2014 National 4-H Essay Contest Winners
sponsored by the Foundation for the Preservation of Honey Bees, Inc.

For the 2014 essay contest, the topic was Beekeeping in Colonial Times.

To the earliest European settlers in the New World, honey bees were an important part of their existence. Cargo manifests show that honey bees were among the first shipments of animals. How were they shipped? Why were they important? Why were they so important to the colonists? How does that differ from today?

Second place went to Garret Smith from Starkville, Mississippi with his essay entitled "Beekeeping in Colonial Times."   Garrett Smith is a thirteen year old boy.  This is his first year in 4-H.  He plays junior high baseball, football, and soccer for his school.  He has also represented his school at the district and state level in math competitions, science fairs, spelling bees and essay contests.  Garrett is an active member in his church youth group and school FCA Chapter.  He enjoys hunting and fishing, as well as reading.

Beekeeping in Colonial Times

Honey bees are quite possibly the most undervalued insect on our planet today.  I, like most people, only thought about the bee's menacing stinger, at least until beginning research for this paper.  Now, however, I understand the importance of bees and beekeeping.  According to many sources, beekeeping may have been around as early as 13,000 B.C., even though scientists believe that honey bees came into existence around 130 billion B.C. [1]  Because honey bees are not native to the Western Hemisphere, North America would witness the art of beekeeping until the seventeenth century[2].  

The most commonly accepted honey bee migration theory involves the intentional transportation of the insects by the English during the first stages of European colonization of the Americas.  However, some believe that honey bees had already been brought by the Irish and Norwegians.  This transit was said to have taken place between 800 and 900 A.D.  Even so, most bee experts believe the population did not stabilize itself until the arrival of English shipments in 1622 [1].  After their initial transportation from Europe, the bees began to naturally spread out and increase in number.  This action, in addition to multiple other European honey bee shipments, resulted in a bee population that, by 1853, reached across what is now known as the United States [3].  

Even with their original tiny population, honey bees quickly became an important pollination factor in the Americas.  It is approximated that ninety-four percent of all Americans took part in some sort of farming at the time of the American Revolution [4].  Even though most of this percentage only participated in subsistence farming, a few took part in commercial farming, an important source of the Unites States' income.  Today, honey bees are America's leading pollinator, which differed from colonial times.  Pollination before and during the honey bee's first years in America was carried out by a multitude of other insects.  These insects included twelve species of bees native to North America.  Six of these species are now extinct, and the other six are on the verge of the same fate.  Now, honey bees are an irreplaceable pollinator.  It is estimated that thirty-five percent of a human's diet relies on pollination carried out by honey bees.
Beekeeping in the United States began as a small industry made up of a few beekeepers spread out across a new-born nation.  This fledgling enterprise would later become a multi-million dollar industry in the US alone.  Originally, however, honey produced by beekeepers was largely either consumed by themselves or traded locally.  Commercial beekeeping would not begin until the nineteenth century.  Commercial pollination was also non-existent in the colonial times.  Historically, bees were kept in man-made straw beehives, or skeps.  While this form of storage was common, some beekeepers used wooden boxes.  However, upon beekeeping's American debut, wooden boxes suddenly became more common than the straw skeps.  Experts believe this shift occurred because of a lack of qualified skep builders.  A group of farmers would later invent artificial hives that used removable caps, making the honey extraction process much simpler.  Previously, beekeepers would have to kill the bees before extracting honey.  This made beekeeping more difficult, as beekeepers would be forced to capture new bees.  After exterminating their hives, beekeepers would removes the honey from the combs.  Later, L.L. Langstroth would invent a new type of beehive that spawned many of the hives used today.  This earned the Pennsylvanian minister an important position in beekeeping history.  He patented his invention in 1852.  Modern wax comb plates would subsequently be invented in 1857 [2].  These two inventions ushered in a new era of beekeeping, an era that is still continuing today.  This was a new form of beekeeping; easier, simpler, and cheaper.  Because of this, the hobby attracted more and more followers, which resulted in increased honey output.  Although not originally home to honey bees, the United States is now one of the world's leading honey producers.

Beekeeping equipment that evolved during colonial times was not limited to artificial beehives.  While bee experts have reason to assume that smoke may have been used to calm bees from the beginning, the smoker was developed in 1870.  Without the smoker, colonial beekeepers were forced to either kill their hives, or use a technique known as drumming.  Beekeepers would add a small box to the top of their individual beehives.  Then they would pound the sides of the hive, hence the term "drumming."  They would do this for fifteen minutes before opening the hive and removing the honey. They were not stung because the bees fled to the top box upon hearing the loud banging on the edges of their home.  Drumming would later go extinct after the invention of the smoker [5].
In conclusion, honey bees and beekeeping played an important role in the history of the United States.  In turn, the United States played an important role in beekeeping.  New techniques, methods, and equipment were all developed during beekeeping's first years in North America.  These additions helped form the modern beekeeping industry.  I now know to think twice before swatting a bee.

Sources Cited

[1] "Beekeeping History, American Beekeeping History, Bees, Bee Behavior, Beemax, Polystyrene Hives." Beekeeping History, American Beekeeping History, Bees, Bee Behavior, Beemax, Polystyrene Hives. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014.

[2]   Oerter, Everett. "History of Beekeeping in the United States." - Beesource Beekeeping. Bee Source, 2014. Web. 13 Jan. 2014

[3] Kellar, Brenda. "Honey Bees Across America." Honey Bees Across America. N.p., n.d. Web.

[4] "On a Colonial Farm." On a Colonial Farm. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Jan. 2014

[5] "History - Equipment." History - Equipment. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014. 


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