vapor; that
would rise from the hive, and the bees could retain the excrementitious
portion without difficulty till spring."

"I suppose you must get along without losing many through the winter,
if I may judge by your confident explanations."

"I can assure you I have but little fear on this head. If I can have
the privilege of selecting proper stocks, I will engage not to lose one
in a hundred."

"How do you manage? I would be glad to obtain a method in which I could
feel as perfectly safe as you appear to."

"The first important requisite is to have all good ones to start with.
Enough weak families are united together till they are strong, or some
other disposition made of them." I then gave him an outline of my
method of wintering, which I can confidently recommend to the reader.

Next: Accumulation Of Faeces Described By Some Writers As A Disease

Previous: Other Difficulties

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