Beekeeping Or Apiculture
Beekeeping or Apiculture is a specialised hobby that involves the maintenance of bees in an artificially created colony, or hive. There are many reasons why people keep bees as a hobby and the most common reason is to collect honey and other products, from the hives. The other by-products of beekeeping or Apiculture are the beeswax, the pollen used to pollinate crops and even royal jelly. Some beekeepers also maintain their apiary or bee-farm to sell their bees to other beekeepers - another form of revenue for them.
The hobby has been around for centuries and even though the entire process is still working on the same principles as before, you do find a lot of new technology and sophistication coming in, as is with any industry. Beekeeping or Apiculture is a hobby that has the potential of becoming a profession as well so if you are getting quite good at maintaining your bee-farm, then, you might want to consider doing it full-time even. However, before you can get into that aspect, you need to know as much there is to know about maintaining bees in your home or on your farm.
The Tradition of Apiculture
Since the Upper Palaeolithic-era, way back in the 13th century BCE, humans have been known to maintain bee colonies for the production of honey for their consumption. While, at that time, it wasn't a formal set-up with artificially created hives, the concept of extracting honey from their hives had begun and humans had started looking at honeybees as a source of their food. However, this process involved damaging of the hive, in almost all cases, and that meant the bees would relocate. To reduce the amount of search-time that humans would have to spend in looking for honeybees, the concept of maintaining honeybees came into the picture with the Egyptian civilization.
From the mid 2,000 BCE, Egyptian art-work has been known to depict the process of maintaining bees for the production of honey. Sealed pots of honey were also found in tombs of pharaohs like Tutankhamen and that was just the beginning. Since then, almost every civilization has continued this process of creating artificial homes for bees to settle into, even building them close to each other, in order to continue the production of honey and convert it into a structured industry.
In those times, though, bees were kept in fixed hives that were generally carved out of old tree-trunks or just plain wood. These were meant to provide a natural habitat to the bees and keep them as comfortable as possible, allowing humans to remove honey without damaging the comb itself. This just required the use of a hollow structure and, sometimes, pots were also used for the process. Extremely inexpensive, you can still find these kinds of techniques in use today.
As time and technology has changed, the process of maintaining bees has become more scientific and precise. The equipment has improved and become safer while movable hives with better designs are making life easier for the bees as well as for the beekeeper. The first and most important change that you need to be aware of is the use of movable hives. These hives come with an open-top and have movable frames placed next to each other. These hives already have customized structures in them, allowing bees to settle in quickly and go about the process of attaching their combs to it.
Straw skeps are also used to keep bees although it might be illegal to use them, in some countries, mainly because of the problems they pose when inspecting for diseases in the hive. Hobbyists, though, are still known to use them to gather swarms of bees before transferring them into proper skeps or artificial hives. Skeps are also not good for long-term bee-keeping or Apiculture because of the difficulty you are likely to face when trying to extract honey from them.
The modern hives are designed in such a way that bees don't have to be killed in order to extract the honey. This major development was necessary to make the hobby or profession sustainable and the process was perfected in the 18th century, by Thomas Wildman. Each frame slides in and out of position easily, allowing you to use smoke to drive away the bees and extract honey before putting the comb back in place. Today, these hives are available all over the world, and maintaining bees has become an extremely accessible hobby today.
There are always health and safety rules to observe, both for you and for the bees in the hive. You need to maintain a healthy hive to ensure that the bees stick around for longer, irrespective of whether you are maintaining them for honey or as a hobby. With protective clothing that's up to standards, and a good knowledge of bee-behaviour, you can start off in this hobby quite easily. Just make sure you are aware of the local laws regarding the maintenance of bees in your home or on your farm because neighbours might not take too kindly to being next to a swarm of, what they might consider as, angry bees.
The hobby is extremely popular today despite the fact that space and effort restrictions might limit the number of people who might want to take it up. The best way to start off is to find a local apiary where you can work for a few days or take classes even, to get a hang of the art of beekeeping. Once you are ready to get started on your own, you will find that beekeeping or apiculture can be quite an interesting and satisfying hobby too!