The Winter Solstice

the winter solstice.jpg

The Winter Solstice has been observed as an important date in beekeeping for over 2000 years.
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Read more to find out what the ancients have to say about winter and bees.

Aristotle says in Historia Animālium (History of Animals) Book IX
circa. 4 B.C.

"In healthy swarms the progeny of the bees only cease from reproduction for about forty days after the winter solstice."


Pliny the Elder says in Naturalis Historia (Natural History)
circa. 77 - 79 AD

"From the winter solstice to the rising of Arcturus the bees are buried in sleep for sixty days, and live without any nourishment. Between the rising of Arcturus and the vernal equinox, they awake in the warmer climates, but even then they still keep within the hives, and have recourse to the provisions kept in reserve for this period."


Virgil says in Georgics, Book IV
circa. 29 B.C.E

"Contracto frigore pigrae."
"With cold benumbed, inactive they remain."


In the book 'The Universal Magazine of
Knowledge and Pleasure' circa. 1755

"The ancients mention a very extraordinary method of preserving the bees in their hives, which was by filling up a considerable part of the vacancy of every hive with the bodies of small birds, which had been killed, gutted, and dried for that purpose. This was certainly a way of keeping out some of the cold air, but it is so odd an one, that, probably, no-body since that time has tried it."

Original source unknown: perhaps Columella, Palladius or Pinly (the elder)


Image: Stonehenge - Winter Solstice 2014

How The Bees Saved America

Happy Independence Day!
Historical Honeybee Articles - Beekeeping History
Here’s a Delightful Story for Independence Day!
How The Bees Saved America. Circa. 1917

Image: Charity throws a stick full force at her pursuers.

How The Bees Saved America

The brave patriots of the American Revolution were having a particularly hard time of it in the summer of 1780. General Washington and his ragged, half-starved soldiers were in camp just outside of Philadelphia, where it was certain that the enemy was getting ready to make an important move. Man after man had risked his life trying to get their secret, but so far no one had been able to give Washington the important news without which he dared not risk his small force in battle.

But the great Washington, himself, scarcely took the independence of the colonists more seriously to heart than did little Mistress Charity Crabtree. Despite her prim Quaker ways, no eyes could spark with greater fire at the mention of freedom than those that smiled so demurely above her white neckerchief and plain gray dress. Charity was a soldier daughter, and though his patriotism made her and her brother John orphans, when the boy also left to fight for his flag, Charity did not shed a tear, but handed him his sword and waved him Godspeed. Though she was all alone now and only twelve years old, the little maid kept a stout heart. "If I hold myself ready to serve my country, I know the time will come," she said, as she walked back from the gate through the fragrant lane, Honeycombed with beehives. "Meanwhile, I must keep my bees in good order."

Charity's father had been a bee farmer, and he kept all these hives at the entrance of his lane, so the bees could search the highway for wild flower sweets. One of his last acts was to send a beautiful comb of their honey to General Washington, whereupon the General had smacked his lips and said: "Those bees must be real patriots. They give the best that is in them to their country."

Charity stopped now to notice how well the bees were swarming. They seemed particularly active this morning, but she was not afraid of these little creatures who do not sting unless they are frightened or attacked. "I shall have a great many pots of honey to sell this fall," she thought. "It is good Providence who inspires the bees to help me keep our little white house all by myself, until brother John returns." Then suddenly the little Quaker maid turned pale. She stopped for a second with her hand to her ear, and then she ran quickly to the highway. These were terrible times, when, at any moment, bullets might whizz about like hailstones, and every good colonist lived tensely, in fear the little American army would be captured and their brave fight for independence lost forever.

It was a man in citizen's dress who galloped down the road. His hat was blown off and he pressed his left hand to his side. When he saw Charity he just was able to rein in his horse and, falling from his saddle, draw her close so she might catch the feeble words he muttered between groans. "You are Patriot Crabtree's daughter?" he murmured, and the girl nodded, as she raised his head on her arm. "I am shot, I am wounded," he gasped. "Leave me here, but fly on my horse yonder to General Washington's camp. Give him this message: 'Durwent says Cornwallis will attack Monday with large army.' Do not fail him!" cried the man. "Be off at once! The enemy is pursuing close."

Poor Charity had just time to repeat the message and assist the fainting man to a grassy place under the elm tree's shade, when the air thundered with a thudding of hoof beats, and before the terrified girl could gain her horse, a dozen soldiers leaped over the garden wall at the back of the house. "For my country!" the plucky maid cried, and leaped to the saddle. But even then she realized that if once the British saw her they could easily remount their own horses, evidently left on the other side of the wall, and so capture her and prevent her from reaching Washington. As it was they discovered the unconscious soldier, whom they quickly surrounded by a guard, then spied the fleeing girl and immediately gave chase. "Ho, there!" they cried. "Stop, girl, or by heaven well make you!" They crowded after her into the mouth of the lane, while Charity cast about hopelessly for some way of escape. Suddenly, with the entrance of the soldiers, the bees began to buzz with a cannon's roar, as if to say, "Here we are, Charity! Didn't Washington say we were patriots, too? Just give us a chance to defend our country!"

Like lightning, now, Charity bent from her saddle, and seizing a stout stick, she wheeled around to the outer side of the hedge that protected the hives like a low wall. Then, with a smart blow, she beat each hive until the bees clouded the air. Realizing from experience that bees always follow the thing that hits them rather than the person who directs it, she threw the stick full force at her pursuers.

As Charity galloped off at high speed she heard the shouts of fury from the soldiers, who fought madly against the bees. And, of course, the harder they fought, the harder they were stung. If they had been armed with swords the brave bees could not have kept the enemy more magnificently at bay.

While Charity was riding furiously miles away, down the pike, past the bridge, over the hill, right into Washington's camp, her would-be pursuers lay limply in the dust—their noses swollen like powder horns. When the little maid finally gained admission to Washington's tent, for to none other would she trust her secret, the great general stared at her gray dress torn to ribbons, her kerchief draggled with mud and her gold hair loosened by the wind. But Charity had no time for ceremony. "I have a message for thee, sir," she said, standing erect as a soldier beside the general's table. "I have ridden these many miles while a dozen of the enemy have been kept at bay so I might bear it." When she gave Washington the message he sprang from his seat and laid his fatherly hand upon her shoulder. "The little Quaker maid has saved us," he said, and his voice rang while he looked deep into her gray eyes, lighted with honest loyalty. "I brought the message only as I was directed, sir," she said. "It was my bees that saved their country."

You can imagine Washington's surprise and that of his officers who crowded in with warm praise for the girl, when Charity told them of the story of the patriotic bees.

Washington laughed. "It is well done, Little Miss Crabtree," he cried, warmly. "Neither you nor your bees shall be forgotten when our country is at peace again. It was the cackling geese that saved Rome, but the bees have saved America."

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American Bee Journal, September 1917 Page 307…

Charity and her bees image::

"Tammy Horn, senior researcher apiculturist at Eastern Kentucky University and the author of Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation, originally unearthed the story from a 1917 issue of American Bee Journal, but scholars haven't yet been able to verify whether or not the event actually took place. Even if it is just a tall tale, it's certainly a remarkable one."
(Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Hardest-Working ...By Susan Brackney-2009)

What Does Honey Have to do With Horse Racing?

Historical Honeybee Articles - Beekeeping History

The 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby was this weekend. In the olden days of horse racing, jockeys rode bareback, and used honey to glue themselves to the horse.

Image: Horse Racing Salvator and Tenny (lithograph circa. 1890) Currier & Ives, 1890.

Alden Times, December 7, 1883, Alden, Iowa

Old Time Racing

How the Jockeys Were Glued On Their Horses Instead of Using Saddles -The Great Grey Eagle - Wagner Race. in 1838

"I guess I am about the oldest turfman in America," said Henry Farris. The speaker was an old man of 74 years with a frank, open face, and pleasant address.

"I attended the first race that was ran on a regular course in Kentucky. It took place in the fall of the year 1817, on a track near Grab Orchard, Ky., which afterward became famous as the Spring Hill course.

"I remember how the jockeys used to ride in the olden days. They had no saddles, and each man who mounted a horse was required to wear home-made linen pants. A vial of honey was poured on the back of the horse, and the honey coming in contact with the raw linen, formed an adhesion sufficiently strong to keep the rider in his position and enable him to ride with safety."

"I trained the horse which won the stakes in the first exciting race in Kentucky. I speak of the famous horse Josh Bell, who ran three heats in 1:50 over the course in Lexington. This was in 1837. …"


Historical Honeybee Articles - Beekeeping History

Happy New Year! Celebrate a Little Too Much This New Years Eve?

Happy New Year!
Celebrate a bit too much this New Years Eve?
Here Are 11 Amazing Honey Hangover Remedies ~ For Your New Years Day Hangover. Via: Historical Honeybee Articles - Beekeeping History

Image: Daniel W. Pflueger and his traveling Watkins Remedies Store.

"Sick-Headache No.2.-Take of honey two are three tablespoonfuls on an empty stomach, and then lie down and keep quiet until the honey has moved out of the stomach." -Source: The Doctor at home: Illustrated. Treating the Diseases of Man and the Horse,1882, page 40 by B J Kendall, Kendall, Dr. B.J., & Co

"Earthworms rolled in honey and swallowed alive are said to cure sick stomach." This prescription given by a Pharmacy in Canton, China. -Source: American Journal of Pharmacy, Page 457, 1909.

"The use of fructose, 30 gm, taken in the form of honey, can speed alcohol metabolism and thus reduce the frequency and intensity of hangover headache." -Source: The Practicing Physician's Approach to Headache - 1978, page 76. by Seymour Diamond, Donald J. Dalessio

"Administer large amounts of honey -6 teaspoonfuls every 20 minutes until a total of 2 pounds is given -to cure drunkenness. This treatment will also abolish the desire to drink liquor." -Source: Hoosier Home Remedies, 1985, page 72, By Varro E. Tyler

"The best hangover cure of all may be a cup or two strong tea with honey. According to the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke, honey speeds up alcohol metabolism, which means that it will help your body break down the alcohol more quickly." -Source: What Women Need to Know - 2005, page 14. By Marianne Legato, Carol Colman

“Eating toast and honey after a long evening's drinking will help prevent the morning-after hangover headache" -Source: Better Homes and Gardens - 1977, page 61

"One old-time remedy among bartenders is simply honey in hot water" -Source: The Green Pharmacy - 1997, page 232. By James A. Duke

"Try mixing together some bananas, some milk and a little honey to form a smoothie and drink it. Don't be tempted to apply the mixture to your sore head." -Source: Household Management for Men. by Nigel Browning, Jane Moseley - 2003, page 138

"Honey Cures Sick-headache. have been Informed by Captain Geo. H. Whiteside, a very prominent citizen of Appalachicola, also manufacturer of ice there, that he has been cured of sick-headache by eating honey twice a day. His headache was so severe that he had to go to bed, sometimes for several days. You may rest assured that this comes from a man who stands high among the people of this State, and from one who is a Christian gentleman. Sumatra, Fla. -A. B. Marchant." Gleanings in Bee Culture, 1912, Volume 40 - Page 146

"To relieve the pain of a headache, drink a half cup of tea with a shot of whiskey and honey in it." -Source: Medically Speaking: A Dictionary of Quotations on Dentistry, Medicine, and… 1999, page 304, by Carl C. Gaither, Andrew Slocombe

"Now it has been discovered that beestings are as effective a cure for inebriety as for rheumatism. This important discovery was made quite by accident in a London hospital. Five men were being treated for chronic rheumatism. Four of them had been hard drinkers for years, and one of them was a confirmed drunkard. Bee-stings were applied to them, and the rheumatic condition promptly subsided. When they were finally discharged they found that the treatment had done more than cure rheumatism -it had destroyed their taste for alcohol. Even the sight of a drink nauseated them, and since leaving the hospital several months ago, not one has touched liquor. The hospital physicians, who were as greatly astonished at this unexpected result as their patients, have set on foot a widespread investigation into the effects of bee-stings on drunkards, to see whether they are an infallible cure for inebriety. Facts already brought to light show that an intoxicated person is quickly sobered by a bee's sting, and that drinking men who take up work among bees, where they are frequently stung, soon lose their old craving for alcohol". - Freeman's Journal. Australasian Beekeeper. -Source: American Bee Journal, February 1916 Page 62

The Fathers of the Bee People

Historical Honey Bee Articles - Beekeeping History 

Happy Fathers Day!
The Fathers of the Bee People
Edward Bevan 1827

The drones or males are at once her majesty's nobles and husbands, dividing with her the administrative care of the State, the official trusts, and the parental functions. They are the office-holders and politicians; having, in general, little to do but to buz about royalty, pay their court, eat the fat and the sweat of the land, and talk politics. Their number varies with the strength of the hive, from fifteen hundred to two thousand. They seem to be, for nobles and husbands, rather unwarlike; for they possess no stings. On the whole, as they neither fight nor work, but only make love, they must have rather an easy time of it. Still, as we do not choose to injure any body's character, we feel bound to say that, if they mix not in the ordinary tasks of the operative Bees, it is the fault of nature, and not theirs: for she has furnished them with neither the sort of trowel to the jaws, with which the workers manage the wax, nor the baskets to the legs, in which they collect their fragrant spoil from the flowers. They labor not, then, because they have higher functions to perform, of a far loftier consequence to the public weal. And their wise and just fellow-citizens, content that each order in the State should discharge its appropriate duty, murmur not, nor stigmatize them as non-producers, nor rail nor roar at them as aristocrats; but recognize their utility in the peculiar part which has been assigned them of the public business, and submit with cheerfulness to their exemption from inferior tasks, inappropriate as well as impossible to these general fathers of the Bee people.

Edward Bevan, author of `The Honey-bee: Its Natural History, Physiology, and Management of Honeybees' 1827, is considered by many as the first work of bee literature possessing any claim to the character of scientific.

More on Edward Bevan coming soon on Historical Honeybee Articles.

Article source:
Edward Bevan, ‘Bevan on the Bee‘, Second Notice, 1843