The Joys of Backyard Beekeeping
THE joys of backyard beekeeping are yearly being experienced by more and more city dwellers. What can add more prestige to the informal private area than a neat row of white hives with their industrious inhabitants arriving heavy laden with nectar and pollen to be converted into "bee-bread" for the pearly larvae? What study more fascinating than the life of the bee colony, that example of perfect social organization where not one single individual who labors so tirelessly during the long summer days storing the nectar from myriads of blossoms lives to reap the harvest of her labors?
What wonders of nature await the tired business man who, after work is over, hurries eagerly home to take up veil and smoker and visit for a while with the tiny tenants of his backyard apiary? What thrill of pleasure when he first sits down to, taste the fragrant sweetness of crisp brown waffles swimming in honey fresh from his own bee hives!
As a food, honey is perhaps the least appreciated of nature's gifts to man. A concentrated carbohydrate whose seventy-five percent content of invert sugars is assimilated by the human stomach immediately and completely, it contains two valuable vitamins, appreciable quantities of mineral salts, and 1,785 calories of easily liberated heat and energy per pound. Being in a form for direct assimilation, it causes no work for the digestive organs and is therefore safe for the most delicate stomachs. It is recommended by physicians as a milk modifier for infants, a sweet for children, and in many instances as a safe sugar in diabetic cases. It is non-fattening, stimulating to the vital processes, and has been proved by carefully conducted experiments to be a medium "in which practically none of the bacteria of known human diseases can exist." And yet this wholesome flower-flavored sweet of nature's own production rarely finds its way to the average American table, a fact truly to be regretted.
The knowledge of the average individual regarding bees does not extend much beyond the facts that they sting and make honey. The former in many cases is sufficient, in the opinion of many, to conquer any possible desire for further knowledge. Like every worthwhile accomplishment, beekeeping has its drawbacks which must be overcome before the full joys of success can be realized. The novice horseman must endure bruised muscles and a lame body, the would-be ski rider has to take many tumbles with a smile, the amateur beekeeper must get over his fear of stings and learn to handle his tiny charges in the proper manner.
Races of bees differ greatly in disposition, the Italians, Caucasians, and Carniolians being of the gentler type. A hive or two of pure Italian bees should give the backyard beekeeper little trouble if he is properly protected. Loose trouser legs, veils having holes in them, and unprotected wrists offer tempting places for bees to investigate, and once inside they are sure to be pinched thru some move of the operator. No self-respecting bee will suffer such mistreatment without retaliation. Bees as a rule are not vicious and if the beekeeper will maintain a calm and tranquil method of manipulation he will find that they will rarely resent his examination of their home.
The production of honey, even in a small way, necessitates the presence of an abundance of nectar producing flowers in the vicinity of the bee yard. All species of flowers do not produce nectar in suitable quantities for the bees to work upon, while some varieties yield it in considerable amounts. Most flowers, especially garden varieties, furnish little nectar but considerable pollen which is a very important constituent of "bee-bread," a mixture of pollen and nectar, which the nurse shade trees such as basswood and maple, flowers growing in vacant lots, and the dandelions and white clover of lawns are usually sufficient to furnish nectar for a number of city bee colonies. In fact it is not unusual in a very dry season for backyard colonies to produce more honey from the flowers of artificially watered lawns than those of the rural commercial beekeepers who are forced to trust to the vicissitudes of natural rainfall.
Under average conditions, then, the backyard beekeeper need not fear for a scarcity of pasture. There are several instances of apiaries of commercial size which have produced fine honey crops from city flora. During one season the apiary of a beekeeper well known in apiarian circles, which was located on the roof of a store building in the heart of Cincinnati, produced an average of fifty pounds of surplus honey to the colony. A Chicago bee man who kept his hives on the flat roof of his house produced three thousand pounds of extracted honey in one season from twenty colonies. The main source of nectar was sweet clover growing on vacant lots. Even tho these illustrations represent yields considerably above the average for city beekeepers, they nevertheless demonstrate the possibilities lying in urban honey production.
ALTHO the making of honey is the most important reason for keeping bees, it is not the only one. To the city man who has watched a choice cherry tree burst into a profusion of bloom only to be disappointed by a mere scattering set of fruit, the possibilities of bees in the capacity of pollenizers will make a strong appeal. In the rich valleys of the Pacific Northwest and the level mesas of western Colorado where the choicest apples of the world are grown, hundreds of colonies of bees are kept solely to pollenize the fruit bloom. Thoro pollenization insures a heavy set of fruit and perfectly formed individuals. Bulletin number 274 of the University of California states that two French prune trees were each covered with an insect-proof tent. Under one a hive of bees was placed, the other being protected from insect visitation. The set of fruit on the tree with the bees was 18.05 percent, on the tree where there were no bees was 1.04 percent. Horticulturists specializing in seed production also rely upon honey bees as pollination agents.
Backyard beekeeping is not only of value indirectly, but under careful management may be made to assume respectable profit-making aspects. A case of this sort came to the writer's attention during the summer of 1925. A well-known commercial attorney in a Pacific coast metropolis who has for years kept a few colonies of bees for recreation, had fine colonies on June first. Altho located in a crowded residential district, he has a rather large backyard with a garage, fruit trees, and a beautiful rose garden. He determined to increase his bees by artificial division, buying his queens from a local bee supply house. During the long, sunny, summer evenings and on Saturday afternoons he spent his time "playing with the bees" as he called it. By careful manipulation, taking advantage of all modern methods of bee culture, he succeeded in increasing these five colonies to thirty by October 1st, and each colony had stored enough honey to carry it thru the winter. Later in the fall he sold the thirty colonies to a fruit grower for ten dollars a colony. All of the nectar used by bees in building up the colony strength and in storing honey was gathered from the flowers of city lawns and vacant lots.
To the person with a scientific turn of mind, there is unlimited opportunity for experiment with bees. With an electric thermometer carefully fixed in the center of a colony of bees located on the roof of the building, its wires connected to a dial in his office, Dr. Phillips of the United States Department of Agriculture learned the temperature at which bees wintered, broke cluster, kept the hive for brood rearing, and maintained thruout the summer. Several investigators have kept hives of bees on scales thus recording by weight the amount of nectar daily brought in. Many interesting and valuable experiments may be carried on by the business man scientist in his spare hours with a hive or two of bees in his backyard.
ALTHO backyard bees may be desirable to the city dweller for a number of reasons, their chief value lies in the pleasure and wisdom to be derived from a study of their romantic lives and habits. The almost perfect organization of the hive with its queen, its nurse bees, its guards, its field workers, its wax makers, and its housekeepers has intrigued men and women from all walks of life. The writer numbers among his own friends in one city a medical doctor, a cabinet-maker, a lawyer, a hotel man, a street car motorman, a Y. W. C. A. employment bureau director, a newspaperman, a restaurant cook, an architect, a city engineer, a postman, and a realtor all of whom are intensely enthusiastic over backyard bees. There are no limits or restrictions to its advocates. George W. York, who for thirty years has handled bees and bee supplies and was at one time president of The National Bee-Keepers' Association, reports that of the subscribers to "Bees and Honey," a magazine of which he is the editor, one of every twenty is a woman. In commercial beekeeping women are taking a greater part yearly as modern methods and equipment which do away with much of the lifting and heavy labor of the honey harvesting are more widely used. Beekeeping is an ideal pursuit for women who as a rule enjoy working with objects which demand careful and skillful attention and manipulation. It offers more of the pleasures of outdoor recreation, and less of the drudgery than even caring for the backyard garden or flower bed. Boys and girls everywhere are becoming better beekeepers than their parents with the assistance and advice of boys' and girls' bee club directors, county agents and state inspectors.
To the city dweller who delights in a beautiful home surrounded by grounds carefully landscaped with cool banks of shrubbery and the warmer tinges of beds bordered by multi-colored flowers; the man or woman who thrills in watching bulbs burst into tender verdant growth, and newly made lawns tinge with green overnight, who delights to kneel in the soft dark earth and carefully working his hands thru the cool moist soil beneath a choice violet plant to lift it tenderly from its place and carry it away to a better location—to this man or woman a hive or two of golden bees will open up an ever-widening field of recreation and pleasure.