Beekeeping, the practice of artificially maintaining honey bee colonies, is one of the oldest forms of food production. Formally known as apiculture, beekeeping is thought to have been practiced as early as 13,000 BC. The ancient Egyptians were particularly skilled in the art of beekeeping, since they considered honey to be an important part of their diet.
Although most people associate beekeeping exclusively with the collection of honey, there are many other ways modern beekeepers can earn an income from their colonies. For example, beeswax is often used to make candles and cosmetics. Royal jelly, a substance secreted from the hypopharyngeal glands of young worker bees, is a popular dietary supplement. Propolis, a resinous substance honey bees use to seal cracks in the hive, is used in alternative medicine, acupuncture, and homeopathy. Many commercial beekeeping operations also offer a crop pollination service that provides a significant portion of their annual income.
The place where a beekeeper keeps his bees is called an apiary or a bee yard. The bee colony is kept inside a hive that is made from a series of wooden boxes and frames that hold wax sheets for the bees to use as a starting point when building honeycomb. The top box contains honey, while the bottom box is used to hold the queen bee and most of the worker bees. In the United States, the most popular type of hive design used for beekeeping is known as a Langstroth bee hive.
Since bees can be dangerous, a beekeeper must take several safety precautions when working around a honey bee colony. A hat or veil is commonly used to keep the face and neck protected from stings. Gloves are another popular form of beekeeping protection, although many beekeepers complain that gloves restrict their movement. A hooded suit, typically made from a light colored fabric to help distinguish the beekeeper from the honey bee’s natural predators, may also be used.
While working with a honey bee colony, a beekeeper uses a smoker to help calm the bees. Smoke is useful in beekeeping because it masks the guard bee’s alarm pheromones and encourages the other bees to feed by tricking them into thinking they’ll soon need to abandon their hive. This gives the beekeeper enough time to inspect the colony and perform any needed maintenance. Pine needles, pulped paper, corrugated cardboard, or compressed cotton are some of the fuels that can be used in a bee smoker.