Bees, Beekeeping and Honey

Background to Bees

Mans love affair with sweet substances goes back to the time when he was a hunter gatherer. His need for carbohydrate and fat were crucial to survival and were difficult to find. Our old need for calories meant we have a tongue that has many sugar receptors enabling us to recognise even weak sources of sugar. Honey to early man was a miracle, a substance that was intensely sweet, immune from spoilage and the level of sugar prevents micro organisms from existing. The evolution of man to present day meant our love affair with honey has continued and we have 'domesticated' the bee to suit our needs.

It is not entirely clear but about 4000 BC, the Egyptians started keeping bees in a cylinder of unbaked hardened mud pots, stacking them in rows to form a bank. Some beekeepers in Egypt moved their hives on rafts down the Nile, following the blossoms. The Greeks modified the Egyptian design baking the mud into a sturdier terra cotta. (1450BC). They called the honey "nectar from the gods".
Another design using hollow logs hung from trees and is still used in Africa today. Others include woven cylinders, skeps and rectangular boxes made from wood. The theme is all the same, a long low cavity with a small entrance hole at one end and a door at the other. It was in Europe where apiculture made its greatest advances in development and bee biology. In 1851, Rev. Langstroth from Philadelphia designed the Langstroth movable bee frame.

The ability of the honey bee to survive has been remarkable, it has been able to adapt to the harsh environments of the world living in regions where man lives, from the equator to beyond the arctic circle. Most of the domestic honey bees have descended from a small number of queens from their original countries - that is Europe and Africa and in these regions the honey bee has survived through natural selection processes.
If honey bees were to disappear from planet Earth, man would have just 4 years until serious food shortages would result. The pollination services that bees provide are numerous, think about the fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables and legumes we eat. Most of these are pollinated by the bee.

A terra cotta pot with bees in Malta

Bees living in a Terra Cotta Pot - Malta