Have you heard of Beowulf?
It’s an Old English epic poem in the tradition of Germanic heroic legend.
To this day, it is one of the most important and most often translated works of Old English literature.
In the poem, it’s clear that mead (made from honey) was a beloved drink of the time. In fact, fermented alcoholic drinks were the standard way people hydrated at the time, as water could not be drunk so easily due to dysentery and diarrhoea.
And what do you need to make fermented drinks?
However, sugar plantations did not exist at the time, especially in Europe. It wasn’t until trade began with more tropical locations that sugar became a standard item in the European household.
Then in the 1600s, a book was published in England known as The Feminine Monarchie.
The book detailed the workings of a beehive, and as the name suggests, explained that hives were managed by a queen, not a king. The book also explored the different medicinal uses available for honey, such as treating sore chests and throats.
This set the stage for the emergence of modern beekeeping as we know it today.
It started in the 19th century in America, and what accelerated its spread around the world was the invention of the modern beehive.
That accolade goes to one Reverend Langstroth. In 1851, Langstroth was nothing more than a hobbyist, keeping bees the way someone might keep pigeons.
However, he discovered that if he built a wooden beehive to the exact same dimensions as a wild beehive, bees could be kept in a man-made hive that could be separated into parts and then put back together again.
Essentially, he could extract honey from a hive without needing to smash it open.
He called this particular measurement of spacing the bee space, which was around 0.95 centimetres. There are claims that bee-space was already in use in Europe, and had been discovered earlier. However, what Langstroth is definitely credited with is creating the “top-opening hive” where bee space was utilised on the top of the frame so it wouldn’t be sealed shut with propolis, and this allowed him to easily remove and replace parts of the hive at will.
The benefits of this discovery were obvious. Now Langstroth could have thousands of bees living in a hive he controlled, he could treat the hive for diseases that might be harmful to bees, could position it wherever he wanted and next to whichever flowers he wanted, and most importantly, could harvest the honey without destroying the colony.
Langstroth received a patent on his hive in 1852. Within months, he had over a hundred of these hives operating and began selling them.
Eventually, Langstroth became a full-time beekeeper, even importing and selling Italian bees (thought to be more productive than American bees) throughout America.
Today, Langstroth hives are still widely in use. It was truly the catalyst that gave us the miracle of modern beekeeping, and the reason we can easily pick fresh jars of honey off our supermarket shelves!