History of Beekeeping in Los Angeles County

The following is quoted from John Albert Wilson's, 'History of Los Angeles County, California', pp. 59-60. Thompson and West, Oakland, 1880

"It would seem that bees were wholly unknown in California until 1853, when a Mr. (Christopher A.) Shelton imported two hives by way of the Isthmus, these being the only living survivors of a large number with which he left the east. He settled in Santa Clara County, and from these two colonies, all the bees now in California are supposed to have sprung. According to John . Gordon (Hawley's Pamphlet, page 101): 

September 4, 1854, the first hive of bees was introduced into Los Angeles. The party importing the same paid one hundred fifty dollars for it in San Francisco, on the wharf, when it was landed with a number of hives shipped from New York, via the Isthmus. In April 1855, this hive cast out two swarms, which were sold for one hundred dollars each as they were clustered on the bush, without hiving. The honey sold from this early source of supply commanded one dollar and a half per pound.

In the "Historical Sketch" (page 41), this first introduction of bees into the county is placed by Hon. Benjamin Hays to the credit of O.W. Childs, Esq. In `856. Under date of March 30, 1872, the Express notices the introduction of the first Italian queen into the county by Mr. Childs, at an outlay of sixty-five dollars, which certainly seems like an extravagant price for so small a "fowl". However, there may be a mistake here, for Mr. Gordon (in the pamphlet before quoted) continues:

In January 1855, I introduced fifteen hives of Italian Bees into this county, and their marked superiority over the black or German bee is attracting deserved attention. From this stock, the Italian colonies in this county have increased to five hundred stands.

In 1860 we find that one party in the county has twenty-five colonies and several others are in the same business, all doing well. In 1868 wild honey was gathered in considerable quantities throughout the foothills, and shipped to San Francisco. The following account of a famous deposit of wild honey is extracted from W. McPherson's pamphlet, "Homes in Los Angeles County":

In Los Angeles County, on the eastern slope of San Fernando range of mountains, and in the immediate vicinity of the Learning Petroleum Company's oil region, there is the most wonderful collection of wild honey in existence. The hive is located in a rift which penetrates the rock to a depth of probably one hundred and sixty feet. The orifice is thirty feet long and seventeen feet wide with four passages. This rift was discovered to be the abiding place of a swarm of bees that is seen to come out in a nearly solid column, one foot in diameter. Certain parties have endeavored to descend to the immense store of honey collected by the bees, but were invariably driven back, and one man lost his life in the effort. Others, at the expense of much labor and money, built a scaffold one hundred and twenty-five feet high, in hope of reaching a place where they could run a drift into the rock and extract its well-hoarded sweets, but finally ceased their work. Within four years the bees have added not less than fifteen feet of depth to their treasure, as ascertained by actual measurement, and it is thought that at the present time there cannot be less than eight or ten tons of honey in the rock. A gentleman by the name of B. Brophy lives in a cabin not far from the spot, and obtained from the melting of the honey by the sun's heat more than enough for his family requirements. All through that region stores of wild honey are found in trees, in the rocks, in nearly every lace where its industrious manufacturers think (for they seem to think) that it will be secure. They consume a very small portion, as the climate enables them to keep up operations nearly every day in the year, and flowers of some sort are always in bloom. It must be a very severe season indeed when the little fellows are not seen abroad in vast numbers, busily engaged in their mellifluous work.

The bees have four natural enemies, which we may quote in an ascending scale: moths, lizards, bee-birds, and bears. The first enters the hive, and soon destroys the occupants. The second and third pounce upon the bee outside, whenever they have the chance, and swallow him without remorse or vigor. The fourth does not want the bees especially (though he is said o devour them when laden with honey), but he covets their stock with an insatiate greed. Not even the fear of the riffle balls will deter him when he discovers a bee ranch. Swooping down from his mountain fastness at night, he overturns the hives, and fairly wallows in sweets until he is either satisfied, or killed by the infuriated bee-men, who, however, not infrequently come off second best in the encounter, for bruin is a good fighter, and when he is after honey goes in to win. 

Formerly the honey was strained by exposure to the sun, but of late years it is generally extracted. The modus operandi of extracting is very interesting to a novice. Long knives, crooked at the handle, are kept constantly heated in boiling water. With these the comb, which is made in frames, is uncapped on each side. The frames are now placed in the circular extractor, which revolves rapidly by means of a crank, when the centrifugal force thus obtained expels the honey, and leaves the empty comb in god shape to be refilledby the bees when placed back in the hive. By this means their time and labor are saved, as they can much more speedily repair any little damage this comb has sutaind, in the extracting process, then they can form a new one. With the same view many bee-man now furnish their hives with artificial combs of bees-wax, partially formed. These the bees go to work and complete, and all timethus saved is spent in gathering honey. But little honey is now shipped from Los Angeles County in comb, as bee-keepers think the time of their bees too valuable as honey gathers, to keep them constantly making wax. The extracted honey isusually shipped in tins, and in all the best apiaries it is handled with remarkable care and leanliness.

It is claimed that in a good season each swarmwill produce three hundred and fifty pounds of honey, double the number of workers, and provide feed for all in addition. The Italian queens in this climate are said to average three thousand eggs per day. The feed is principally derived from the flowers of the white sage, which grows in great abundance on the foothills; but failing to produce that, the insects will feed upon and extract honey from any and all plants and flowers they may be able to find. (In 1880) Fruit-men maintain that they destroy large quantities of fruit yearly, and demand rotection fromtheir ravages. The assertion is denied but the bee-keepers, and a worldly contest of doubtful issue is the result. Pro a bly some disinterested savan will, one of these days, decide the matter finally, and save further effusion of ink. After careful inquiry, the writer is of the opinion that there are fully one hundred thousand colonies in Los Angeles County today (1880), and thus notwithstanding the heavy losses of a few years ago, when bees starved to death by millions."