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An ancient and widespread profession, beekeeping is believed to have originated in the Middle East. The early Egyptians kept bees and traded for honey and beeswax along the East African coast several thousand years ago. Until 1851, beekeepers harvested honey and beeswax by killing the colonies inhabiting the hives. In that year the American apiarist Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth discovered the principle of "bee space": Bees leave spaces of about 0.6 cm (about 0.23 in) between wax 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.
Beekeepers worldwide earn their living from the sale of the honey and beeswax their hives produce, but the most important contribution of bees to the economy and the environment is their pollination of fruits, vegetables, and pasturage. In some countries, beekeepers are paid for their pollination services.
Beekeeping Methods and Equipment
Apiaries require an ample supply of nectar and pollen and are usually kept where nectar-producing plants such as clover or eucalyptus are abundant. Some beekeepers have migratory apiaries and transport their bees to suitable forage. Apiaries may consist of from 1 to 200 hives, depending on the means of the beekeeper and the flower resources available. Commercial beekeepers who make their entire living from bees often keep hundreds or thousands of hives. work from home.
Most North American beekeepers have standardized their equipment, using boxes (called supers) that hold ten wood-bound comb frames. The standard hive is called the Langstroth hive, and its dimensions are those described by its inventor in 1851. Present-day apiculturists believe that the honey bee is an adaptable animal that can survive under a variety of situations and conditions.
Insecticides kill and weaken thousands of colonies each year. Beekeepers who rent their colonies for pollination also expect some loss of bees that drink from contaminated pools. Honey itself is generally free from insecticides, because when a food source becomes contaminated, the colony is killed or weakened, and so the bees cannot produce a surplus for harvest. Other problems facing beekeepers include parasitic mites; bacterial, fungal, and viral diseases; and loss of forage due to habitat destruction by humans.
In the mid 1990s an estimated 2.5 million colonies of honey bees were maintained in the United States. Although more than 125,000 people owned one or more hives, only about 2400 earned a full-time living. The states of California, North Dakota, South Dakota, Florida, and Minnesota led the nation in honey production. Average commercial production is about 40 kg (about 80 lb) of honey per colony, and 9 to 18 kg (20 to 40 lb) of beeswax for every ton of honey harvested.
China, the United States, Argentina, Ukraine, and Mexico are the world's leading honey-producing countries. The leading exporters are China, Argentina, and Mexico. The leading importers are Germany, the United States, and Japan. In recent years, U.S. imports of honey have exceeded exports.
Contributed by: Roger Alfred Morse