The Bee People – Chapter 1

Over the time we will spend together, I will share with you words and illustrations from the M. Morely book The Bee People. Published 1899; self-illustrated designed for third to fifth grade readers with goal to learn “how to observe”. If you would like to skip ahead and read it all, it is available here but you will miss my commentary!

The Bee People by Margaret Warner Morley

The honey-bees are buzzy, fuzzy little pepper-pots. They have pretty, shining wings, but if you so much as touch one of them you will see what happens! You cannot wonder that they do not like to have you come too near, for they are such little creatures that even a small child must seem to them like a tremendous giant.

How would you like to see a great warm creature as large as a hill come lumbering up and try to put a finger the size of a church steeple upon you? I am sure you would do anything to keep it away and if you had a good sharp sting you would use it. So we must not blame the Bee People for stinging us. It is the way they have of telling us to keep away and let them alone. They are friendly enough to their own relations as you will agree when you learn that there are sometimes as many as sixty thousand of them living happily together in one family.

Sometimes we build houses, which we call hives, for them, and sometimes they live in a hollow tree in the woods. The hives we usually make in these days are square-corned boxes that can be opened to take out the honey or to attend to the bees. In some parts of the country an old-fashioned hive called a “bee gum” is still used. If you go to the mountains of North Carolina, you will see a great many bee gums. . .  they are made by chopping down hollow sweet-gum trees and cutting off lengths of about three feet. Sometimes other hollow trees are used but they all called “gums”. The mountaineers stand the “gum” on a board or a stone and put another board or stone on top for a roof. All the holes are plastered up with mud except those near the bottom . . The mud is used to keep out moths, which otherwise might get in and spoil the honey-combs. . .

A skep is a hive made of twisted straw and in old times was use more than any other, particularly in England. It had a peculiar shape and to this day when we say a thing is hive-shaped we mean it is shaped like the skep.

Once in a while honey-bees make their home in the hollows of a building and there is a house in a New England city where bees have lived for a number of years. They are under a roof somewhere and there they stay safe and year after year store up honey which nobody can reach. Stories are told of old houses whose hollow walls, when they were pulled down, were found filled with honey-combs. . .

Honey-bees are small people, being only about twice as large as common house-flies. . .  called by the . .  name, Apis Mellifica. Apis is the Latin word for bee and mellifica is the Latin word for honey-making; and they have this pretty name because they make and store up quantities of good honey, which we like to eat.

The Bee People are sun-lovers and all summer long on bright days you may see them hurrying about. But in the winter-time you would look in vain for them, no matter how brightly the sun might shine, for they are the Friends of Flowers and seldom leave home except when there are blossoms for them to visit. Many flowers keep a dainty table spread for the bees. Cups of nectar and dishes of ambrosia are ready for them to eat and drink and carry home.

Key Points:

  • Bees are not people but do love the sun!
  • Aren’t as quick to sting as it sounds. Just be smart when around them, know the time of the honey season (think: how much do they have to offend) and don’t bother them too much. Smoke can be a big help but can be stressful and decrease honey yield
  • Bees can smell us, hence why avoiding intense perfumes etc is important when working the hives
  • It is debatable to say bees are friendly to their own kind. There is no Hospice in the Hive and bees not doing their jobs due to old age or damaged wings are taken “out to pasture”.  A “queen must die” if she is not productive and organized. The bees will strip her of her wings and then sting her to death. Yikes! This sting doesn’t kill the bee, whereas a sting to humans does.
  • Moths, especially Wax Moths, are particularly destructive to comb. Here is a site with ideas on prevention and treatment
  • There are several other kinds of bee enclosures, including the top bar hive, Warre hive, clay cylinders, National, Long Deep, Beehaus, baskets etc
    • Great website:
    • Most jurisdictions require that the frames be moveable, so skeps and glay cylinders (ala Egypt) would not be allowed. They also mean certain destruction of the bee occupants in order to harvest.
  • Bees sometimes come out in the winter on a warm dry maybe even sunny day to stretch their wings and legs AND go to the bathroom. Bees are very fastidious tidy creatures and avoid soiling in the hive. Great evidence of such could indicate disease, like Nosema. Take a look at any beekeepers jacket, especially if they wear them when hiving a new package and you will see orangey spots of bee poo. I am sure someone somewhere uses this as the fountain of youth or cure for world peace.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts. Is this something of remote interest to you, my readers?

If you find something interesting take 5 minutes and do some extra research. Bees are amazing creatures!

The Bee People. M Morely. Published 1899; Public Domain

Excerpts –

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