Beekeeping Hasn’t Changed in Nearly 200 Years
Beekeeping existed for thousands of years before finally getting jumpstarted. The practice goes back to ancient Egypt — in general, if humans have been doing something seemingly advanced for longer than we've been keeping records, there’s a good chance it began in ancient Egypt.
At first, people kept bees by cultivating hives in baskets. To avoid hundreds of angry stings, keepers scared the bugs away with smoke and then smashed open the hives to get the honey within. That honey, found in pyramids, is still edible today.
Wrecking the hives and colony every time you wanted something sweet on your falafel meant you had to start from scratch after every harvest. In the centuries that followed, beekeepers experimented with artificial hives they could open up and loot without all the destruction. They made progress, but it was hard to create any kind of moving parts without bees sticking those parts together by doing bee stuff. Then in 1851, a clergyman named Lorenzo Langstroth found the solution: bee space.
Bee space (not to be confused with space bees) means that if a hive leaves a gap of 5 to 8 millimeters between movable parts, no more and no less, bees won’t fill it with a comb or wax. Langstroth used this information to create an artificial hive with removable wooden frames. We’re still using that same hive design today. Every variation on that has been just a minor tweak in dimensions, so we’re still raising bees in Langstroth’s wooden boxes, the way they did in 1851.
You’d think that by now, all beekeeping would be done in factories with floor-to-ceiling artificial hives made of steel. Or, you know, that we’d have reverse-engineered honey completely and figured out how to make the stuff without hoarding bug puke. But for now, the artificial stuff (made from corn syrup) isn’t as good, and so we go on collaborating with bees who live in Langstroth’s boxes.
Buzz off evolution.
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Top image: Luc Viatour