Beekeeping As A Pursuit

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From the Vintage Publication:
“The American Apiculturist.” (1885)
A Journal Devoted to Scientific and Practical Beekeeping.

By Arthur Todd.

This subject may be regarded from two standpoints—that of the man who, with income assured from other sources, pursues beekeeping for its pleasure; and that of the man who, wishing to increase his slender income, or actually make an income, turns to beekeeping with a view to profit on the capital and labor to be invested. But, as to the latter are denied none of the pleasures enjoyed by the former, it is from the latter standpoint alone that I shall review the subject.

Beekeeping is, strictly speaking, a branch of agriculture, and many a farmer is to-day getting a greater return from his investment in bees than that received from any of his other stock; but right here I say that beekeeping as a pursuit has to-day become a “specialty.” The man who enters upon this pursuit (leaving the question of capital aside) must be one endowed with physical and mental ability; a man with open eyes and ears, one ready for emergencies, prompt to do what is necessary at once, and one who is not easily discouraged.

The physical ability is required because beekeeping demands real hard work—yes, back-aching work—not suitable to the sick ladies and gentlemen so often ill-advised to go into beekeeping. The mental ability is required to keep the beekeeper abreast of the times and its rapidly changing conditions. Beekeeping is now a science, a study, and the conditions which govern one season, or colony of bees, will be completely changed for the next. Every stage in the life of a colony of bees requires to be understood. There must be no “guessing,” and this will bring us to the cultivation of the habit of observation, and a disposition to hear all that one can upon the special subject.

Emergencies will occur needing heroic treatment, but the beekeeper with mind and hand trained by experience and thoughtful consideration of his “specialty,” will rise superior to any occasion, and when discouragement comes, as it inevitably will, in the words of the immortal Longfellow, “He will look not mournfully into the past, it comes not back again, but wisely improve the future for it is his.”

Pleasure and profit go hand in hand, as a rule, in this specialty, although the former is not unalloyed by a liberal application of the “business end” of the little busy bee, and the latter by a recurrence of poor honey seasons. In nature are found both the beautiful and the sublime; in the hive both are constantly under the beekeeper’s eye, teaching him to look with amazement from “nature up to nature’s God.” As he views his hive and sees the city grow, and population increase, the waxen walls, and stores well filled, the free-born citizen hurrying to and fro, each with his special task, outside of the thoughts of profit will come to the most unimpressionable, thoughts of wonder and admiration for the works of that great Architect of the universe who said, “Let there be life and there was life.”

The profits of beekeeping are what? To many a one they hold out the hopes of “the glorious privilege of being independent;” and to obtain these profits the specialist, gifted with the requisite mental and physical qualities, must be “the right man in the right place.” He must have hives of the movable-frame order. Moses Quinby wrote thus, in 1858: “There is not the least doubt, in my mind, that whoever realizes the greatest profit from his bees will have to retain the movable combs in some form;” and who of us will gainsay this to-day? Out of the many styles of movable-comb hives now in existence, the beekeeper will select one best fitted for the business in which he means to engage, be it the production of comb or extracted honey, queen-rearing, bee-selling, or a combination of all.

The specialist who intends to rear bees for sale will do well to employ that hive which will take the size and style of frame most in use in the district in which he resides. Interchangeability of parts is a grand secret of success, and the beekeeper who can sell a colony of bees, or buy a colony well knowing that each and every frame is usable in his own or his neighbors’ hives, has made a step in the right direction. The main points in a good hive are, “Simplicity of construction, combining plenty of bee-space with perfect ease of manipulation.”

The race of bees will next engage the specialist’s attention. Study and experience, and also the actual line of business engaged in, will best decide this point. The black, the Italian, the Syrian, the Cyprian, and the Carniolan, alike have their votaries. At present, for all purposes of sale and honey-gathering, the Ligurian or Italian-Alp bee is the principal one in demand; but the very best race of bees will afford but little profit unless the queens are carefully looked after. As fast as signs of senility appear, these should be removed and their places supplied by younger and more vigorous queens. The apiarist for profit should not only rear queens, but know how, when and where to replace them. He should also know the requisites of a good queen, and how to judge of her progeny.

Pasture to the beekeeper is everything; if that be poor, his returns will be poor; hence he should carefully examine his location. Districts vary greatly in their flora, and by a careful study of this question before locating, disappointment will be avoided. The beekeeper should be a walking calendar of the flora of his neighborhood for miles around, then, as the honey comes pouring in, he can tell its source and label it accordingly. This knowledge will enable him to build up colonies, and follow the old advice, “Keep your colonies strong;” so that when the honey does come, there are bees to gather it in.

The management of bees kept for profit will vary according to the object of the beekeeper, whether it be the production of honey or the rearing of bees or queens. In running for honey alone, we have the swarming and the non-swarming methods. The experiences of good bee-men are so diversified that one is reminded of the old saying, “when doctors differ, the patient dies.” The bee-man must strike out his own line of action suitable to his own special circumstances. In running for extracted honey, swarming is, to a great extent, controlled, for “Poverty maketh humble;” but I insist that the good bee-man will know the condition of each hive, and act accordingly.

The specialist is a man who reads, and although he may not get or use a single one of the many traps, or patent articles now offered, he should know all about them; for at any moment, what he has read about these things may give him an idea, the successful carrying out of which may help him over a difficulty. The capacity of the beekeeper to attend to a certain number of colonies, be it greater or less, will have a great influence on the profits of the pursuit. As a pursuit, beekeeping should not be entered into without careful thought and consideration as to the capital required, the location and the suitability of the employment to one’s temperament. To-day, before embarking in the business, it is possible for the intending beekeeper to serve an actual and willing apprenticeship in the yards of well-known and successful bee-masters. I need dwell not upon the advantages of this plan for they are obvious.

To the enthusiast with but small experience, I would say, “Go slow!” Read the good bee-literature now so easy to be obtained, and never be above learning from others. Visit beekeepers wherever you can enjoy the privilege, attend bee-conventions, and gradually a store of knowledge will be gathered upon which you will draw with profit later on.

Profitable beekeeping as a pursuit is, to my mind, the outcome of the union of two great factors—“talent” and “tact;” for “talent is power, tact is skill; talent is wealth, tact is ready money; talent knows what to do, tact knows how to do it; talent makes the world wonder that it gets on no faster, tact excites astonishment that it gets on so fast; talent may obtain a living, but tact will make one. Talent convinces, tact converts; talent is an honor to the profession, tact has the knack of slipping into good places, and keeping them; it seems to know everything without learning anything: it has no left hand, no deaf ear, no blind side, with a full knowledge of the Pythagorean doctrine, ‘that a man ought rather to be silent, or say something better than silence.’”

I submit these remarks to my fellow beekeepers, being painfully conscious of many shortcomings from the high standard of excellence that man should attend to who in these days goes into “beekeeping as a pursuit.”

Germantown, Pa.

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