A Taste of
American Beekeeping History
Glass-topped boxes were used to find wild bee
colonies. The wild colonies would be raided for the honey, and the bees sometimes
put into a bee hive.
Bees were tempted into the box with a sweet syrup or honey,
and the hunter followed the bees as they flew back to their colony. A.I. Root
described how to use the hunting box:
"The only season in which we can trap bees is
when they will rob briskly at home... Cautiously set the box over the first bee you find
upon the flowers. As soon as the box is well over the flower, close the bottom with
your hand, and the bee will buzz up against the glass. Catch as many as you wish, in
the same way, and they will soon be sipping the honey. Before any have filled
themselves, ready to fly, place your box on some elevated point, such as the top of a
stump in an open space in the field, and draw back the glass slide....
"When a bee comes back, you will recognize it by the peculiar inquiring hum, like
robbers in front of a hive where they have once had a taste of the spoils.... As
soon as you are pretty well satisfied in which direction they are located, you can close
the glass slide and move along the line, nearer the woods. Open the box and you will
have them just as busy again; mark the line and move again, and you will soon follow them
to their home. To aid you in deciding where they are, you can move off to one side
and start a cross-line. Of course, the tree will be found just where these lines
Until the late 1800's,
catching swarms was a primary way of increasing one's colonies. Several devices were
designed to help stop or catch swarms as they left the hive.
The basic concept in most of these devices was to direct a
swarm into another hive or enclosed area. There also devices designed to stop queens
from leaving the hive.
Grafting of worker larva to raise queens began in the late
1800's. Before that, some books described how to cut worker comb containing eggs and
place it in a queenless hive.
Shipping bees through the postal system has not changed much during
the past 100 years. In the 1890's, Italian and Carniolan queens cost about $1 each.
The black bee that had been popular in earlier years cost about 25 cents. Hybrids cost
about 40 cents. Albino queens were also available. I did not see any mention of the
Caucasian bee in U.S. beekeeping books from the 1800's.
Bee Diseases & Parasites
Foulbrood was the most feared bee disease.
The wax moth was accused of destroying healthy bee colonies.
Today we know that the wax moth is almost always controllable by a healthy bee
colony, and that its presence in a hive is usually a symptom of another problem. One
creative beekeeper's way of controlling wax moth follows below, quoted from a book titled
"Moore's Universal Assistant" (1878):
"HENS MADE TO PROTECT BEES. - A bee raiser has patented an invention for
the protection of bees from the attacks of the honey bee moth, which enters the hives at
night, and rifles the stores.... Hens, he observed, retire to rest early; but bees seek
repose earlier still; no sooner are they sunk into slumber, than the moths steals into
their abode and devours the produce of their toil. He has now built a stand of hives with
a hen house connected. The bees first betake themselves to their dwelling and settle
themselves for the night. The hens then come home to roost on their perch, and as they
take their places upon it, their weight sets some simple mechanism to work, which at once
shuts down the doors of all the hives. When the day dawns, however, the hens leave their
roost, and the removal of their weight from the perch raises the hive doors, and gives
egress to the bees in time for their morning's work."
Oil pots with flaming wicks were also used to attract and
Wintering hives in field shelters or cellars seemed popular
in the northern U.S. One magazine article suggested 40-45 degrees f to be the ideal
temperature for wintering bees in a cellar.
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