Busy as a…

Posted by | May 22, 2012

They’ll have plenty of time to regroup during the slow months of July and August, but right now it’s the end of the spring honey flow, and apiarists throughout Appalachia are knee-deep in the golden goo.

Beekeeping is an age old, and surprisingly little changed, ritual. Below right is a 1908 ad from the Beekeeper’s Review promoting a bee smoker. The beekeepers reading this ad would have been almost as familiar with the smokers, supers and frames we use today as they would’ve been with bee equipment from 75 years prior to their own time.

That’s because the really big innovations that moved bee culture from hunting to cultivating all clustered around the 1850s & 1860s.

The “father of modern beekeeping,” Rev LL Langstroth, published “The Hive and the Honeybee” in 1853. In it he explained how his patented movable frame hive took advantage of the principles of Bee Space. That “magical space” is defined as “greater than 1/4 inch, but smaller than 3/8 inch”, and is recognized by the bees as OPEN space for occupation by bees only. Any spaces smaller or larger are subject to having comb built in them.

By utilizing this new finding, Langstroth was able to design a hive where the bees did not seal parts together by burr comb, hence allowing frames to be removed one by one, inner covers not sealed down to frame tops, and bee walk space on the tops of frames that had another hive body with frames on top of the lower hive body. A Langstroth hive filled with bees could be disassembled, each part inspected for status or disease, and reassembled without damage to comb or bees. This could NOT be done with any other “housing” for bees that existed in 1851!

The honey flavors of Appalachia draw from an amazingly broad list of nectar sources: alfalfa, apple blossom, aster, basswood, black locust, blackberry, buckwheat, Canadian thistle, clover, sweet clover, white dutch clover, corn, dandelion, goldenrod, Japanese knotweed, milkweed, paulownia, prickly ash, pussy willow, red maple, redbud, Russian sage, sourwood, starhorn sumac, sunflower, tree of heaven, tulip poplar, and witch hazel.

But don’t go looking in the supermarket for some such construct as “Appalachian Honey.” Commercial producers often mix honey imported from Canada, Argentina, Mexico, Brazil, and elsewhere to achieve the final “genuine pure natural honey” you see labeled in stores. Identifying the regional flavors in commercial honey is further complicated by the fact that apiaries break down their product into three general categories of white honey, extra light amber, or light amber, usually without regard to the nectar source (clover honey & orange blossom being two obvious exceptions.) Best to keep a few hives out back of the place and literally taste the micro-flora of your own little piece of Appalachia.

sources: “The Hive and the Honeybee” LL Langstroth, 1853


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