Lore of the Honey Bee

I’ve been looking at an old bee book, The Lore of the Honey Bee by Tickner Edwardes. There’s almost nothing in it of relevance to us because he was what we’d call a conventional beekeeper, and the book was written in 1908 before… well, everything: mechanised agriculture, varroa, even tracheal mites. But he mentions a few things in passing I thought noteworthy…

  • Around 1900, it was still common practise to sulfur (kill) bees to harvest honey in cottage skep apiaries
  • He mentions undertaker bees flying off with dead larvae. This is a record of a form of hygienic behaviour as early as 1908. The cause of death isn’t mentioned, but it is only talked of in passing as if it is a constant low level thing rather than a response to exceptional mass death from, say, foulbrood.
  • There are general purpose workers at the entrance of a strong colony who pick up dropped pollen loads, groom returning foragers covered in pollen dust etc. I’ve never noticed that behaviour myself. Again perhaps an indication that the potential for hygienic behaviour was present even then. I think he was working primarily with British Black bees.
  • He mentions an old trick where people went up to strong hives at night with a candle, which of course was a common light source then. If you hold it next to the entrance while they are fanning the candle gets snuffed out.
  • You often see ranks of bees outside a hive entrance fanning air to cool and ventilate it. But inside a hot hive in sun are further ranks of fanners directing the entrance draught around, primarily towards the honey processing areas at sides and top; the air is sucked in one side of an entrance and flows out the other side. In really large colonies they form a double-loop circuit where air comes in both sides of the entrance and out the centre. They will stop up “helpful” holes you add above.

Gareth’s Einraumbeute, with entrances at 3 levels

I thought that last point might be of interest to Gareth John, who has been experimenting with entrances at different heights, and brought it to his attention. Gareth had the following to say on ventilation:

“I too have found that the air goes in on one side of the entrance and out on the other if it is a slot entrance.  On those hives that have three round entrances, one near the bottom, one near the middle and one near the top (Einraumbeute and Freedom Hive), I find that ventilation is often in at the bottom entrance and out at the top with the middle used for flying.”

Gareth’s Freedom Hive, showing multiple entrances

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