Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Bee Box: An 1840's Beekeeping Technique

As I was driving home from the Florida Keys, having completed an internship, I decided to stop in Nauvoo, Illinois. It is a sort of pilgrimage to those of the Latter-Day Saint faith, so I was eager to be able to go and see this wonderful place again. Little did I know that I would learn something of beekeeping in this tiny town stuck in 1840's America.

I walked into the home of a Wilford Woodruff, who would eventually become an LDS prophet in Utah, to learn about him and see how he lived. The wonderful senior missionaries pointed out this curious little device:

They called it the bee box and they explained a little bit of how it worked: on a warm spring day, a mother would send her children out with the box to observe the bees. They would pay attention to what flowers were being targeted by forager bees on that day. They would place one of those flowers in the box and wait for a bee to fly into it, whereupon they would close the box. The children would bring the box back to their mother, who would shake some flour into it, covering the bee. The children would then release the bee outside. When a bee is distressed, it will automatically want to return to its hive, and when it is covered in flour, it flies low and slow and is easy to pick out. The children would follow the bee to its hive, most often in a tree. In the 1840's, when someone found a beehive, they would generally carve their initials into the tree, signifying that they had claimed it. If no one's initials were on the tree, the children would report back to their mother the location of the hive.

It was amazing to see how, even in the 1840's, bees were an integral part of life in the Midwest. And you never know what you may learn, even on a religious pilgrimage.