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Beekeeping (or apiculture) is the maintenance of bee colonies, commonly in man-made beehives. Honey bees in the genus Apis are the most-commonly-kept species but other honey-producing bees such as Melipona stingless bees are also kept. Beekeepers (or apiarists) keep bees to collect honey and other products of the hive: beeswax, propolis, bee pollen, and royal jelly. Pollination of crops, raising queens, and production of package bees for sale are other sources of beekeeping income. Bee hives are kept in an apiary or "bee yard".


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The keeping of bees by humans, primarily for honey production, began around 10,000 years ago. Georgia is known as the "cradle of beekeeping" and the oldest honey ever found comes from that country. The 5,500-year-old honey was unearthed from the grave of a noblewoman during archaeological excavations in 2003 near the town Borjomi.[1] Ceramic jars found in the grave contained several types of honey, including linden and flower honey. Domestication of bees can be seen in Egyptian art from around 4,500 years ago; there is also evidence of beekeeping in ancient China, Greece, and Maya.

In the modern era, beekeeping is often used for crop pollination and the production of other products, such as wax and propolis. The largest beekeeping operations are agricultural businesses but many small beekeeping operations are run as a hobby. As beekeeping technology has advanced, beekeeping has become more accessible, and urban beekeeping was described as a growing trend as of 2010. Some studies have found city-kept bees are healthier than those in rural settings because there are fewer pesticides and greater biodiversity in cities.[2]

The oldest archaeological finds directly relating to beekeeping have been discovered at Rehov, a Bronze and Iron Age archaeological site in the Jordan Valley, Israel.[11] Thirty intact hives made of straw and unbaked clay were discovered in the ruins of the city, dating from about 900 BCE, by archaeologist Amihai Mazar. The hives were found in orderly rows, three high, in a manner that according to Mazar could have accommodated around 100 hives, held more than one million bees and had a potential annual yield of 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) of honey and 70 kilograms (150 lb) of beeswax, and are evidence an advanced honey industry in Tel Rehov, Israel 3,000 years ago.[12][13][14]

The ancient Maya domesticated a species of stingless bee, which they used for several purposes, including making balché, a mead-like alcoholic drink.[19] By 300 BCE they had achieved the highest levels of stingless beekeeping practices in the world.[20] The use of stingless bees is referred to as meliponiculture, which is named after bees of the tribe Meliponini such as Melipona quadrifasciata in Brazil. This variation of beekeeping still occurs today.[21] For instance, in Australia, the stingless bee Tetragonula carbonaria is kept for the production of honey.[22]

Intermediate stages in the transition from older methods of beekeeping were recorded in 1768 by Thomas Wildman, who described advances over the destructive, skep-based method so bees no longer had to be killed to harvest their honey.[29] Wildman fixed an array of parallel wooden bars across the top of a straw hive 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter "so that there are in all seven bars of deal to which the bees fix their combs", foreshadowing future uses of movable-comb hives. He also described using such hives in a multi-story configuration, foreshadowing the modern use of supers: he added successive straw hives below and later removed the ones above when free of brood and filled with honey so the bees could be separately preserved at the harvest the following season. Wildman also described the use of hives with "sliding frames" in which the bees would build their comb.[30]

In the 19th century, changes in beekeeping practice were completed through the development of the movable comb hive by the American Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, who was the first person to make practical use of Huber's earlier discovery of a specific spatial distance between the wax combs, later called the bee space, which bees do not block with wax but keep as a free passage. Having determined this bee space, which is commonly given as between 6 and 9 mm (0.24 and 0.35 in),[32][33] though up to 15 mm (0.59 in) has been found in populations in Ethiopia.[34] Langstroth then designed a series of wooden frames within a rectangular hive box, carefully maintaining the correct space between successive frames. He found the bees would build parallel honeycombs in the box without bonding them to each other or to the hive walls. This enables the beekeeper to slide any frame out of the hive for inspection without harming the bees or the comb; and protecting the eggs, larvae and pupae in the cells. It also meant combs containing honey could be gently removed and the honey extracted without destroying the comb. The emptied honeycombs could then be returned intact to the bees for refilling. Langstroth's book The Hive and Honey-bee (1853), describes his rediscovery of the bee space and the development of his patent movable comb hive. The invention and development of the movable comb hive enabled the growth of large-scale, commercial honey production in both Europe and the U.S.

In the 19th century, improvements were made in the design and production of beehives, systems of management and husbandry, stock improvement by selective breeding, honey extraction and marketing. Notable innovators of modern beekeeping include:

Dr. C.C. Miller was one of the first entrepreneurs to make a living from apiculture. By 1878, he made beekeeping his sole business activity. His book, Fifty Years Among the Bees, remains a classic and his influence on bee management persists into the 21st century.[47]

Walter T. Kelley was an American pioneer of modern beekeeping in the early-and mid-20th century. He greatly improved upon beekeeping equipment and clothing, and went on to manufacture these items and other equipment. His company sold products worldwide and his book How to Keep Bees & Sell Honey, encouraged a boom in beekeeping following World War II.[49]

In the UK, practical beekeeping was led in the early 20th century by a few men, pre-eminently Brother Adam and his Buckfast bee, and R.O.B. Manley, author of books including Honey Production in the British Isles and inventor of the Manley frame, which is still universally popular in the UK. Other notable British pioneers include William Herrod-Hempsall and Gale.[50][51]

A Horizontal top-bar hive is a single-story, frameless beehive in which the comb hangs from removable bars that form a continuous roof over the comb, whereas the frames in most current hives allow space for bees to move between boxes. Hives that have frames or that use honey chambers in summer and use management principles similar to those of regular top-bar hives are sometimes also referred to as top-bar hives. Top-bar hives are rectangular and are typically more than twice as wide as multi-story framed hives commonly found in English-speaking countries. Top-bar hives usually include one box and allow for beekeeping methods that interfere very little with the colony. While conventional advice often recommends inspecting each colony each week during the warmer months,[53] some beekeepers fully inspect top-bar hives only once a year,[54] and only one comb needs to be lifted at a time.[55]

Traditionally, beekeeping clothing is pale-colored because of the natural color of cotton and the cost of coloring is an expense not warranted for workwear, though some consider this is to provide better differentiation from the colony's natural predators such as bears and skunks, which tend to be dark-colored. It is now known bees see in ultraviolet wavelengths and are also attracted to scent. The type of fabric conditioner used has more impact than the color of the fabric.[57][58]

Many types of fuel can be used in a smoker as long as it is natural and not contaminated with harmful substances. Common fuels include hessian, twine, pine needles, corrugated cardboard, and rotten or punky wood. Indian beekeepers, especially in Kerala, often use coconut fibers, which are readily available, safe, and cheap. Some beekeeping supply sources also sell commercial fuels like pulped paper, compressed cotton and aerosol cans of smoke. Other beekeepers use sumac as fuel because it ejects much smoke and lacks an odor.

The natural beekeeping movement believes bee hives are weakened by modern beekeeping and agricultural practices, such as crop spraying, hive movement, frequent hive inspections, artificial insemination of queens, routine medication, and sugar water feeding.[72] Practitioners of "natural beekeeping" tend to use variations of the top-bar hive, which is a simple design that retains the concept of having a movable comb without the use of frames or a foundation. The horizontal top-bar hive, as promoted by many writers, can be seen as a modernization of hollow log hives, with the addition of wooden bars of specific width from which bees hang their combs. Its widespread adoption in recent years can be attributed to the 2007 publication of The Barefoot Beekeeper[73] by Philip Chandler, which challenges many aspects of modern beekeeping and offers the horizontal top-bar hive as a viable alternative to the ubiquitous Langstroth-style movable-frame hive.

Related to natural beekeeping, urban beekeeping is an attempt to revert to a less-industrialized way of obtaining honey by using small-scale colonies that pollinate urban gardens. Some have found city bees are healthier than rural bees because there are fewer pesticides and greater biodiversity in urban gardens.[75] Urban bees may fail to find forage, however, and homeowners can use their land to help feed local bee populations by planting flowers that provide nectar and pollen. An environment of year-round, uninterrupted bloom creates an ideal environment for colony reproduction.[76] 041b061a72

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