Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Sweet History of Beekeeping

     Beekeeping began about seven thousand years ago. The earliest beekeepers may have removed sections of trees inhabited by honeybees and then carried them back to their village. The first evidence of honeybees being kept in some type of hive dates back to ancient Egypt.

     Lower Egypt (which is actually farther north than Upper Egypt) is where the majority of the beekeeping in Egypt took place. Beekeepers used wicker baskets covered with clay as hives for the honeybees. They were much like the skeps used years later. Because the bees were easy to move, they could be transported from one field to another for pollination. In fact, the ancient Egyptians put hives of bees on boats and would take them down the Nile River, stopping during the day for pollination and then moving farther down the river at night. Honeybees were so important to Lower Egypt that a hieroglyph (a form of ancient Egyptian writing) in the form of a honeybee was chosen as the symbol for the region. One pharaoh was even called The Beekeeper.

     Honeybees were also important in other areas of the world. In fact, honey was the primary sweetener in many places until sugar was introduced. The wax produced by bees, beeswax, has also been used for hundreds of years. The ancient Egyptians used beeswax in shipbuilding and during the Middle Ages beeswax was used to make candles.

     Today, honeybees are still used for pollination. While present day beekeepers may not transport their bees up and down rivers, they do load them on tractor-trailers and transport them across the country for the pollination of many crops such as oranges, blueberries, almonds, and apples. Even though beekeeping has greatly changed since ancient Egypt, honeybees are just as vital now as they were seven thousand years ago