Beekeeping History

  Beekeeping is one of the oldest forms of food production.  Some of the earliest evidence of beekeeping is from rock painting, dating to around 13,000 BC.  It was particularly well developed in Egypt and was discussed by the Roman writers Virgil, Gaius Julius Hyginus, Varro and Columella.  Traditionally beekeeping was done for the bees' honey harvest, although nowadays crop pollination service can often provide a greater part of a commercial beekeeper's income. Other hive products are pollen, royal jelly and propolis, which are also used for nutritional and medicinal purposes, and wax which is used in candlemaking, cosmetics, wood polish and for modelling.  The modern use of hive products has not changed much.

Western honeybees are not native to the Americas. American, Australian and New Zealand colonists imported honeybees from Europe, partly for honey and partly for their usefulness as pollinators.  The first honey bee species imported were likely European dark bees. Later italian bees, carniolan honeybees and caucasian bees were added. Western honeybees were also brought to the Primorsky Krai in Russia by Ukrainian settlers around 1850s.  These Russian honey bees that are similar to the Carniolan bee were imported into the US in 1990 from the Vlaivostok region of Easresn Russia.  The Russian honey bee has shown to be more resistant to the bee parasites, Varroa destructor and Acarapis woodi.

Prior to the 1980s, most US hobby beekeepers were farmers or relatives of a farmer, lived in rural areas, and kept bees with techniques passed down for generations. The arrival of tracheal mites in the 1980s and varroa mites and small hive beetles in the 1990s removed most of these beekeepers because they did not know how to deal with the new parasites and their bees died.  Commertial bee colonies in US droped from 3,2 million colonies in 1990 to about 2.6 million colonies in 2004.  In Asia other species of Apis exist which are used by local beekeepers for honey and beeswax.  Non-Apis species of honeybees, known collectively as stingless bees, have also been kept from antiquity in Australia and Central America, although these traditions are dying, and the trigonine and meliponine species used are endangered.

In Canada there are an estimated 10,500 beekeepers operating more than 563,000 hives The Prairie provinces account for 80 percent of Canadian honey production. Alberta is the largest honey producing province, producing about 40 percent of Canadian honey. Average honey production in Alberta is 141 pounds per hive annually, twice the world average.

The primary honey producers in the world are China, USA, the former USSR, Mexico, Argentina and Canada. The key exporters in the world honey market are China supplying 30 to 35 per cent, Mexico supplying 20 per cent and Argentina supplying 15 to 20 per cent. The three biggest honey importers are Germany, Japan and the United States. Even though the United States produces 50 per cent of North American honey, most of it is consumed domestically. Since 1994, U.S. imports have ranged from 40,000 to 74,000 metric tonnes every year.11 The United States is the largest importer of Canadian honey purchasing 50 to 80 per cent of annual exports. Germany, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Japan are also notable buyers of Canadian honey.

There are several types of beekeepers:
*Hobbyists - have a different day job but find beekeeping fun as just a hobby.
*Sideliners - have other income but moonlight as "beekeepers" for extra money.
*Commercial - beekeeping is their only source of income.
The modern hobby beekeeper is more likely to be a suburbanite: he or she tends to be a member of an active bee club, and is well-versed on modern techniques.  Some southern US and southern hemisphere (New Zealand) beekeepers keep bees primarily to raise queens and package bees for sale.  In the US, northern beekeepers can buy early spring queens and 3- or 4-pound packages of live worker bees from the South to replenish hives that die out during the winter. In cold climates commercial beekeepers have to migrate with the seasons, hauling their hives on trucks to gentler southern climates for better wintering and early spring build-up. Many make "nucs" (small starter or nucleus colonies) for sale or replenishment of their own losses during the early spring.  In the US some may pollinate squash or cucumbers in Florida or make early honey from citrus groves in Florida, Texas or California.   The largest demand for pollination comes from the almond groves on 520,000 acres in California.  Califarnia has about 500,000 hives and about another 500,000 arive at spring time from other states. Some commercial beekeepers alternate between pollination service and honey production but usually cannot do both at the same time.  In the Northern Hemisphere, beekeepers usually harvest honey from July until September, though in warmer climates the season can be longer. The rest of the year is spent keeping the hive free of pests and disease, and ensuring that the bee colony has room in the hive to expand.  Success for the hobbyist also depends on locating the apiary so bees have a good nectar source and pollen source throughout the year.

According to the National Agricultural Statistic Service, honey production declined by 11 percent in 2006, and honey prices per pound increased 14 percent, from 91.8 cents in 2005 to 104.2 cents in 2006. Daren Jantzy, with the National Agricultural Statistics Service, told CNN that these statistics are based on numbers collected mostly before the true impact of CCD was noted. Its effect will be more noticeable when the 2007 statistics are collected.
In 2005, for the first time in 85 years, the United States was forced to import honeybees in order to meet its pollination demands. Dr. May R. Berenbaum, head of the department of entomology at the University of Illinois, says that "if honeybees numbers continued to decline at the rates documented from 1989 to 1996, managed honeybees ... will cease to exist in the United States by 2035."

American Beekeeping History

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