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Is It An Elaborate Or Natural Substance?

Category: THE APIARY.

No modern observer has ever been able to detect the bees in the act of
gathering it.


Huber tells us, that "near the outlet of one of his hives, he placed
some of the branches of the poplar, which exuded a transparent juice,
the color of garnet. Several workers were soon seen perched upon these
branches,--having detached some of this resinous gum, they formed it
into pellets, and deposited them in the baskets of their thighs; thus
loaded, they flew to the hive, where some of their fellow-laborers
instantly came to assist them in detaching this viscid substance from
their baskets." Some of our modern apiarians have doubted this account
of Huber's. Now, in the absence of anything positive on this subject, I
am inclined to adopt this theory; that it is a resin or gum produced by
trees. (I cannot say that I am exactly satisfied with the story of
bringing the "branches and laying them by the hive," &c.) That bees
gather it in its natural state, is in accordance with my own


Our first swarms that issue in May, or first of June, seldom use much
of the article pure for soldering and plastering; but instead, a
composition, the most of which is wax. I have noticed at this season,
when old pieces of boards that had been used for hives, were left in
the sun, that this old propolis would become soft in the middle of the
day. Here I have frequently seen the bees at work, packing it upon
their legs; it was detached in small particles, and the process of
packing was seen distinctly, as the bee did not fly during the
operation, as in the case of packing pollen. It is asserted that when
bees need it they always have it, indicating that they can elaborate it
like wax. I can see no reason why they do not need it in June as much
as August; yet, in the latter month, they use more than a hundred times
the quantity. At this time, they manifest no disposition to gather any
from the old boards, &c. It would seem they prefer the article new,
which they now have in abundance. Boxes filled in June contain but very
little, sometimes none. Why not, if they have enough of it? but when
filled in August, they always have the corners, and sometimes the top
and sides, lined with a good coat. Cracks, large enough for bees to
pass through, are sometimes completely filled with it. In this season,
a little before sunset of some fair day, I have frequently seen the
bees enter the hive with what I supposed to be the pure article on
their legs, like pollen, except the surface, which would be smooth and
glossy; the color much lighter than when it gets age. I have also seen
them through the glass inside, when they seemed unable to dislodge it
themselves, like pollen, and were continually running around among
those engaged in soldering and plastering; when one required a little,
it seized hold of the pellet with its teeth or forceps, and detached a
portion. The whole lump will not cleave off at once; but firmly adheres
to the leg; from its tenacity, perhaps a string an inch long will be
formed in separating, the piece obtained is immediately applied to
their work, and the bee is ready to supply another with a portion; it
doubtless gets rid of its load in this way; it is difficult to watch it
till it is freed from the whole, as it is soon lost among its fellows.
Now if this substance is not found in its natural state, how does it
happen that they pack it on their legs just as they do when getting it
from a board of an old hive, or pollen, when collected? They never take
the trouble to pack the wax there, when elaborated. Do not these
circumstances strongly favor the idea of its being a vegetable
substance? Perhaps the reason of its being collected at this season in
greater abundance, may be found in the fact, that the buds of trees and
shrubs are now generally formed. Many kinds are protected from rain and
frost, by a kind of gum or resinous coating. It may be found in many
species of Populus, particularly the balsam poplar, (_Populus
Balsamifera_) and the Balm of Gilead, (_Populus Candicans_). By boiling
the buds of these trees, an aromatic resin or gum may be obtained,
(used sometimes for making salve;) the odor is very similar to that
emitted by propolis, when first gathered by the bees, or by heating it
afterwards. In the absence of facts, we are apt to substitute theory.
This appears to me to be very plausible. Yet I am ready to yield it as
soon as facts decide differently. Perhaps not one bee in a thousand is
engaged in collecting this substance--there being so few may be one
reason why they are not often detected, yet few as they are, a few of
us should set about close observation; something certain might decide.
Apiarian science is sadly neglected; a large amount of error is mixed
up with truth, that patient, scrutinizing investigation must separate.


I feel anxious to get to the practical part of this work, which I hope
will interest some readers who care but little about the natural
history. I shall begin with spring, and will now endeavor to mix more
of the practical with it, as we proceed to the end of the year. In
order to illustrate some points of practice, I may have occasion to
repeat some things already mentioned.

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