The recent mysterious disappearance of the honeybee hives world wide has brought the topic of beekeeping considerable attention lately. Beekeeping is an ancient and widespread profession believed to have originated in the Middle East . The early Egyptians kept bees and traded honey and beeswax along the East African coast several thousand years ago.
Until 1851, however, beekeepers harvested honey and beeswax by killing the colonies inhabiting the hives. In that year the American beekeeper Lorenzo Lorraine Landstroth discovered the principle of “bee space”: Bees leave spaces of about one quarter inch between was combs. In artificial hives, if this space is left between adjacent comb frames and between the end frames and the walls of the hive, each comb will remain unattached to neighboring combs. Langstroth’s discovery made it possible to remove individual frames from a beehive and to harvest honey and wax without destroying the colony. It also became possible to control disease and to maintain a larger number of colonies. As a result, modern beekeeping was born.
Today’s amateur beekeepers may keep from 1-200 hives while professional beekeepers may keep hives that number into the thousands. Beside producing honey and bee wax, honeybees play an essential part in the fruit, vegetable and grain production. Because of this, honeybees are invaluable to Southwest Michigan fruit and vegetable growers, who are dependent upon bees to pollinate much of their abundant and delicious crops. While this may be little comfort to the individual who has just been stung by a bee, especially if that person is allergic to bee stings, bees and beekeepers play a key role in the economic and environmental wellbeing of humanity.
To learn more about bees, honey and beekeeping, talk to Paul DePeal or visit the Benton Harbor Public Library.