Single Hiving, Straw Hives, & Depriving Systems

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The multiplication of families or colonies of bees, in the natural manner, is accomplished by the secession of a portion of the inhabitants of a stock-hive, which has become over-peopled, with insufficient room for the breeding and storing departments. This act of emigration or swarming is sometimes an affair of expediency only; and by a timely enlargement and decrease in the temperature of the hive it may often be prevented.

As soon as warm weather sets in, a common sized hive becomes crowded and heated to excess; and at length a separation of the family becomes a matter of necessity. In anticipation of this event, royal cells are constructed and tenanted for the rearing of young queens, for without these no swarming occurs. A crowded dwelling therefore naturally prompts to this preliminary; whilst on the contrary, a large hive has the effect of retarding the formation of such cells, and the migration of which they are the precursor.

In the words of Gelieu, “in the swarming season the strong hives are almost entirely filled with brood-combs. At that time also honey becomes abundant; and when fine days succeed each other, the working bees amass an astonishing quantity. But where is it to be stored? Must they wait till the young bees have left the brood-cells, by which time the early flowers will be withered? What is to be done in this dilemma? Mark the resources of the industrious bees.

They search in the neighbourhood for a place where they may deposit their honey, until the young shall have left the combs in which they were hatched. If they fail in this object, they crowd together in the front of their habitation, forming prodigious clusters. It is not uncommon to see them building combs on the outside.”

The word here translated neighbourhood seems, with some, to have given rise to a misconception as to the meaning intended to be conveyed by it. From the context it is clear Gelieu only meant to imply some place of deposit in proximity to the parent hive, and not anything actually apart from it. He distinctly says, “provided there be an accessible way of communication between them.” That bees do, in a degree, leave their usual domicile for the temporary storing of honey is evident, when from necessity they construct combs (often in the open air) on the underneath side of their floor; or work in a separate hive or box, placed against the original one.

In general, honey-gathering is altogether suspended, necessarily, under the circumstances we have stated; and, after a long course of inaction, in the very best part of the season, swarming follows. Indeed there always appears to be a connexion between swarming and idleness, induced by a succession of interregnums in the government, causing a suspension of breeding, when little or no store of any kind is collected.

The proprietor must therefore make his election as to his course. If the multiplication of stocks is his object, his bees may thus be impelled to throw off swarms, but he must abandon the prospect of a large harvest of honey under such circumstances. This method of bee management is usually called single hiving, and is that commonly followed by cottagers, as on the whole the least expensive. On the general subject of swarming we shall enter more at large under the head of “Spring Management.”

Depriving system.—Opposed to the mode of management in which swarming is systematically encouraged, is that whereby, under ordinary circumstances, it may be often prevented, and much valuable time, in the most productive part of the year, be rendered available for the purposes of adding to the wealth of the family.

Let us observe the natural instinct of these little animals, and at the proper season provide them with such an occasional addition of storing-room as will enable them uninterruptedly to go on constructing fresh combs, to be filled with honey, unmixed with brood or other substances. This temporary receptacle, though in communication with the stock-hive, can at pleasure, in the way which will hereafter be described, be detached from it, without injury to the bees; these returning to their original habitation, in which the mother bee (although she may occasionally perambulate every part of her dominion,) ought exclusively to carry on the work of breeding.

The honey obtained by this act of Deprivation is always supposed to be in excess of what is required for the wants of the family, and almost invariably pure in quality. Various have been the contrivances for effecting the separation of the storing and breeding departments in a hive. The bees, when pressed for room, will extend their operations almost in any direction, whether the accommodation is given above (which is termed storifying), at the bottom (nadiring), or collaterally. Equally indifferent are they to the material of the temporary receptacle. A second hive, box, or glass, placed over the stock, is termed a duplet, or more commonly a super; by which general name, as we proceed, any kind of storing vessel so placed will be designated.

A productive season sometimes admits of a second super (usually introduced between the first and the stock), called in such case a triplet. An empty box or hive, pushed beneath a full one, is denominated a Nadir,—a mode of practice not always advisable except in the case of swarms of the same year, or towards the latter end of very abundant seasons. A still smaller addition to a common hive consists merely of a few bands of straw, on which it is raised temporarily, and this constitutes an eke. When either this or a nadir is used, and to facilitate its subsequent removal, a board ought to be placed between the stock-hive and the nadir, to prevent the combs from being worked down into it.

The board may either be pierced with good-sized holes, throughout, or it may be cut into the form of parallel bars, as a grate, with about half an inch of space between them. The entrance to the stock-hive must be stopped, and one made at the bottom of the eke or nadir. We shall hereafter describe a modification of the Nadir principle, which, by way of distinction, I have called Nethering.

In contrasting, as we have done, the Swarming and Depriving systems, it should not be understood that either of them can invariably be advantageously carried out exclusively. An occasional change of system is desirable. In all large apiaries there is always a necessity for renewals both of Stocks and of Hives, by swarming; and it is seldom profitable, more especially as respects a common straw hive, to continue to work it on the depriving plan beyond a few seasons consecutively. Moreover, the cost of a new hive will be well repaid by an entire occasional renovation of the colony, stimulated thus to increased exertion, and with the advantage probably of a changed Queen.

The preference given to either of the two schemes of Bee management we have just detailed, must direct the proprietor in the choice of his hives, and we shall proceed to describe such of them as have found most favour among modern practitioners; premising that in using the term Hive, we intend its general acceptation, no matter of what material it is made. Neither is it our object unduly to magnify the advantages of wooden hives at the expense of those of straw: prejudice exists on both sides the question.

They are each valuable according to circumstances, and their intended uses. Moreover, he only deceives himself and others who imagines he has discovered a system or a hive by which to command an abundance, or an improved quality of Honey, at pleasure. A favorable season may crown with success some cherished theory or mechanical device, to be followed in the next by disappointment; for he has little studied the natural habits of bees, who believes they can be made at will to conform, under all circumstances, to any settled scheme of practice we may devise for them.

The attempt has led to the Babel of contrarieties too frequently exhibited amongst apiarian professors, to the confusion of the novice; each deprecating everything except the mode of procedure he has found applicable to his own case or district, and with which of course he is most familiar. In the words of Mr. Golding, “Let my readers repel the quackery which would have them believe that it was the kind of hive which commanded the honeyed store.

No; that will be ruled by the productiveness of the season and the locality.” Having taken the Honey bee under our especial protection, we are bound to provide for its due preservation from the effects of climate, &c., and perhaps, in addition to the ordinary attentions, the most that can be done with permanent advantage is to furnish our intelligent little workmen with a dwelling, convenient in its form and arrangement for the intended purposes; bearing in mind, as a general rule, that these are best consulted by an attention to simplicity in its details.


In their wild state, bees have most usually found a secure residence in the decayed trunks of the thick forest trees. Where they are domesticated, the kinds and shapes, as well as the materials of bee-hives, vary according to climate and locality, or the purse of the proprietor. Those used in many parts of this country are made of straw, of a bell-shape, and being intended for single hiving, are usually without any means of enlargement.

At the end of the second or third year, they are too often placed over the pit of destruction; and thus, with a little impure honey, flavoured with brimstone, the scene closes. Is it surprising that an unpleasant association is thus connected with the use of such hives? Happily for the cause of humanity, experience has decided that this consequence is not inevitable; and I trust I shall hereafter point out the method by which it may be avoided, and make it appear to be the interest of the proprietor never to kill his bees, let the hive be of what kind it may.

Common hives are best made of unthreshed rye, or good wheat straw. They would be much improved by a greater attention to shape, being usually too high in proportion to the width. It may be well, in this connexion, to introduce the observation of Gelieu. “One of my chief objects,” says he, “has been to ascertain what shape of hive is the most profitable; and with this view I have tried all the different kinds, and have invariably remarked that bees thrive better in low hives than in high ones; that in general those which are broad and flat amass more honey, thrive better, and give out stronger and earlier swarms than those which are high.

A hive thrives only in proportion to the success or perfection of its brood-comb in the spring. It is, therefore, of great importance to keep up the necessary degree of heat for the hatching of the brood. If, at that time, the bees are lodged in high and roomy hives, they will crowd together in vain, and the heat ascending is lost in the empty space above. This never happens in low flat hives, where it is more easily concentrated.”

To prevent the combs from falling, sticks are commonly put across, or along the inside of a hive, as a support to them. But these props are an annoyance to the Bees, presenting difficulty in subsequently extracting the combs, and are never required in a hive made with a proper regard to proportion; in other words, where the combs are not too large to bear their own weight, when fully loaded. As regards the area of hives, much difference of opinion prevails, and a certain degree of latitude must be left for circumstances connected with locality, &c.

Credit has been taken by some apiculturists, and doubtless with reason, for much reducing the unwieldy hives of our ancestors. On an average, perhaps, a preference may be given, as regards a common bell-formed straw hive, to one made about fourteen inches wide, and not more than eight inches high at the centre of the crown, both inside measure. There will be less of room wasted in a hive thus formed, inasmuch as the combs are stored down to the bottom cells, which is rarely the case in a high and narrow one. A low wooden hoop is often used, worked at the bottom of the hive; or, as Dr. Bevan says, “the lower round of straw may be begun upon a wooden hoop, the bottom of which has been planed smooth; it should be perforated through its whole course, and the perforations made in an oblique direction, so distant from each other as to cause all the stitches of the hive to range in a uniform manner.” The hoop gives greater stability to the hive, preserves the lower edge from decay, and affords facility in moving it.

The custom of plastering round the bottom edge of a hive with mortar or clay is better omitted. Its own increasing weight will settle it down to its board: at all events no cement is equal to that used by the bees themselves; any other only serves to accelerate the decay of the hive, besides presenting an impediment on occasional removal for cleaning or inspection.


A reference to the preceding section will show the reasons for giving a preference to rather shallow common straw hives over high ones, and the same arguments hold good where they are intended to be managed on the system usually termed of Deprivation; except that then the hive need be scarcely so large as in the case of single hiving. But to give facilities for the placing of a second hive, or super, over the original stock-hive, the latter ought to be made flat on the top, viz., cylindrical and straight in form.

This shape found an advocate in the late Mr. Payne, one of the most experienced instructors of Cottage Bee-keepers, who saw reasons for altering the dimensions of his hives from twelve inches wide to fourteen, and seven, or sometimes eight, inches in height (both inside measure), and which I have adopted as preferable. In the centre of the crown of the hive is a three or four inch hole. The latter, when not in use, is stopped by a piece of worked straw, like a mat, as seen in the preceding illustration; and this may be fastened down by pins or a slight weight.

At the proper time for placing a super, the straw mat cover can be removed, and its place supplied by what is termed an adapter, which is usually a piece of board the same diameter as the top of the hive, having a corresponding hole through its centre; thus in fact adapting it as the floor-board to a super. It will often be better, instead of one thick adapter, to have two very thin ones, of equal form and size, placed together. In such case, mahogany or some hard wood should be used, to prevent warping. On the removal of a full super, this double adapter will be found useful, as any impediment can be removed by passing between the two boards a knife, or some fine wire. Or a piece of tin, zinc, or thin wood may be inserted to entirely stop the communication, if desired, at any time.

A straw super is best made of the same flat and cylindrical form as the stock-hive just described. The size may vary in diameter according to season and locality, from ten to twelve inches, or even the full width of the stock-hive, and three to six inches in inside height. In good years two or more of such supers may sometimes be filled in succession, the appearance of the hive determining its expediency.

Should the stock-hive become hot and crowded before the first cap is entirely filled, a second smaller one (or triplet,) may be added. In such cases, the first super is always to remain the upper one, for it would be useless to put the triplet anywhere except between the two now in use, and it must have a two-inch hole in its crown as a passage upwards for the bees.

In moving the first super, the upper half of the double adapter can be lifted with it, first introducing between them a piece of zinc or tin, to stop the communication with the stock-hive. In order to give the straw supers a better footing when placed one upon another, some persons prefer an extra cord or rim of straw to be worked round the outer bottom and top band. Or, if they are made plain, a thin hoop may be slipped round at the point of junction, embracing them both. A few holes are made in the hoop, for the reception of small pointed iron pins (easily removable), passing through and into the straw, and thus keeping it in its place.

Those who choose may have the supers made without crowns, which gives facilities for fitting them up to serve any required purpose. This is done by means of loose wooden crown-boards: they may be prevented from warping by being made of two circular smooth boards glued together, the grain of the wood crossing. These boards are of different diameters; the smaller circle falls within the inner diameter of the cap; the other should be made an inch or more larger, to rest upon the upper edge of it.

A reference to the engraving in the next page will illustrate our meaning. A small weight for a day or two will adjust the crown to its place; but any little apertures should in some way be stopped, for the escape of too much warmth must not be permitted. Mr. Golding does this by an effectual method: “Any little misfit,” says he, “through which the bees may get out, is best stopped with a bit of tea lead, a store of which should be kept for such purposes.”

On removing a full cap, the combs can be separated from its sides with a knife or spatula, when there will be no difficulty in lifting up the crown-board with the combs suspended from it, in an unbroken state; and this often enhances their value.

Whether with or without the protection of a bee-house, the supers ought to be covered. For this object an exterior hive or straw cylinder may be used, similar in form and diameter to the stock-hive, and of any required height. The zinc shade and its cover, which will be more particularly described (under the head of hive-covers), suitably completes a protection of this kind.

At present a reference to the preceding illustrations will suffice. The upper engraving shows a straw super with its moveable crown-board, and the method of placing it over a stock-hive; whilst the lower one represents the appearance of the whole when put together, with zinc shades and a cover.

We have as yet supposed the stock-hive to be constructed in the usual way, with a flat straw crown; but many persons are induced to prefer wood; in which case the hive may be made in the mode pointed out for the caps, open at both ends alike.

The same kind of moveable crown-board will in that case be suitable; made, as already detailed, of two circular pieces of wood of different diameters, together about three fourths of an inch in thickness. A little of some kind of luteing can, if needed, be used in adjusting the crown-board to its hive; or the tea lead we have just spoken of may often serve.

There is another mode of fitting a wood crown. This may be of the same size as the outside diameter of the hive, a thin hoop being screwed around its edge, with an inch additional; the whole fitting over as a cap. A few small pointed iron pins may pass through the lower edge of the hoop horizontally into the straw, thus sufficiently holding it; at the same time that its subsequent removal is easy. Instead of a hoop, I have used a strip of zinc, screwed round, and pinned, as just mentioned, which fits closer than wood, and when all is painted of one colour, has a neat appearance. Even without any kind of hoop, the wood top may be fixed by means of moveable pointed pins going through it, and down into the upper edge of the hive.

Amateurs often prefer the crown-board cut with three holes, triangularly in position, to a single central one; as convenience is thus given for working three small glasses, or a large-sized one, as shown by the circles delineated in our illustration. The holes may be one and a quarter inch in diameter at the larger end, tapering two inches down to a point. Three zinc slides or dividers, as they are called, move in grooves, cut two inches wide from the edge of the crown-board, over the holes. The supers should be placed each on a separate adapter; and on removal, the slide is passed underneath the adapter, the whole being then lifted off together.

Various opinions have prevailed as to the expediency of painting the exterior of straw hives, some believing that absorption of vapour best takes place where it is omitted. My own idea is that, for exposed hives, an annual coat of paint is desirable, and nothing looks better for the purpose than a natural straw colour.

We may resort to the words of Gelieu, who says, “it is commonly supposed that bees thrive best in straw hives, because the straw absorbs the moisture, and the combs are less liable to mould. For my part I can perceive no difference. The bees are careful enough to varnish over the interior of the straw hives with a coating of wax, or rather propolis, to prevent the settlement of the moths; and in the old hives this varnish is so thick that no moisture can penetrate between the cords of straw. Wooden hives will also absorb moisture to a certain extent; and experience has shown me that it is a matter of indifference which are employed, except as to the price.”

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