What is Beekeeping?

Meaning and Definition of Beekeeping

Beekeeping is the branch of agriculture that studies honey bees and the techniques to exploit them conveniently for the benefit of man. It is believed that honey was one of the many products that prehistoric man collected for food. For a long time, honey was one of the few natural sugary foods available to mankind.


In Europe, Africa and Asia there are reports and drawings that allow us to infer that bees were already exploited by man more than fifty thousand years ago. The Egyptians were possibly the first known beekeepers . The advent of modern beekeeping , however, occurred in 1851, when American Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth invented the rational hive, now called the Langstroth hive or American hive.

Sex, Caste and Reproduction

Unlike other domestic animals , where only males and females are distinguished, three types of individuals are observed in bees : queens, workers and drones or males. Both the queens and the workers are women; the former are generally sterile, while the queens are the fertile variety, whose sole function is to lay eggs .

In times of high nectar and pollen, an African queen bee can lay five thousand eggs a day; however, when there are few flowers, laying is reduced to 100 or 200 eggs per day.

The most numerous variety consists of workers, who are small females , with incomplete development of the reproductive system, responsible for all the work done in the hive. The drones, after a few days of life, fly around the hive for a few hours a day, waiting for the opportunity to perform their only function, which is to fertilize the queen .

To understand the formation of these three varieties, it is advisable to follow what happens in a hive that does not have a queen, but has a queen cell or cell from which a new queen is about to hatch.

In the first ten hours after the queen’s birth, the workers pay little attention to her. From then on, however, he is constantly cared for, fed and licked. On the fourth or fifth day, the workers begin to get restless , and if the queen does not leave her hive, they push her away, forcing her to leave for the nuptial flight.

The queen can fly up to 13 km in search of males and males can fly up to four kilometers in search of the queen .
Normally, the queen mates with 5 to 12 males from the apiary itself or its surroundings, within a radius of 200 to 500 m.

However, if she is not fully inseminated on the first flight , she may do two or three more nuptial flights. During a period of 10 to 24 hours after the queen returns to the hive, the sperm that were ejaculated into the queen’s oviduct, numbering seventy to eighty million, begin to migrate to the spermatheca, where they can be stored. five to ten million, several years, with reported cases of up to five years.

The workers constantly lick the queen to suck up a certain substance, produced by the queen’s mandibular glands, called the queen substance . Little by little this substance is distributed throughout the swarm, with only a little bit for each bee. The substance inhibits the ovaries of workers and promotes social stability .

As the queen ages, she begins to secrete little queen substance . The lack of this substance will act on all the workers, causing them to produce more royal jelly, which, given in large quantities to one or more larvae, turns them into virgin queens .

All the larvae receive royal jelly from hatching until the third day, but after that, they receive honey and pollen and become workers; some, however, continue to eat royal jelly until the sixth day of larval life and become queens.

Bees and Inbreeding

Bees are extremely susceptible to the effect of inbreeding , causing a sharp drop in production. For this reason, the beekeeper should not breed queens from a single colony, but select at least his twenty best colonies and eliminate, from ten of them, the larvae that will become queens.

The other ten selected colonies should have frames with large cells, where the queen will lay unfertilized eggs, giving rise to males. This is very important because each colony produces virgin queens, on average, twice a year. If there are not a large number of selected males to fertilize, the beekeeper will lose all the selection work.

Apiary Location and Installation

The choice of the appropriate place to establish an apiary is closely related to the flora of the bees . It is not convenient to install an apiary in coffee, orange, eucalyptus or sugar cane plantations. Since these plants do not favor the production of honey or they only do so in very limited times of the year.

In addition, a place should be chosen where the water is close so that the bees do not have to fly more than 500 m to collect water. If this is not possible, it is advisable to install a water source inside the apiary.

The rights of neighbors must be safeguarded. Therefore, apiaries should never be placed within a hundred meters of homes or places where animals are kept . Hives can be placed under the protection of ranches or in open places.

The hive entrances should face different places in the apiary. For example, each group of four hives must have the mouth on one side of a hypothetical square . It is convenient to paint the entrances of the hives with different colors, chosen among those that the bee sees, which are: blue, green, yellow, white and black.

Bee Management

It is important for the novice beekeeper to install his apiary with few hives and increase this number annually, until reaching 400. That is the number of hives that a young and strong beekeeper can deal with . Devoting himself to beekeeping full time, without the need for permanent employees.

Beekeeper Equipment

Beekeeper’s veil, bellows or fumigator, beekeeper’s spatula or chisel, gloves, soft brushes and appropriate clothing. The main tasks are: to examine the placement, to avoid swarms, to do artificial feeding, to avoid looting, to collect swarms and to extract honey.

honey extraction

Honey is extracted in five stages, the first of which is the removal of the combs from the hive . For this there are several methods, which must be adapted to the type of beekeeping in question: intensive, professional or amateur beekeeping.

The second operation is to uncover, that is, to remove the operculum from the combs full of honey. This is done with special machines in intensive beekeeping , but is also achieved using hot knives or forks, in hobby beekeeping.

Thirdly , comes centrifugation , which requires the use of a centrifuge, whose capacity of racks varies from two to more than 500, depending on the type of beekeeping .

The fourth operation is the separation of the operculum contained in the honey. This is usually done by gravity, using the centrifuge used to extract the honey from the combs . The operculates used to produce wax generally give a very beautiful white wax.

The fifth operation is honey filtration , which sometimes takes bits of wax, pollen particles, and other impurities.

Production of Queens and Royal Jelly

Another important aspect in dealing with bees is the production of queens and royal jelly (the technique, in both cases, is the same).

The steps to produce queens are as follows: selection of hives, from which the larvae will emerge; preparation of real wax domes in the laboratory; preparation of the “ recreation ” hive. Where the grafted cells will be inserted; the graft operation in s.

Preparation of fertilization nuclei , where the cells will be introduced, or the use of a greenhouse where the queens will be born, in flasks with a capacity of twenty to forty cubic centimeters. If the objective is to obtain royal jelly instead of queens, the larvae are discarded after 72 hours and the jelly is collected.

Grafting in Beekeeping

The operation of removing the newly hatched larvae from the alveoli of the workers and placing them in artificial artificial domes, which must have a drop of royal jelly, is called grafting.

special needle is used to make it, which is very delicate. The larvae must be harvested carefully to avoid disruption of their delicate skin. Once removed from the alveoli , the larvae are placed in royal jelly.

This grafting operation must be carried out in a room with a temperature of not less than 20 C.
Immediately after grafting, the bar containing 15 to 25 of these artificial cells is placed in a hive, where the larvae will be fed during six days.

After the tenth day in the laboratory, these cells are removed and five millimeters from their tips are inserted into small jars containing, at the bottom, some coarse sawdust and a small ball of candy for the queen to feed as soon as possible . as born

The newborn queen will then be transferred to a cell, which will be used for artificial insemination or any other purpose.

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