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Taking Honey In Cashmere

( Originally Published 1851 )



The honey mentioned in the Apocalypse was sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the stomach; but we cannot say that honey is ever very sweet to us, because we keep thinking of the cruel method of taking it from the bees, which generally prevails. The following method, said to be pursued in Cash-mere, though cruel enough, seems to be far less so than the common mode, and appears to be per-formed with perfect safety to the individuals who are concerned.

Having in readiness a wisp of dry straw, and a small quantity of burning charcoal in an earthen dish, the master of the house, with a few strokes of the point of the sickle, disengages the inner plaster of the hive, bringing into view the combs suspended from the roof of the hive, and almost wholly covered with bees, none of which, however, offer to resent the aggression, or to enter the room. Having placed the straw upon the charcoal, he holds the dish close to the mouth of the hive, and blows the smoke strongly against the combs, but removes the dish the instant the straw takes fire, to prevent it burning the bees, and quenches the flame before he employs it again.

Almost stifled by the smoke, the bees hurry out of the outer door with such rapidity, that the hive is cleared of its inhabitants within a few minutes, when the farmer, introducing the sickle, cuts down the combs nearest to him, which are collected into a dish previously slidden underneath them, leaving undisturbed about one-third of the combs, which were almost close to the outer door. He then re-places the inner plaster, and brushing off hastily a few bees that cling to the combs, apparently in a state of stupefaction, throws them out of the house.

Sometimes you will see several bees lying motionless on the floor of the hive, but they soon recover. The expelled bees return as soon as the cavity is freed from smoke, without stinging a single individual, and the whole business is completed in less than ten minutes, without any perceptible loss. The honey is light colored, and of a taste as pure and sweet as any in the world.

The peasantry of Cashmere are unacquainted with the employment of honey as the basis of a fermented liquor, but eat it raw or mixed with articles of common food, whilst the most wealthy substitute it for sugar in preserving fruits. It is customary to take the hive every year. About the end of September or beginning of October is found the best season for this operation; a little time still remaining for the bees to add to the portion left for their support during five months. This amounts to about one-third of the whole produce, and would appear to suffice, as swarms seldom die, and the Cashmeres substitute no other article of food.

It is stated that an old swarm yields more honey than a young one, and that families seldom die except of old age. It is said to be no uncommon circumstance to preserve the same community for ten or even fifteen years; and some instances are mentioned of a family having been retained for twenty years; but this is a rare occurrence. In consequence of the bees being thus literally domesticated, they acquire a mildness of conduct far more decided than those of Europe; and it is possible that the confidence thus gained, subduing their natural irascibility, may generate an increase of industry, or at least an increase of produce in relation to the number and size of the individuals of each community.

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