For more than a million years, human beings have been interacting with honeybees. Only in the last couple of hundred years has beekeeping really taken off with the invention, by the Rev. L.L. Langstroth in 1851, of the moveable frame, and “super” – or bee box. Before that revolution in the practice of beekeeping, for centuries, the bee colony was generally destroyed in the process of separating bees from honey and harvesting the crop. While bee behaviour has changed little, thank goodness humans have learned the art of harvesting honey without harming the honey-makers, thanks to Rev. Langstroth!
John comes in to say we must take the honey from the bees, so he to the making of sulfer paper which he do put too near the fire, it flaring up did burne his fingers, therby he did drop all on clean hearth stone, and did dance about like a bee in a bottle. I did put some butter on his fingers to stop the smarting thereon, but he did make a mighty fuss. Sarah [the maid] did scrape up the stuff from the hearth stone and cleaned it, but it be stained and do smell very nasty. Later, carter’s wife did come and make a goodly pile of the papers, and so we now already to take the honey on tomorrow.
Original Oil Painting by Paul Smith
And the day after next . . .
We did have a busy time taking the honey from the bees yesternight. Me and Sarah and carter’s wife did have to do it all, John saying his fingers being very sore from the burns.
Sarah did dig a big hole in the ground for each skep, wherein we did put a sulfur paper which we did set alight, and put the skep of bees on the top, the smell of the sulfur do kill the bees, and so we do get the honey there from. It do grieve me to kill the poor things, being such a waste of good bees, to lie in a great heap at the bottom of the hole when the skep be took off it, but we do want the honey, using a great lot in the house for divers times. Carter’s wife did fall backwards and sat in a skep of bees, which did make a great buzzing and did send her youping out of the garden, at which Sarah did laff so heartily to see carter’s wife holding up her gown while jumping over the cabbidges, that she did nearly do the same thing, at which I quite helpless to reprove her, laffing myself at the carter’s wife spindly legs abobbing up and down among the vegetables. She back anon, with a mighty big nose where a bee had sat on it, and we to the out house with the honey skeps, there to leave them till sure all the bees be gone.
We shall break the honey combs up and hang it up in a clean cotton bag to run it through then we shall strain it divers times and when clear put the pots reddie to use. The wax we do boil many times till it be a nice yaller colour and no bits of black in it, when it can be stored for use for the polishing and harness cleaning.
“Extract of an English housewife’s diary, September 28, 1796 Honey”,
A Comprehensive Survey, ed. Crane, 1975