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Food of Bees

§ 49. HONEY is a vegetable sweet, produced mainly in the nectariferous tissues of a large number of blossoms. It is not made by the bees, but only gathered, although during the transfer from the blossoms to the hive, in the stomach of the bee, it undergoes a slight change, by the action of the bee’s saliva upon it. So it is customary to call it “nectar” before it is gathered, and “honey” when it has been placed in the cells.
Its color, taste, and smell differ according to the blossoms from which it is harvested. The color ranges from water-white to very dark brown. The taste and smell almost invariably indicate the blossoms from which it has been gathered.

§ 50. It contains more or less water, (163) according to the season in which it is produced, the atmospheric conditions, the amount of moisture in the soil and the kind of plants from which it is harvested. It is said that the fuchsia produces exceedingly thick honey. Also, the nectar gathered from the heather, in dry, sandy plains, is often so thick that it is extracted from the comb with difficulty. On the other hand, white clover honey is often so watery, when first gathered, that it drops from the combs, like water, when they are handled by the apiarist. It sometimes contains from 75 to 90 percent of water. But the bees soon ripen it by the warmth of their hive and the ventilation which they give it by the fanning of their wings. During a heavy harvest, rows of bees may often be seen, facing the hive and extending from the edge of the alighting board into the hive and all through its combs, their wings moving with such rapidity that they are invisible. This serves not only to evaporate the honey but to give pure air to the inside and keep down the temperature of their busy home.

§ 51. The quantity of nectar produced by the blossoms differs as well as the quality. Its flavor also differs as does its color. The whitest honey is gathered from white clover, alfalfa, basswood blossoms, etc., the darkest from late flowers such as the spanish needles or bidens, goldenrod, buckwheat, boneset, etc.

§ 52. In addition to the nectar of the blossoms, the bees also sometimes gather and bring to their hives a sweet substance, called honeydew, which is mainly produced by aphides or plant lice, although in some instances it is an exudation from the leaves of some trees or plants.

Much speculation was indulged in, some years ago, concerning the manner in which the honeydew could be dropped upon the leaves of trees even in the uppermost branches. It was ascertained that not only do the wingless lice produce a sweet substance which often attracts ants, but the winged lice also produce and eject this sweet substance, while on the wing, so that honeydew is often found on the upper surface of leaves which have no visible trace of lice above them. This sweet is of very low quality and not properly acceptable as honey. But since the beekeeper cannot avoid the gathering of it by his bees, during some seasons, the sale of it must be tolerated, for manufacturing purposes.

§ 53. The quantity of honey harvested by a colony of bees, in a single day, may vary from a few ounces to twenty pounds or more. But a large portion of this grain is promptly evaporated, as the honey thickens. Twenty-five percent of the weight of fresh nectar usually disappears during the first twenty-four hours.

§ 54. When the honey is sufficiently ripened, the bees seal or cap their cells with a thin covering made principally of wax.

§ 55. POLLEN is the fertilizing dust of flowers. We have said, in the Preface, that the visits of insects are needed for the fertilization of the flowers. On the other hand, the pollen which the bee gathers and helps to spread upon the pistil, to fructify the seed, is needed in the economy of the hive. It serves to make the coarse pap or food given to the worker and drone larvae (33) in the latter part of their existence in that stage of insect life. It is also consumed by the bees, during their active life. Cowan and Cheshire, following the German scientists, have interestingly described the “stomach-mouth” which appears to sort out or sift the pollen grains contained in the honey brought to the hive in the honey sack (23); for much of the honey harvested by them contains small pellets of pollen floating in it.

During the winter, however, when the bees are inactive, the need of pollen is not felt. At that time honey only is suitable and such as contains the least quantity of pollen is the healthiest, for it leaves very little residue in their intestines during the long confinement. Honeydew, fruit juices and dark honey loaded with pollen grains, are bad winter food (186).

§ 56. In early spring, as pollen is required for larval food, if there is a scarcity of it it may be replaced by flour or meal, supplied by the bees, in open boxes in well-sheltered places (Fig. 30), on warm days. The flour must be packed down with the hands into a lump, so the bees will not smother in it. A shallow box or dish are equally good. To attract thee bees to the spot a little comb may be used. Early supplies of pollen, however, are sure to be had wherever the soft maple, hazel, willow, etc. are found.

§ 57. Pollen is stored in the worker-cells of the brood combs, closely surrounding the brood. It is rarely found in the supers (90) or storing apartment. Its presence there lessens the value of comb honey for table use.

§ 58. Let it be remembered by the horticulturalist that the bees are needed in the fertilization of most of his fruits. Not only do they cause the pollen to be spread upon the blossom which they visit, but in their flights they carry it from one blossom to another and thus bring about cross fertilization and greater fructification.

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