BEEKEEPING has been an important part of agriculture in the Midwest since about 1840. Early settlers and farmers kept bees in primitive hives or cut down bee trees to get honey for home use and for sale. In fact a dispute over bees once triggered the brief "Honey War" involving troops from Missouri and Iowa. A Missouri farmer set off the dispute when he cut three bee trees in the border area claimed by Iowa.
Honey bees have been selected and managed by man for many centuries. Nevertheless, they are still wild insects capable of living on their own without any assistance or special equipment. Probably because of this "resistance" to becoming domesticated, honey bees respond to beekeeping management practices in much the same way wherever they are kept. For this reason, the techniques discussed in this book are of use whether you live in the Midwest, in another section of the United States, or even in another country. Management must always be adapted to fit local conditions and to take into account the somewhat variable behavior of different geographical strains, or races, of honey bees. Differences in climate and sources of nectar and pollen, even over short distances, will force you to adjust your beekeeping methods, especially their timing, to the area in which you live. Wherever possible, the timing recommended in this manual relates to natural events such as plant bloom and seasonal temperature changes, which can be used as guidelines in temperate areas. They are not useful, however, in tropical or semitropical climates. Beekeepers beekeeping organizations, and departments of agriculture are good sources of information about local conditions affecting honey bee management.
Beekeeping is continually changing, reflecting changes in cropping practices and agricultural land use. Commercial honey production now requires more extensive operations than in earlier days because nectar sources are more widely scattered. Fruit and vegetable growers, pressed by increasing production costs, are becoming more aware that the quality and quantity of insect-pollinated crops can be improved by renting bees for pollination. Providing bees for pollination is hard work, but it reduces the commercial beekeeper's dependence upon honey as the main source of income. After a period of decline, interest in keeping bees in urban areas has been renewed. Bees kept in cities improve yields in home gardens and orchards. Such colonies are often good honey producers because of the diversity of flowering plants available to them.
Learning to handle and manage bees is fun. It can also be confusing because advice given by any two authorities on bees is rarely the same. Fortunately, bees will usually prosper if you make sure they always have enough hive space and enough food. By joining state and local beekeeping organizations, you can share your experiences with others and increase your pleasure from keeping bees. For young people who are interested in starting to keep bees, there are beekeeping projects in 4-H and Future Farmers of America clubs.