Honey is a sweet syrupy substance produced by honeybees from the nectar of flowers and used by humans as a sweetener and a spread. Honey is comprised of 17-20% water, 76-80% glucose, and fructose, pollen, wax, and mineral salts. Its composition and color is dependent upon the type of flower that supplies the nectar. For example, alfalfa and clover produce a white honey, heather a reddish-brown, lavender an amber hue, and acacia and sainfoin a straw color.
Honey, golden and sweet, has always been held in high regard. The Bible refers to heaven as the "Land of Milk and Honey." In ancient times, honey was considered the food of the gods and the symbol of wealth and happiness. It was used as a form of sustenance and offered in sacrifice. In the Middle Ages, honey was the basis for the production of mead, an alcoholic beverage. Because of its antiseptic qualities, physicians found it a perfect covering for wounds before the advent of bandages. Even Napoleon was enchanted by it, choosing the honeybee for his personal crest.
Beekeeping is one of oldest forms of animal husbandry. Early beekeepers encouraged the establishment of bee colonies in cylinders of bark, reed, straw, and mud. However, when the honeycomb was removed from the cylinders, the colony was destroyed.
Honeybees were brought to North America in the mid-1600s. Although there were bees on the continent, they were not honeybees. Early settlers took note of the bees' penchant for hollow logs. They developed a "bee gum," by placing sticks crosswise over the opening of the logs to support the honeycombs. This not only allowed for the comb to be removed from one end, but also kept the comb intact so that the colony could use it again.
In Europe, beekeepers working toward a similar goal, developed a device called a skep. It was essentially a basket placed upside-down over the beehive. The full honeycombs were removed from underneath. A further innovation called for cutting a hole in the top of the hive and placing a straw or wooden box over the hole. The box would eventually fill with honey as well. It could then be removed without harming the comb.
In the mid-nineteenth century, an American named Moses Quimby improved upon the beekeeping system by layering a number of boxes over the main chamber. But it was the Reverend Langstroth who was responsible for creating the basis for the method that is currently used. Langstroth's moveable frame hive allowed for easy extraction and reinsertion of the combs. It consisted of a base, a hive body fitted with frames that contained the brood chamber, one or more removable sections (called supers) that were also fitted with frames for honey storage. The entire system is protected with waterproof covers.
Another popular type of hive is the leaf hive. This is a wooden box divided by means of a metal grid into an upper (honey) chamber and a lower (brood) chamber. Just above the floor and above the grid are racks of horizontal metal bars. Frames that hold the hanging honeycombs slide onto the racks.