Beginning Beekeeping

Beekeeping is an activity loved by a diverse cross-section of Americans. From a few hives in the back yard to tens of thousands of hives in a commercial operation all beekeepers got their start by learning the basics. The best place to start down the path to becoming a beekeeper is by becoming an apprentice beekeeper. By working with an established beekeeper, in your area, you will learn the basics of hive management. The best place to find a beekeeper willing to help is your local bee club. Texas has many local bee clubs across the state. You can find a bee club locator at the Texas Beekeepers Association website ( When you are at their site look into getting a membership in this state organization. In addition to all the good resources you can find on their website, such as current beekeeping news articles and the Texas Bee Journal, this organization acts as the voice of Texas Beekeepers when it comes to legislature and other industry issues. There are also many good books on beginning beekeeping that will help teach you the basics. Bee-sentials; A Field Guide, by Lawrence J Connor, First Lessons in Beekeeping, by Keith S. Delaplane, and The Hive and the Honey Bee, edited by Joe M. Graham are just a few of the good resources to use when learning the basics of beekeeping.

History of Beekeeping

Honey bees have been pollinating flowers and furnishing our world with beautiful fruits and vegetables for what seems since the beginning of time.  However, beekeeping was not developed until around 5000 B.C. when pottery vessels were used to collect swarms.  Before then, cave paintings in Spain show honey comb was collected by man from trees and rock cavities.  By 1450 B.C. the Egyptians had created horizontal, cylindrical clay hives where honey comb could be removed without killing bees.  Eventually wicker baskets, called skeps, were used to house colonies in Europe.  These varied in size where the smaller skeps were used to induce swarming and multiply the number of colonies.

Until the 17th century honey bees were present only in the Old World.  In 1622 honey bees were brought to North America from England, and by 1839 honey bees had reached the Caribbean, Australia, and New Zealand.  The introduction of honey bees raised curiosity of their biology, and by 1851 the queen, worker, and drone had been described, the materials the workers collected had been studied, and techniques for upright colonies were developed.

In 1838, Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, a pastor in Massachusetts, developed an interest in honey bees when he saw a glass globe with comb full of honey inside.  Once he started keeping bees he noticed that the cover of the hive rested so closely to the top of the frames that the bees would fill the space with propolis, making it difficult to remove the cover.  He decided to deepen the grooves where the frames rested to create a 3/8 inch space between the frames and the cover.  Langstroth noticed that the bees stopped filling the space, so he described it as “bee space”.  Bee space is a space between two structures that is just wide enough for a bee to crawl through and not propolize it.  Langstroth also created the bee space between the exterior frames and the sides of the box so that comb would not be destroyed when removing a frame.  Langstroth’s hives became popular for their capability of stacking boxes on top of each other, as well as the economical construction of the frames, since their uniformity allowed for frames to be replaced with new ones.  This type of beekeeping was commonly used in the United States by 1861 and was the start of modern beekeeping.

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