Beekeeping (or apiculture) is the maintenance of one or more hives of honeybees. A beekeeper is a someone who keeps bees in order to collect honey or for the purpose of pollinating crops. A location where bees are kept is called an apiary.
Traditionally beekeeping was done for the bees' honey harvest, although nowadays crop pollination service can often often provide a greater part of a commercial beekeeper's income. Honeybees were imported by American colonists from the Europe, partly for honey and partly because of their usefulness as pollinators. Other hive products are pollen and propolis, which are used for nutritional and medicinal purposes, and wax which is used in candlemaking, cosmetics, furniture polish etc..
There are several types of beekeepers:
- Hobbyists - have a different day job, but find beekeeping fun as just a "hobby".
- Sideliners - have other income, but moonlight as "beekeepers" for extra money.
- Commercial - beekeeping is their only source of income.
Most commercial beekeepers 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. As spring moves northward, so do the beekeepers, to supply bees for tree fruits, blueberries, strawberries, and later vegetables. Some commercial beekeepers alternate between pollination service and honey production, but usually cannot do both at the same time.
When interacting with the bees, novice beekeepers usually wear protective clothing (including gloves and a hooded suit, or hat and veil). Experienced beekeepers do not use gloves, because they make one clumsy and can transmit disease from one hive to another. Bees are calmed with a puff of smoke before opening a hive. This interferes with their ability to signal an alarm by releasing an odor.
Fifty years ago, most US 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 in the 1990s removed most of these beekeepers because they did not know how to deal with the new parasites and their bees died. The modern hobby beekeeper is more likely to be a suburbanite: he or she tends to be a member of an active bee club, and is well versed on modern techniques.
The bees are usually kept in Langstroth hives, that is, wooden boxes filled with frames that each hold a sheet of wax: the bees produce wax and build honeycomb using the wax sheets as a starting point, after which they may raise brood or deposit honey and pollen in the cells of the comb.
In the Northern Hemisphere, beekeepers usually harvest honey from July until September, though in warmer climates the season can be longer. The rest of the year is spent keeping the hive free of pests and disease, and ensuring that the bee colony has room in the hive to expand.