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Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1710/Bees and Bee-Keeping

From Good Words.


What a never-ending source of delight and interest to the little ones are the bees! Bright eyes and chubby arms are perfectly fearless of the anger of their little friends, and chuckle with glee as they lay their hands at the entrance for the busy army to run over, well knowing the bees are great respecters of courage in their friends, and rarely is confidence on either side abused. The whole atmosphere is now redolent with sweet perfume of mignonette, and gay with the azure blooms of borage sown for the bees. Let us see the "bee-master," quaint, old-fashioned title, a relic of the olden times, investigate the economy of his colonies; with the protection only of a light gauze veil, pendent from the brim of a straw hat, but with hands uncovered, he calmly, steadily, and fearlessly removes the crown board or cover of the hive he wishes to inspect. Most people would expect to see the inhabitants rush out in a body and attack the bold disturber; but the fact is, they do nothing of the kind, a few impetuously take wing and perhaps alight on the hands of their master; but do they sting him? No! the practised hand remains quiet, unmoved and unharmed, many more bees come tumbling like a boiling mass over the sides of the uncovered hive, apparently seeking to know why their privacy has been so unceremoniously intruded on; and having satisfied their curiosity, back they go, to rejoin their forty thousand companions within. Whereupon, with a steady, unflinching movement, and great care that no hurt shall come to any of the bees, the fingers now enter the hive and grasp the two ends of a frame filled with comb and covered with bees, many of whom will run over the hands as harmless as flies, and very much, tamer: few bees offer to fly, but remain to be returned with the comb to the hive. The apiarian now lifts out each frame seriatim, notes, the prosperity of the stock or the reverse by the number of young bees in their various stages of growth, as well as the abundance or otherwise of the stores. On a comb near the centre we see the queen busily engaged in her never-ending employment of egglaying. Now watch her, in her all-important work; statelily she travels over the combs surrounded by a body-guard of her subjects, who make way for her as she moves, and are ready to attend to the eggs she lays. Her majesty inserts her head into a cell to investigate, passes over it, and, her abdomen having taken the place of her head, she turns half round until her antennae are below the medial line, and her work is done, to be repeated again and again two or three thousand times a day! Such is the fecundity of a young and vigorous queen bee, the mother as well as monarch of every other bee in the hive. The nurse-bees now take charge of the egg, a little white body curved and shaped like a cucumber, which is destined three days hence to give birth to a little white grub which, coiled up at the bottom of the cell, revels in a bath of chyle, a kind of jelly which forms its sustenance for a few days, until it passes to a pupa, and eventually it becomes a winged and perfect bee. The exact time for the happening of this latter event depends on whether the perfect bee is to be a queen, a worker, or a drone; the first is matured in sixteen days, the second in twenty-one days, and the latter (which are the males) in twenty-five days. Strange as it may appear, the bees have the power, and may be guided by their owner to exercise that power, to make worker eggs or young larvae into queens, and this is done by enlarging the little animal's cradle, and feeding it with more stimulating food. We may add that it is part of the art of the skilful bee-keeper not to permit idleness in his apiary, and should he discover a colony of his bees to be in the same condition as we have been contemplating in the garden of our cottage friends, he would take summary measures to remedy the evil.