Educational Guide

Beekeeping

Beekeeping, as opposed to foraging honey from wild bee colonies, probably began at different times in different parts of the world. Many agree that the first evidence of beekeeping appears in the paintings of ancient Egypt, dating from around 2500 BC.

Beekeepers work long hours in the spring and summer. They monitor their hives to ensure the colony has a healthy queen and that the colony is clean and free from disease. To keep their bees strong, beekeepers must place the hives in locations that will provide abundant nectar sources as well as water. Beekeepers harvest their honey in late spring to early fall, depending on regional plants’ blossoming times.

In the fall, beekeepers prepare their hives for winter, ensuring that each hive has adequate honey “left on” (not extracted) to feed the colony. Many beekeepers also move their hives to warmer states during the winter. About onehalf of all commercial beekeepers are migratory beekeepers. Some rent their bees to farmers, moving their hives to pollinate various crops. Others relocate their hives near blossoms for honey production.


The purpose of beekeeping

Apiculture or beekeeping is the art of managing bees with the intention of getting the maximum return from this work with the minimum of expenditure. Bees produce swarms, queens, wax and honey. The production of swarms and queens should be left to specialists. The production of wax has some value, but this value is diminished by the cost of rendering. The production of honey is the main purpose of beekeeping, one that the beekeeper pursues before everything else, because this product is valuable and because it can be weighed and priced. Honey is an excellent food, a good remedy, the best of all sweeteners. And we can sell honey in many forms just as we can consume it in many forms.

It is also worth noting that beekeeping is a fascinating activity and consequently rests both mind and body. Furthermore, beekeeping is a moral activity, as far as it keeps one away from cafés and low places and puts before the beekeeper an example of work, order and devotion to the common cause. Moreover, beekeeping is a pre-eminently healthy and beneficial activity, because it is most often done in the fresh air, in fine, sunny weather. For sunshine is the enemy of illness just as it is the master of vitality and vigour.

One more important thing: the bees fertilise the flowers of the fruit trees. Apiculture thus contributes greatly to filling our fruit baskets. This reason alone should suffice to urge all those who have the smallest corner of orchard to take up beekeeping.

According to Darwin, self-fertilisation of flowers is not the general rule. Cross-fertilisation, which takes place most commonly, is necessitated becaus of the separation of sexes in flowers or even on 2 different plants; or because of the non-coincidence of maturity of pollen and stigma or by the different morphological arrangements which prevent self-fertilisation in a flower. It happens very often that if an outside agent does not intervene, our plants do not fruit or they yield far less; many experiments demonstrate this.

As Hommell put it so well: the bee, attracted by the nectar secreted at the base of the petals, penetrates to the bottom of the floral envelope to drink the juices produced by the nectaries, and covers itself with the fertilising dust that the stamens let fall. Having exhausted the first flower, a second presents a new crop to the tireless worker; the pollen it is carrying falls on the stigma and the fertilisation which, without it, would be left at the mercy of the winds, takes place in a way that is guaranteed. Thus the bee, following its course without relaxation, visits thousands of corollae, and deserves the poetic name that Michelet gave it: the winged priest at the marriage of the flowers.

Hommell even attempted to put a figure on the benefit that resulted from the presence of bees. A colony, he said, which has only 10,000 foragers should be considered as reaching barely average, and a large stock housed in a big hive often has 80,000. Suppose 10,000 foragers go out four times a day, then in 100 days this will make four million sorties. And if each bee before returning home enters only twenty-five flowers, the bees of this hive will have visited 100 million flowers in the course of one year. It is no exaggeration to suppose that on ten of these flowers, at least one is fertilised by the action of the foragers and that the resulting gain would be only 1 centime for every 1,000 fertilisations. Yet in spite of these minimal estimates, it is evident that there is a benefit of 100 francs a year produced by the presence of just one hive. This mathematical conclusion is irrefutable.

Certain fruit producers, above all viticulturists, set themselves up in opposition to bees because bees come and drink the sweet juices of fruit and grapes. But if we investigate the bee closely we soon notice that they ignore the intact fruits and only empty those with pellicles that are already perforated by birds or by the strong mandibles of wasps. The bee only gathers juice which, without it, would dry up and be wasted. It is totally impossible for bees to commit the theft they are accused of, because the masticatory parts of its mouth are not strong enough to enable it to perforate the fruit pellicle that protects the pulp.