Beekeeping is an ancient practice. Once they mastered fire, cavemen robbed bee trees with smoke, trading a few stings for the golden sweetness. Then some bright fellow discovered how to persuade honeybees to live in an artificial hive and man added apiary -- another word for beekeeping -- to his advancing skills.
Though we will never know their names, the ancient Egyptians were beekeepers -- honey in sealed containers found in the tomb of King Tut was reported to be unspoiled and still edible after more than 3,000 years. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote extensively on bees; some of his ideas were right, but some were way off base -- he thought a bee colony was ruled by a king bee. The mathematician Pythagoras was also a beekeeper, and Hippocrates recommended honey for numerous ailments. The Romans even considered bees important enough to have their own goddess in the pantheon, called Mellona.
The Founding Fathers
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both kept bees on their estates, as did any sensible farmer of their time. Not only did they get honey from them, the bees pollinated their crops. The Native Americans of the time referred to bees as "white man's flies" because they habitually appeared just ahead of the European settlers, as hives of tame bees spun off queens and swarmed into the wild. Though Napoleon Bonaparte was not known to keep bees, he admired them enough to have 3,000 of them embroidered on the robe he wore when he was crowned Emperor of France.
The Russian writer Leo Tolstoy made profound observations about bees in his novel, "War and Peace," and also shared beekeeping as a hobby with his wife. When the famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes retired from crime-solving, he became a beekeeper on the Sussex Downs in England and is said by his creator to have written a book on the subject: "A Practical Handbook of Bee Culture, with Some Observations upon the Segregation of the Queen."
The first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, was also a beekeeper of note -- he and his brother ran a large bee farm in Auckland, New Zealand. Better known as actors, Henry Fonda learned beekeeping as an Eagle Scout and his son Peter was named Beekeeper of the Year by the Florida State Beekeeping Association after he made the movie "Ulee's Gold." Martha Stewart has kept bees for 25 years. Corporations like the Fairmont Hotels are getting into the act, many of their locations adding rooftop gardens complete with apiaries. Even the White House has beehives in its new organic garden.
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