Beekeeping, Honey, Bees:
Beekeeping is one of the oldest hobbies/vocations known to man. Long before anyone was able to process sugar, honey was prized as the only real source of sweets other than fruits. Europeans colonizing the New World brought along hives of bees for the primary purpose of having honey to eat and wax for candle making. A collateral effect was that their bees also pollinated the fruit trees and vegetable plants that they brought over and planted in their new communities. The colonists were not even aware of the importance of bee pollination for their crops. They wanted the honey and wax produced by the bees. The bees were attracted to the sweet nectar of the blooms from which they would produce honey, and inadvertantly they would come in contact with and transport the pollen from one flower to another which increased the productivity of the particular fruits and vegetables. It was a classic win/win situation.
Honey is mentioned 65 times in the Bible. It is one of the most remarkable products in nature. Kept secure at room temperature, it will never spoil. Egyptian royalty were sometimes entombed in vats of honey which preserved the bodies. It has been used as a home remedy for healing sores and infections, allergies, and intestinal disorders though doctors and scientists are reluctant to validate such claims.
Bees are in trouble! There is something going on called Colony Collapse Disorder in which commercial beekeepers all over the world are losing more than half their hives and no one has yet determined why. In the past when bees were exposed to pesticides or other deadly chemicals the dead bees would be found around the hives. But in the current situation that is not the case. The bees are simply not returning to their hives. Honey bees have a unique since of direction and they routinely map out their foraging areas for sometimes over 2 miles from their hive. The scout bees then do a "dance" indicating to the other forgagers exactly where the nearest sweet nectar or water source is located. They invariably are able to find their way back to their hive and their queen. Apparently something has gone awry to prevent this from happening. Because honey bees are so important to the world's food production, we need to find out what the problem is and correct it. For example, cucumbers depend almost entirely on bee pollination in order for their flowers to produce cucumbers. Without pollination, there would be no cucumbers. The same is true of almonds, blueberries, and many other fruits and vegetables.
Honey bees produce honey for their own food source. They also produce propolis (bee glue), wax, and are able to adjust the needs of the hive by producing new worker bees, drones (males), or a new queen by changing the way they feed their larvae. A beekeeper simply encourages and supports the bees in producing more workers, healthy queens, and gives them more space to store the honey. When the bees produce more than the hive requires to survive the winter season, the beekeeper harvests the extra honey as his/her reward for being a good steward of the hive. The wax comb can be used for candles, lip gloss,furniture polish, etc. The most famous violins in the world are polished with beeswax.
All bees in the hive are female, except for the several drones. The queen mates one time with a drone and can then lay eggs for five years, at the peak times as many as a thousand eggs a day. The queen is much larger than a standard worker bee. Worker bees during the busy nectar flow only live for six weeks. They literally work themselves to death. Obviously the queen must be healthy and productive to keep enough workers to replace the ones who pass on. When the stores of honey get too low during the winter the drones may be killed because they only consume honey and do no other work in the hive. "If you don't work you don't eat". If a bee dies or is killed within the hive, it will be quickly carried out of the hive and deposited onto the ground. The bees keep the hive very clean.
Honey bees are wonderful engineers. They build each comb with precisely measured hexagons, which is the most efficient shape to store honey or baby bees. They build the cells slightly upwards in order to prevent the loss of honey due to gravity. The worker bees will rapidly flap their wings at the entrance to the hive to enhance ventilation inside the hive on hot summer days. They will not venture out while it is raining. During the winter months, they will huddle near the center of the hive and keep the queen warm. Even when the outside temperature is below freezing, the temperature inside the hive can be 90 degrees at the center of the mass of bees where the queen resides. Honey bees are truly a remarkable work of God.
Anyone who loves honey can keep bees. You don't have to have a farm or "country" place. A normal backyard will work just fine as the bees will travel for a couple of miles to find nectar. They are normally very docile unless disturbed. I would encourage anyone who loves nature and its bounty to seriously consider becoming a beekeeper. The world will be a better place and the rewards for the keeper are sweet indeed.