Development of beekeeping in the United States
John Harbison, originally from Pennsylvania, successfully brought bee keeping to the US west coast in the 1860s, in an area now known as Harbison Canyon, California, and greatly expanded the market for honey throughout the country.
Beekeeping was traditionally practiced 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 beeswax, which is used in candle making, cosmetics, wood polish, and for modelling. The modern use of hive products has changed little since ancient times.
Western honey bees are not native to the Americas. American colonists imported honey bees 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 honey bees and Caucasian bees were added.
Western honey bees 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 U.S. in 1990. The Russian honey bee has shown to be more resistant to the bee parasites Varroa destructor and Acarapis woodi, although their commercial use and availability are extremely limited in scope because other, better strains are available (e.g., VSH lines).
Before the 1980s, most U.S. 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 has made the practice more challenging for the hobbyist.
Types of beekeepers
Beekeepers generally categorize themselves as:
- Commercial beekeeper — Beekeeping is the primary source of income.
- Sideliner — Beekeeping is a secondary source of income.
- Hobbyist — Beekeeping is not a significant source of income.
Some southern U.S. beekeepers keep bees primarily to raise queens and package bees for sale. 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, although this is becoming less practical due to the spread of the Africanized bee.
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. 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 in California. As spring moves northward so do the beekeepers, to supply bees for tree fruits, blueberries, strawberries, cranberries and later vegetables. Some commercial beekeepers alternate between pollination service and honey production but usually cannot do both at the same time.
Beekeepers may harvest honey from July until October, according to the honey flows in their area. Good management requires keeping the hive free of pests and disease, and ensuring that the bee colony has room in the hive to expand. Chemical treatments, if used for parasite control, must be done in the off-season to avoid any honey contamination. Success for the hobbyist also depends on locating the apiary so bees have a good nectar source and pollen source throughout the year.
Bee rentals and migratory beekeeping
After the winter of 1907, U.S. beekeeper Nephi Miller decided to try moving his hives to different areas of the country to increase their productivity during winter. Since then, "migratory beekeeping" has become widespread in the U.S. It is a crucial element of U.S. agriculture, which could not produce anywhere near its current levels with native pollinators alone. Beekeepers earn much more from renting their bees out for pollination than they do from honey production.
One major U.S. beekeeper reports moving his hives from Idaho to California in January to prepare for almond pollination in February, then to apple orchards in Washington in March, to North Dakota two months later for honey production, and then back to Idaho by November — a journey of several thousands of miles. Others move from Florida to New Hampshire or to Texas. About two thirds of US domestic bees visit California for the almond bloom in February.
California currently leads production of almonds worldwide, with 80% of global production. Each spring, migratory beekeepers rent hives to almond farmers in the Central Valley for pollination. Honeybees increase almond yields from an expected 40 lbs/acre to an average of 2,400 lbs/acre.
The wider spread and intermingling in the US has resulted in far greater losses from Varroa mite infections in recent years, than in countries where beekeepers move bees around less.
- American Beekeeping Federation
- Pollen Nation, a documentary about commercial, itinerant beekeepers in the US
- Dyce Laboratory for Honey Bee Studies Cornell University
- A Buzz About Bees: 400 Years of Bees and Beekeeping E. F. Phillips Beekeeping Collection at Cornell University; Mann Library online virtual exhibit
- Sister Bee Laura Tyler portrays beekeeping in this documentary about six women beekeepers from Boulder County, Colorado. The 30-minute film considers the women's various perspectives on what, for some, is just a hobby, for others is a career in beekeeping