What follows is a “translation” (the original is in what I assume is Old English) of the section on bees and beekeeping from an animal husbandry book published in 1614. I have found the information to be most interesting especially the part about finding wild hives. There were some words I was not 100% sure about so there may be passages that are a little choppy. I tried to make sense of them based on the context. I am currently working on another translation of the bee section of another animal husbandry book written in 1577 by Conrad Heresbach that I hope to have completed in the next few months. I hope all beekeepers and anyone interested in bees, honey or medieval life will enjoy.
Baroness Morgan of Anglesey
(mka: Melissa Newton – comments, questions, I can be reached at email@example.com)
Cheap and Good Husbandry – For the Well Ordering of all best, and fowls and for the general cure of their diseases
Containing the natures, breeding, choice, use, feeding and curing of the diseases of all manner of cattle, ass, horse, ox, cow, sheep, goats, swine, and tame-cones.
Also, approved rules for the cramming and fatting of all sorts of poultry and fowls, both tame and wild, etc.
And diverse good and well approved medicines for the cure of all the diseases of hawks of what kind so ever.
Together with the use and profit of bees, the making of fish ponds and the taking of all sorts of fish.
Gathered together for the general good and profit of this whole realm, by exact and assured experience from English practices, both certain, easy and cheap; differing from all former and foreign experiments, which either agreed not with our clime, or were too hard to come by or very costly, to little purpose all which herein are avoided.
Ordering of Bees
Chapter 1. Of the nature, ordering and preservation of Bees
Of all the creatures which are behoveful for the use of man, there is none more necessary, wholesome, or more profitable than the Bee, nor any less troublesome or less chargeable. To speak then first of the nature of Bees; it is a creature, gentle, loving and familiar about the man which has the ordering of them, so he come neat, sweet and cleanly amongst them: otherwise, if he has strong and ill smelling favors about them they are curst and malicious, and will sting spitefully, they are exceeding industrious and much given to labor. They have a kind of government amongst themselves; as it were a well ordered common wealth. Everyone obeying and following their King or Commander, whose voice (if you lay your ear to the hive) you shall distinguish from the rest, being louder and greater, and beating with amore solemn measure. They delight to live amongst the sweet herbs and flowers that may be; especially, fennel and walgilly flowers and therefore their best dwellings are in gardens; and in these gardens, or near adjoining thereunto, would be diverse fruit trees growing, chiefly plum trees, or peach trees, in which , when they cast, they may knit, without taking any far flight, or wandering to find out their rest: this garden also would be well fenced, than no swine nor other call to may come therein, as well for over throwing their hives, as also for offending them with other ill favors. They are also very tender, and may by no means endure any cold whence you must have a great respect to have their houses exceeding warm, close, and tight, both to keep out frosts and snows, also the wet and rain; which if it once enter into the hive it is a present destruction.
To speak then of the Bee hive, you shall know there be diverse opinions touching the same, according to the customs and natures of Countries; for in the Champaine Countries, where there is very little store of woods, they make their hives of long rye straw, the rolls being sewn together with Briars; and their hives are large and deep and even proportioned like a sugar-loaf, and a cross bar within, with flat splints of wood, both above and under the middle part: in other Champaine Countries, where they want rye straw, they make them of wheat straw, as in the West Countries, and their hives are of a good compass, but very low and flat, which is naught; for a hive is ever better for his largeness, and keeps out rain best when it is sharpest. In the wood countries they make them of cloven hassles watteled about broad splints of ash, and so formed as before I said, like a sugar loaf. And their hives are of all other the best, so they be large and smooth within; for the straw hive is subject to breed mice, and nothing destroys bees sooner than they, yet you must be governed by your ability, and such things as the soul affords.
Now for the wood hive, which is the best, you shall thus trim and prepare it for your bees: you shall first make a stiff mortar of lime and cow-dung, mixed together, and then having cross barred the hive within, dawb the outside of the hive with the mortar, at least three inches thick, down close onto the stone, so that not the least air may come in; then taking rye sheaf or wheat sheaf that is new threshed, and binding the ears together in one lump, put it over the hive, and so as it were thatch it all over, and fix it close to the hive with an old hoop or garth, and this will deep the hive inwardly as warm as may be; also before you lodge any bee in your hive, you shall perfume it with juniper and rub it all with fennel, hop and time flowers, and also all the stone upon which the hive shall stand.
Now for the placing of your h hives, you shall take three long thick stakes, cut smooth and plain up the heads, and drive them into the earth triangular wise, so that they may be about two foot above the ground, then lay over them a broad smooth paving stone, which may extend every way over the stakes about half a foot, and upon that stone let your hive, being less in compass than the stone by more than six inches everyway, and see that the door of your hive stand directly upon the rising of the morning sun inclining a little unto the southward, and be sure to have your hives well sheltered from the north winds, and generally from all tempestuous weather for which purpose if you have sheds to draw over them in the winter, it is to much the better. And you shall place your hives in orderly rows one before another, keeping clean alleys between them every way, for as you may walk and view each by itself separately.
Now for the casting of your bees, it is earlier or later in the year, according to the strength and goodness of the stock, or the warmth of the weather. The usual time for casting is from the beginning of May till the middle of July: and in all that time you must have a vigilant eye, or else some servant, to watch their rising, least they fly away, and knit in some obscure place far from knowledge. Yet if you please you may know which hives are ready to cast a night before they do cast by laying your ear after sunrise to the hive, and if you hear the Master Bee above all the rest in a higher and more solemn note, or if you see them lie forth upon the stone, and cannot get into the hive, then be sure that stock will cast within a few hours after. As soon as you perceive the swarm to rise, and are got up into the air (which will commonly be in the height and heat of the sun) you shall take a brass baton, pan or candlestick and make a tingling noise there upon, and they are so delighted with music that by the sound thereof, they will presently knit upon some branch or bough of a tree. Then when they are all upon one cluster, you shall take a new sweet hive well dressed, and rubbed with honey and fennel, and shake them all into the hive, then having spread a fair sheet upon the ground, set the hive thereon, and cover it all clean over close with the sheet, and so let stand till after sunset, at which time the bees being gathered up to the top of the hive (as their nature is) you shall se them upon the stone (having rubbed it well with fennel) and then dawd it close round with Lime and Dung mixed together, and only leave them a door or two to issue out, and in at. There be some stocks which will cast twice or thrice, and four times in a year, but it is not so good, for it will weaken the stock too much, there fore to keep you stocks in strength and goodness, it is good not to suffer any to cast above twice at most. Again, you shall with pieces of brick or other smooth stones, raise the stock in the night three or four inches from the stone, and then dawb it close again and the bees finding house room will fall to work within, and not cat at all, and then will that stock be worth two others: and in the same manner, if you had the year before any small swarms, which are likely to cast this year: or if you have any early swarms this year, which are likely to cast at the latter end of the year, both which are often found to be the destruction of the stocks in either of these cases, you shall enlarge the hive as is before said, by raising it up from the stone, and it will not only keep them from casting, but make the stock better, and of much more profit, for that hive ever which is of the most weight is of the best price.
Now when you have marked out those old stocks which you intend to sell (for the oldest is fittest for that purpose) you shall know that the best time to take them is at Michaelmas, before any frosts hinder their labor: and you shall take them ever from the stone in the dark of night, when the air is cold, and wither drown them in water, or smother them with Fushals, for to chase them from their hives, as some do, is naught, because all such bees are thus frightened from their hives do turn robbers and spoil other stocks, because that time of year will not suffer them to labor and get their own livings.
Now if you have any weak swarms, which coming late in the year, cannot gather sufficient of winter provision: in this case you shall feed such stocks by daily smearing their stone before the place of their going in and out with honey and rose water mixed together, and so you shall continue to do all the strength of winter till the warmth of the spring and the sunshine bring for the flowers for them to labor upon. You shall also continually look that no mice, dares, clocks and such like vermin breed about your hives, for they are poisonous and will make bees forsake their hives.
Now lastly, if any of your stocks happen to die in the winter (as amongst many, some must quaile) you shall not by any means stir the stock, but let it remain until spring, that you see your Bees begin to grow busy, then take up the dead stock, and trim it clean from all filth, but by no means stir or crush any of the combs, and besprinkle them, and besmear all the inside of the hive with honey, rosewater and the juice of fennel, mix together and dawb all the stone therewith. Also then set down the hive again, and dawb it as if it had never been stirred, and be well assured, that the first swarm which shall rise, either of you won or of any neighbors of your within the compass of a mile, it will knit in no place, but within that hive, and such a stock will be worth five others, because they find half their work finished at their first entrance into the hive, and this has been many times approved by those of the most approved experience. And thus much touching the bee and his nature.