This Article begins at the beginning; ‘The History of Bee-keeping’ (see below).
At the bottom of this page, there are links to the next piece of the story, ‘Introduction to Bee-keeping.’
A ‘next piece’ of the story carries on at the bottom of each consecutive piece of the story.
There are eight in all to read (including this one), in the end, you should have all you need to know about Keeping Bees.
Part 1 ‘The History of Bee-keeping’
Long before the availability of commercially produced sugar made from cane and beet, the only natural sugar available was honey.
Collection of honey from wild bee colonies is one of the oldest and ancient of human activities, and many indigenous societies throughout the world continue harvesting honey to this day. Some of the earliest evidence depicting humans gathering honey is from very old rock painting, thought to date from around 15,000 years ago. Unfortunately some of the methods back then entailed the destruction of entire bee colonies.
As societies became more settled and began to understand that the destruction of a bee colony, along with the most important and precious queen, meant the loss of a valuable resource, and so other methods of honey harvesting began to evolve over time. There are pieces of Egyptian artwork featuring bee management in the form of simply constructed hives from around 4000 years ago.
In Europe, before the advent of modern movable frame hives, bees were often kept in structures known as straw skeps. The space available to the bees was so limited that they regularly swarmed (which is a natural method of colony reproduction.) This helped to replace colonies that had been wiped out by obtaining honey.
Many honey bee colonies were kept and maintained by religious communities who tended to them primarily for the wax they produced. Beeswax candles were of far better quality than candles made from tallow. The honey was a most welcome by-product as a sweetener, and, of course, fermented honey was also used to make mead.
During the Middle Ages, people became aware that there was a single large bee that seemed to be different to all the other bees in the colony. The belief at that time was that the hierarchy of a bee hive resembled the structure of the Church and State, and so the bee that appeared to rule the colony was thought to be a king bee. It wasn’t until 1586 that the discovery was made that the king bee was actually a queen bee.
In the 18th century, a more detailed scientific study of bee colonies was conducted, and a greater understanding of the bees’ complex social world emerged from those studies. It was already known that queens laid eggs in empty cells, but what wasn’t known was how a queen was fertilised. Swiss scientist, Francois Huber was the first to discover that queens are inseminated by a number of mating’s with different drones, this is achieved high in the air at a distance from their hive during a mating flight.
It was the work of Huber on the biology and ecology of honey bees that enabled the building of the movable comb hive so that honey could be harvested without wiping out the entire colony, and the breeding of bees could be managed, which led to the birth of modern beekeeping.