The honeybee has long attracted humans to interact with it. Beeswax found on pottery from North Africa, Europe and the Near East suggest that humans collected beeswax and honey from around 9000 years ago and may have domesticated the honeybee at that time too. Beekeeping has a long history!
The oldest evidence of a link with honeybees was found in what is now Turkey. By a few thousand years later, beeswax was detected across the Balkan peninsula and then at sites occupied by early farmers in central Europe. Around this time the first evidence for the use of bees in North Africa was found. The ancient Egyptians showed their intimate knowledge of honeybees by their accurate anatomical drawings which still exist today. They used honey, wax and propolis as part of the mummification process, though they didn’t distinguish propolis as a separate entity from honey and wax. It was during Greek times that we find the first reference to propolis and by 400BC there were 20,000 beehives in Attica. In the British Isles, traces of bee products were found on broken pottery at Neolithic sites in Southern England.
Differing Approaches to Beekeeping
We keep bees for many different reasons. Some beekeepers keep their bees for commercial reasons, either for the products they give such as propolis, wax and honey, or as pollinators. Others keep bees as a hobby and take only a small amount of honey or other products of the hive for their own use. Others still keep bees solely to help the environment through pollination and leave the bees with all their own products such as honey and propolis. Some beekeepers prefer natural beekeeping methods. This approach involves a holistic, hands-off approach to living with bees. In essence the bees are offered a place to nest, a varied selection of pollen and nectar sources and they do not have their products removed from the hive for human use. Studies have found that the guardianship of bees in this way can produce healthier colonies of bees, not reliant on outside intervention for nutrition or to deal with disease.
For many people, bees represent a joyful interaction with the natural world. Living close to them, watching them and learning from them brings deep contentment. In some ways the beehive operates as a single being, with each bee acting not as an individual, but as part of a greater body.
Bee-Friendly Beekeeping Must Be a Priority
This is a far cry from the situation recently reported in the US where millions of beehives are transported from all over the US by lorry to California’s almond farms to pollinate the trees for a short period every February. As humans, we stress the bees by transporting them, by genetically interfering with their colonies, by exposing them to harmful pesticides and much more. All this has led to a dramatic decline in the bee population and “Colony Collapse Disorder”, where the majority of worker bees in a colony leave the hive and do not return, leaving behind a queen, food and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees and the queen.
What can be done? To see ourselves as guardians and protectors of the bee, study the bee and how it thrives and act in the interest of the bee, plant a wide variety of plants from which bees can gather pollen and nectar, tend plants organically, do not use harmful pesticides. Develop a reverence for the bee. It is an amazing and ancient creature deserving our protection and respect.