When did beekeeping start?

 

Humans have been collecting honey from wild bees since at least 13,000BC.

Early forms of honey collecting involved the destruction of the entire colony, which wasn't very good for the poor old bees.

There is evidence of domestic honey production in Israel from 3,000 year ago, as well as Ancient Egypt, and from Greek and Roman times.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw rapid advances in beekeeping, which allowed the bees to be preserved when taking the harvest.

 

So who lives in a bee colony

 

A colony of bees consists of three types or 'castes' of bee:

The Queen Bee:

She is normally the only breeding female in the colony and lives for around 3 years.
The queen is raised from a normal worker egg, but is fed more royal jelly.
At 18-22 days old she ventures out on her first mating flight. Her mating flights may last between 5 and 30 minutes, and she mates with a number of male drones on each flight in order to be able to fertilize hundreds of thousands of eggs.

Worker Bees:

These too are all female and a typical colony will contain between 30,000-50,000.
The life of a worker bee can be as short as 6 weeks; but they may live right through the winter when the colony is quiet.
As the name suggests she's a very busy bee indeed and will have a number of different jobs to do depending on her age.

Drones:

These are male bees and their numbers range from thousands in a strong hive in spring to very few during the cold season.
Drones are almost three times the size of a worker bee.
Their only purpose is to mate with new queens.

 

What's a hive and how does it work?

 

A domesticated bee colony is normally housed in a rectangular hive body often made of wood.

Inside eight to ten parallel frames house the vertical plates of honeycomb which contain the eggs, larvae, pupae and food for the colony (pollen and honey).

In the very middle is brood nest.

Above the brood patch an arch of pollen-filled cells.

Above that again is a broader arch of honey-filled cells.

The pollen is protein-rich food for developing larvae, while honey is also food but largely energy rich.

In modern hives the beekeeper places separate boxes, called 'supers', above the brood box. These contain shallower combs for the storage of honey.

The beekeeper removes some of the supers in the late summer to extract the surplus honey harvest, without damaging the colony of bees and its brood nest below.

 

Do beekeepers get stung?

 

Yes they do! Some people believe that a few stings a year help to build up resistance to the bee's venom.

Most beekeepers wear some form of protective clothing, particularly over the face and neck as bee's are attracted to breath.

When handling the hive beekeepers will use a 'smoker'. Smoke from natural uncontaminated materials helps to calm the bees and stops them defending the hive.

 

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