Ogden House Beekeeping
Along with horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs, English and European colonists also introduced honey bees to America. While the colonists knew that they wanted to enjoy honey and beeswax candles, they didn’t fully understand that they also needed honey bees to pollinate the new crops they were introducing. We now know that plants and pollinators evolve together within an ecosystem. Without the introduction of honey bees, European species such as clover or apples would have struggled.
Everyone knows honey is a natural sweetener. But since ancient times, honey has also been valued for its healing properties. Well before we understood why honey was effective in treating wounds, people were able to observe that it was highly beneficial. When applied to a wound, honey forms a viscous barrier that keeps the area moist. More importantly, honey also forms an antibacterial seal, as microbes cannot grow in it. Beeswax was valuable to the colonists as well. Unlike tallow candles made from animal fat, beeswax candles don’t drip. They are also longer burning and have a more pleasing scent.
The earliest beekeepers used hollow logs to establish colonies, mimicking the hollow trees honey bees favor in the wild. The straw bee skeps that you see in the garden were typical of early English and European beekeeping practices. Straw bee skeps are essentially open baskets with a small entrance to allow bees to move in and out of the hive. By the 1700s, however, bee boxes had largely supplanted skep forms. Bee boxes feature a sequence of either vertical or horizontal frames, allowing for easier tending of the bees and easier access to the products of the hive. The active hives maintained in the arboretum adjacent to the Ogden property are modern versions of the bee boxes in use in mid-eighteenth century New England.
Content provided by: Gabrielle Guise, PhD Candidate in American Studies, Yale University