You need Flash or Javascript installed to see this.

1. Preface | 2. Advertisement | 3. Introduction | 4. Tamed or Domesticated | 5. Queen Drones Workers | 6. Comb | 7. Propolis | 8. Pollen | 9. Advantages improved hive | 10. Protection Temperature | 11. Ventilation | 12. Swarming Natural | 13. Swarming Artificial | 14. Enemies and Diseases | 15. Loss of the Queen | 16. Union Transferring Starting up | 17. Robbing | 18. Feeding | 19. Pasturage | 20. Anger Sting Dress Instincts | 21. Pictures | Online Books Home | Admin

11. Ventilation



If a populous hive is examined on a warm Summer day, a considerable
number of bees will be found standing on the alighting board, with their
heads turned towards the entrance, the extremity of their bodies
slightly elevated, and their wings in such rapid motion that they are
almost as indistinct as the spokes of a wheel, in swift rotation on its
axis. A brisk current of air may be felt proceeding from the hive, and
if a small piece of down be suspended by a thread, it will be blown out
from one part of the entrance, and drawn in at another. What are these
bees expecting to accomplish, that they appear so deeply absorbed in
their fanning occupation, while busy numbers are constantly crowding in
and out of the hive? and what is the meaning of this double current of
air? To Huber, we owe the first satisfactory explanation of these
curious phenomena. These bees plying their rapid wings in such a
singular attitude, are performing the important business of
_ventilating_ the hive; and this double current is composed of pure air
rushing in at one part, to supply the place of the foul air forced out
at another. By a series of the most careful and beautiful experiments,
Huber ascertained that the air of a crowded hive is almost, if not
quite, as pure as the atmosphere by which it is surrounded. Now, as the
entrance to such a hive, is often, (more especially in a state of
nature,) very small, the interior air cannot be renewed without resort
to some artificial means. If a lamp is put into a close vessel with only
one small orifice, it will soon exhaust all the oxygen, and go out. If
another small orifice is made, the same result will follow; but if by
some device a current of air is drawn out from one, an equal current
will force its way into the other, and the lamp will burn until the oil
is exhausted.

It is precisely on this principle, of maintaining a double current by
_artificial means_, that the bees ventilate their crowded habitations. A
body of active ventilators stands inside of the hive, as well as
outside, all with their heads turned towards the entrance, and by the
rapid fanning of their wings, a current of air is blown briskly out of
the hive, and an equal current drawn in. This important office is one
which requires great physical exertion on the part of those to whom it
is entrusted; and if their proceedings are carefully watched, it will be
found that the exhausted ventilators, are, from time to time, relieved
by fresh detachments. If the interior of the hive will admit of
inspection, in very hot weather, large numbers of these ventilators will
be found in regular files, in various parts of the hive, all busily
engaged in their laborious employment. If the entrance at any time is
contracted, a speedy accession will be made to the numbers, both inside
and outside; and if it is closed entirely, the heat of the hive will
quickly increase, the whole colony will commence a rapid vibration of
their wings, and in a few moments will drop lifeless from the combs, for
want of air.

It has been proved by careful experiments that pure air is necessary not
only for the respiration of the mature bees, but that without it,
neither the eggs can be hatched, nor the larvŠ developed. A fine
netting of air-vessels covers the eggs; and the cells of the larvŠ are
sealed over with a covering which is full of air holes. In Winter, as
has been stated in the Chapter on Protection, bees, if kept in the dark,
and neither too warm nor too cold, are almost dormant, and seem to
require but a small allowance of air; but even under such circumstances,
they cannot live entirely without air; and if they are excited by being
exposed to atmospheric changes, or by being disturbed, a very loud
humming may be heard in the interior of their hives, and they need quite
as much air as in warm weather.

If at any time, by moving their hives, or in any other way, bees are
greatly disturbed, it will be unsafe to confine them, especially in warm
weather, unless a very free admission of air is given to them, and even
then, the air ought to be admitted above, as well as below the mass of
bees, or the ventilators may become clogged with dead bees, and the
swarm may perish. Under close confinement, the bees become excessively
heated, and the combs are often melted down. When bees are confined to a
close atmosphere, especially if dampness is added to its injurious
influences, they are sure to become diseased; and large numbers, if not
the whole colony, perish from dysentery. Is it not under circumstances
precisely similar, that cholera and dysentery prove most fatal to human
beings? How often do the filthy, damp and unventilated abodes of the
abject poor, become perfect lazar-houses to their wretched inmates?

I examined, last Summer, the bees of a new swarm which had been
suffocated for want of air, and found their bodies distended with a
yellow and noisome substance, just as though they had perished from
dysentery. A few were still alive, and instead of honey, their bodies
were filled with this same disgusting fluid; though the bees had not
been shut up, more than two hours.

In a medical point of view, I consider these facts as highly
interesting; showing as they do, under what circumstances, and how
speedily, disease may be produced.

In very hot weather, if thin hives are exposed to the sun's rays, the
bees are excessively annoyed by the intense heat, and have recourse to
the most powerful ventilation, not merely to keep the air of the hive
pure, but to carry off, as much as possible, its internal warmth. They
often leave the interior of the hive, almost in a body, and in thick
masses, cluster on the outside, not simply to escape the close heat
within, but to guard their combs against the danger of being dissolved.
At such times they are particularly careful not to cluster on the combs
containing sealed honey; for as most of these combs have not been lined
with the cocoons of the larvŠ, they are, for this reason, as well as on
account of the extra amount of wax used for their covers, much more
liable to be melted, than the breeding cells.

Apiarians have often noticed the fact, that as a general thing, the bees
leave the honey cells almost entirely bare, as soon as they have sealed
them over; but it seems to have escaped their observation, that in hot
weather, there is often an absolute necessity for such a course. In cool
weather, on the contrary, the bees may often be found clustered among
the sealed honey-combs, because there is then no danger of their melting

Few things in the range of their wonderful instincts, are so well fitted
to impress the mind with their admirable sagacity, as the truly
scientific device, by which these wise little insects ventilate their
dwellings. I was on the point of saying that it was almost like
human-reason, when the painful and mortifying reflection presented
itself to my mind that in respect to ventilation, the bee is immensely
in advance of the great mass of those who consider themselves as
rational beings. It has, to be sure, no ability to make an elaborate
analysis of the chemical constituents of the atmosphere, and to decide
how large a proportion of oxygen is essential to the support of life,
and how rapidly the process of breathing converts this important element
into a deadly poison. It has not, like Leibig, been able to demonstrate
that God has set the animal and vegetable world, the one over against
the other; so that the carbonic acid produced by the breathing of the
one, furnishes the aliment of the other; which, in turn, gives out its
oxygen for the support of animal life; and that, in this wonderful
manner, God has provided that the atmosphere shall, through all ages, be
as pure as when it first came from His creating hand. But shame upon us!
that with all our intelligence, the most of us live as though pure air
was of little or no importance; while the bee ventilates with a
scientific precision and thoroughness, that puts to the blush our
criminal neglect.

To this it may be replied that ventilation in our case, cannot be had,
without considerable expense. Can it be had for nothing, by the
industrious bees? Those busy insects, which are so indefatigably plying
their wings, are not engaged in idle amusement; nor might they, as some
would-be utilitarian may imagine, be better employed in gathering honey,
or in superintending some other department in the economy of the hive.
They are at great expense of time and labor, supplying the rest of the
colony with pure air, so conducive in every way, to their health and

I trust that I shall be permitted to digress, for a short time, from
bees to men, and that the remarks which I shall offer on the subject of
ventilation in human dwellings, may make a deeper impression, in
connection with the wise arrangements of the bee, than they would, if
presented in the shape of a mere scientific discussion; and that some
who have been in the habit of considering all air, except in the
particular of temperature, as about alike, may be thoroughly convinced
of their mistake.

Recent statistics prove that consumption and its kindred diseases are
most fearfully on the increase, in the Northern, and more especially in
the New England States; and that the general mortality of Massachusetts
exceeds that of almost every other state in the Union. In these States,
the tendency of increasing attention to manufacturing and mechanical
pursuits, is to compel a larger and larger proportion of the population
to lead an in-door life, and to breathe an atmosphere more or less
vitiated, and thus unfit for the full development of vigorous health.
The importance of pure air can hardly be over-estimated; indeed, the
quality of the air we breath, seems to exert an influence much more
powerful, and hardly less direct, than the mere quality of our food.
Those who, by active exercise in the open air, keep their lungs
saturated as it were, with the pure element, can eat almost anything
with impunity; while those who breath the sorry apology for air which is
to be found in so many habitations, although they may live upon the most
nutritious diet, and avoid the least excess, are incessantly troubled
with head-ache, dyspepsia, and various mental as well as physical
sufferings. Well may such persons, as they witness the healthy forms and
happy faces of so many of the hardy sons of toil, exclaim with the old
Latin poet,

"Oh dura messorum illia!"

It is with the human family very much as it is with the vegetable
kingdom. Take a plant or tree, and shut it out from the pure air, and
the invigorating light, and though you may supply it with an abundance
of water and the very soil, which by the strictest chemical analysis, is
found to contain all the elements that are essential to its vigorous
growth, it will still be a puny thing, ready to droop, if exposed to a
summer's sun, or to be prostrated by the first visitation of a winter's
blast. Compare now, this wretched abortion, with an oak or maple which
has grown upon the comparatively sterile mountain pasture, and whose
branches, in Summer are the pleasant resort of the happy songsters,
while, under its mighty shade, the panting herds drink in a refreshing
coolness. In Winter it laughs at the mighty storms, which wildly toss
its giant branches in the air, and which serve only to exercise the
limbs of the sturdy tree, whose roots deep intertwined among its native
rocks, enable it to bid defiance to anything short of a whirlwind or

To a population, who, for more than two-thirds of the year, are
compelled to breathe an atmosphere heated by artificial means, the
question how can this air be made, at a moderate expense, to resemble,
as far as possible, the purest ether of the skies is, (or as I should
rather say ought to be,) a question of the utmost interest. When open
fires were used, there was no lack of pure air, whatever else might have
been deficient. A capacious chimney carried up through its insatiable
throat, immense volumes of air, to be replaced by the pure element,
whistling in glee, through every crack, crevice and keyhole. Now the
house-builder and stove-maker with but few exceptions[15] seem to have
joined hands in waging a most effectual warfare against the unwelcome
intruder. By labor-saving machinery, they contrive to make the one, the
joints of his wood-work, and the other, those of his iron-work, tighter
and tighter, and if it were possible for them to accomplish fully their
manifest design, they would be able to furnish rooms almost as fatal
to life as "the black hole of Calcutta." But in spite of all that they
can do, the materials will shrink, and no fuel has yet been found, which
will burn without any air, so that sufficient ventilation is kept up, to
prevent such deadly occurrences. Still they are tolerably successful in
keeping out the unfriendly element; and by the use of huge
cooking-stoves with towering ovens, and other salamander contrivances,
the little air that can find its way in, is almost as thoroughly cooked,
as are the various delicacies destined for the table.

On reading an account of a run-away slave, who was for a considerable
time, closely boxed up, a gentleman remarked that if the poor fellow had
only known that a renewal of the air was necessary to the support of
life, he could not have lived there an hour without suffocation: I have
frequently thought that if the occupants of the rooms I have been
describing, could only know as much, they would be in almost similar

Bad air, one would think, is bad enough: but when it is heated and dried
to an excessive degree, all its original vileness is stimulated to
greater activity, and thus made doubly injurious by this new element of
evil. Not only our private houses, but our churches and school-rooms,
our railroad cars, and all our places of public assemblage, are, to a
most lamentable degree, either unprovided with any means of ventilation,
or, to a great extent, supplied with those which are so wretchedly
deficient that they

"Keep the word of promise to our ear,
And break it to our hope."

That ultimate degeneracy must surely follow such entire disregard of the
laws of health, cannot be doubted; and those who imagine that the
physical stamina of a people can be undermined, and yet that their
intellectual, moral and religious health will suffer no eclipse or
decay, know very little of the intimate connection between body and
mind, which the Creator has seen fit to establish.

The men may, to a certain extent, resist the injurious influences of
foul air; as their employments usually compel them to live much more out
of doors: but alas, alas! for the poor women! In the very land where
women are treated with more universal deference and respect than in any
other, and where they so well deserve it, there often, no provision is
made to furnish them with that great element of health, cheerfulness and
beauty, heaven's pure, fresh air.

In Southern climes, where doors and windows may be safely kept open for
a large part of the year, pure air is cheap enough, and can be obtained
without any special effort: but in Northern latitudes, where heated air
must be used for nearly three-quarters of the year, the neglect of
ventilation is fast causing the health and beauty of our women to
disappear. The pallid cheek, or the hectic flush, the angular form and
distorted spine, the debilitated appearance of a large portion of our
females, which to a stranger, would seem to indicate that they were just
recovering from a long illness, all these indications of the lamentable
absence of physical health, to say nothing of the anxious, care-worn
faces and premature wrinkles, proclaim in sorrowful voices, our
violation of God's physical laws, and the dreadful penalty with which He
visits our transgressions.

Our people must, and I have no doubt that eventually they will be most
thoroughly aroused to the necessity of a vital reform on this important
subject. Open stoves, and cheerful grates and fire-places will again be
in vogue with the mass of the people, unless some better mode of warming
shall be devised, which, at less expense, shall make still more ample
provision for the constant introduction of fresh air. Houses will be
constructed, which, although more expensive in the first cost, will be
far cheaper in the end, and by requiring a much smaller quantity of fuel
to warm the air, will enable us to enjoy the luxury of breathing air
which may be duly tempered, and yet be pure and invigorating. Air-tight
and all other _lung-tight_ stoves will be exploded, as economizing in
fuel only when they allow the smallest possible change of air, and thus
squandering health and endangering life.

The laws very wisely forbid the erection of wooden buildings in large
cities, and in various ways, prescribe such regulations for the
construction of edifices as are deemed to be essential to the public
welfare; and the time cannot, I trust, be very far distant, when all
public buildings erected for the accommodation of large numbers, will be
required by law, to furnish a supply of fresh air, in some reasonable
degree adequate to the necessities of those who are to occupy them.

I shall ask no excuse for the honest warmth of language which will
appear extravagant only to those who cannot, or rather will not, see the
immense importance of pure air to the highest enjoyment, not only of
physical, but of mental and moral health. The man who shall succeed in
convincing the mass of the people, of the truth of the views thus
imperfectly presented, and whose inventive mind shall devise a cheap and
efficacious way of furnishing a copious supply of pure air for our
dwellings and public buildings, our steamboats and railroad cars, will
be even more of a benefactor than a Jenner, or a Watt, a Fulton, or a

To return from this lengthy and yet I trust not unprofitable digression.

In the ventilation of my hive, I have endeavored, as far as possible, to
meet all the necessities of the bees, under the varying circumstances to
which they are exposed, in our uncertain climate, whose severe extremes
of temperature impress most forcibly upon the bee-keeper, the maxim of
the Mantuan Bard,

"Utraque vis pariter apibus metuenda."

"Extremes of heat or cold, alike are hurtful to the bees." In order to
make artificial ventilation of any use to the great majority of
bee-keepers, it must be simple, and not as in Nutt's hive, and many
other labored contrivances, so complicated as to require almost as
constant supervision as a hot-bed or a green-house. The very foundation
of any system of ventilation should be such a construction of the hive
that the bees shall need a change of air only for breathing.

In the Chapter on Protection, I have explained the construction of my
hives, and of the Protector by which the bees being kept warm in Winter,
and cool in Summer, do not require, as in thin hives, a very free
introduction of air, in hot weather, to keep the combs from softening;
or a still larger supply in Winter, to prevent them from moulding, and
to dry up the moisture which runs from their icy tops and sides; and
which, if suffered to remain, will often affect the bees with dysentery,
or as it is sometimes called, "the rot." The intelligent Apiarian will
perceive that I thus imitate the natural habitation of the bees in the
recesses of a hollow tree in the forest, where they feel neither the
extremes of heat nor cold, and where through the efficacy of their
ventilating powers, a very small opening admits all the air which is
necessary for respiration.

In the Chapter on the Requisites of a good hive, I have spoken of the
importance of furnishing ventilation, independently of the entrance. By
such an arrangement, I am able to improve upon the method which the bees
are compelled to adopt in a state of nature. As they have no means of
admitting air by wire-cloth, and at the same time, of effectually
excluding all intruders, they are obliged in very hot weather, and in a
very crowded state of their dwellings, to employ a larger force in the
laborious business of ventilation, than would otherwise be necessary;
while in Winter, they have no means of admitting air which is only
moderately cool. I can keep the entrance so small, that only a single
bee can go in at once, or I can, if circumstances require, entirely
close it, and yet the bees need not suffer for the want of air. In all
ordinary cases, the ventilators will admit a sufficient supply of duly
tempered air from the Protector, and the bees can, at any time, increase
their efficiency by their own direct agency, while yet they will, at no
time, admit a strong current of chilly air, so as to endanger the life
of the brood. As bees are, at all times, prone to close the ventilators
with propolis, they must be placed where they can easily be removed, and
cleansed, by soaking them in boiling water.

As respects ventilation from above, as well as from below, so as to
allow a free current of air to pass through the hive, I am decidedly
opposed to it, as in cool and windy weather, such a current often
compels the bees to retire from the brood, which in this way is
destroyed by a fatal chill. In thin hives, ventilation from above may be
desirable in Winter, to carry off the superfluous moisture, but in
properly constructed hives, standing over a Protector, there is, as has
already been remarked, little or no dampness to be carried off. The
construction of my hives will allow, if at all desirable, of ventilation
from above; and I always make use of it, when the bees are to be shut up
for any length of time, in order to be moved; as in this case, there is
always a risk that the ventilators on the bottom-board may be clogged by
dead bees, and the colony suffocated. As the entrance of the hive, may
in a moment, be enlarged to any desirable extent, without in the least
perplexing the bees, any quantity of air may be admitted, which the
necessities of the bees, under any possible circumstances, may require.
It may be made full 18 inches in length, but as a general rule, in
Summer, in a large colony, it need not exceed six inches: while in
Spring and Fall, two or three inches will suffice. In Winter, it should
be entirely closed; unless in latitudes so warm, that even with the
Protector, the bees cannot be kept quiet. The bee-keeper should never
forget that it is almost certain destruction to a colony, to confine
them when they wish to fly out. The precautions requisite to prevent
robbing, will be subsequently described. In Northern latitudes, in the
months of April and May, I prefer to keep the ventilators entirely
closed; as the air of the Protector, at such times, like the air of a
cellar in Spring, is uncomfortably cool, and has a tendency to interfere
with breeding.

NOTE.--Since the remarks on the neglect of ventilation were put in
type, my attention has been called by Hon. M. P. Wilder, of
Dorchester, to an article on the same subject, in the Nov. number of
the Horticulturist, for 1850, from the pen of the lamented Downing.
It seems to have been written shortly after his return from Europe,
and when he must have been most deeply impressed by the woful
contrast, in point of physical health between the women of America
and Europe. While he speaks in just and therefore glowing terms of
the virtues of our countrywomen, he says: "But in the _signs of
physical health_ and all that constitutes the outward aspect of the
men and women of the United States, our countrymen and especially
countrywomen, compare most unfavorably with all but the absolutely
starving classes on the other side of the Atlantic." Close stoves he
has most appropriately styled "little demons," and impure air "The
favorite poison of America." His article concludes as follows:

"Pale countrymen and countrywomen rouse yourselves! Consider that
God has given us an atmosphere of pure health-giving air 45 miles
high, and _ventilate your houses_."


[15] The beautiful open or Franklin stoves, manufactured by Messrs.
Jagger, Treadwell and Perry, of Albany, deserve the highest
commendation: they economize fuel as well as life and health.

Does the flower make the honeybee or the honeybee the flower?