Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Beekeeping Through the Ages

For thousands of years, honey bees have played an important role in history. Many societies throughout history have kept and benefitted from bees and the many products they give to us.

Egyptian hieroglyphics show early beekeeping practices

In ancient Egypt, honey bees were kept in pottery jars. Egyptians used honey in various foods as well as to keep their skin beautiful. Archaeologists even found honey in King Tutankhamen’s tomb that was roughly 2,000 years old. Because honey never spoils, however, it was still edible! Would you like to taste it? In ancient times, honey and beeswax were used to pay taxes, rent, and other fees. It was so highly valued that many people accepted it in place of money!

Beekeepers in the Middle Ages kept bees in hollow tree trunks
In the Middle Ages, beekeepers kept their honey bees in hollow tree trunks, since the trees provided natural shelter for the bee and made it possible for the beekeeper to care for his hives. Honey and wax were also very important. People did not use refined sugar, so honey was their only sweetener. They also made candles out of beeswax, which provided a source of light as well as a wonderful smell!

Reverend L.L. Langstroth
The first hive of honey bees appears to have come to the United States from England in 1622. By 1853, honey bees made it into California. Honey bees are now kept in all 50 US states – maybe there is a beekeeper near you! In 1851, Reverend L.L. Langstroth invented the modern-day beehive. It had removable frames (where the bees stored food, the queen laid eggs, etc.) which allowed the beekeeper to inspect his bees up close. Langstroth's invention is still being used 160 years later!

Anyone can be a beekeeper!
In 1984, NASA took bees into space for an experiment, demonstrating bees’ abilities both on and off the planet! There are currently about 2,491,000 maintained beehives in the US with beekeepers of all ages involved in beekeeping – maybe someday YOU will be a beekeeper too!