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History of Beekeeping

Old Beekeepers

Ancient cave paintings in Africa, Southern Europe, and India are the earliest records of human history and they all show people taking honey and wax from wild bees. Unfortunately, to satisfy their sweet tooth, those early humans usually destroyed the bees and their hives. 

Did you know that along with mummies found in ancient Egyptian tombs, archaeologists discovered jars of honey? By the time the pyramids were built, humans realized that if they provided the bees with a hive and looked after them, they could share the honey and wax without destroying the colony.

In those early days of beekeeping, hives were made of clay or woven grass. Even back then, beekeepers had to wear protective clothing with masks of woven reeds.

Romans learned beekeeping techniques from the lands they conquered and spread that knowledge throughout their empire. They used honey for food and medicines while wax was used for fuel and cosmetics. The large gardens and orchards of the monasteries across Europe became big beekeeping centers called apiaries – from the Latin word apis meaning “bee”.  The bees helped to pollinate the garden crops and fruit. When Europeans crossed the Atlantic to settle in the Americas, they took their beekeeping technology with them.

Around the time of the American Civil War, hives began to change into what we now know of as a Langstroth Hive.  Invented by L L Langstroth, these hives were created with the knowledge that bees like to move through spaces of 3/8-inches.  Any more space, and a bee will fill it with wax comb, any less, and it gets stuck together with propolis.  The Langstroth hive has removable frames that allow a beekeeper to remove them from the hive, without damaging it.

With the ability to safely remove comb from the hive, the beekeeper can then put the frame into an extraction device that spins the honey out of the comb, without damaging the delicate wax comb. The comb can then be put back into the hive for the bees to re-use.  Since it takes over 5 pounds of honey to create a single frame of wax, it allows the bees to focus on creating honey and rearing brood, instead of creating new comb.