Cambrian: Opinion

John Brannon: ‘What are those white boxes for, Mommy?’

A bee gathers raw material for making honey, right. Many bees in hives that appear seasonally south of Cambria end up pollinating almond trees in the Central Valley.
A bee gathers raw material for making honey, right. Many bees in hives that appear seasonally south of Cambria end up pollinating almond trees in the Central Valley. PHOTO BY MERLE BASSETT

In putting today’s column together, two idioms come to mind: “A day late and a dollar short.” And, “The best laid plans of mice and columnists …” But we venture on, regardless.

I can’t imagine getting bored while driving into San Luis Obispo on Highway 1, but if you want something to think about and marvel at as you drive past the lovely green hills, bountiful oxalis and California poppies, look for the stacks of white boxes on both sides of the highway just before you drive over the Villa Creek bridge, a few miles south of Main Street in Cambria.

Beekeeping is the maintenance of honey bee colonies, commonly called hives, by humans. A beekeeper (or apiarist) keeps bees in order to collect honey and beeswax, to pollinate crops, or to produce bees for sale to other beekeepers.

I contacted Cambria rancher Jack Gibson to see if he had any information about the hundreds of hives; did he know who owned them and what were they were going to be used for? “The owner’s name is usually on the hives, and I imagine they will wind up over in the (San Joaquin) Valley for the upcoming almond season,” Jack suggested.

After checking to see if my Toyota’s gas pedal was in proper working order, I headed down Highway 1 to count the myriad hives and seek the owner’s name. As luck would have it, all the boxes were gone — to the Central Valley, I presume.

So I offer the material I had written previously. I’m sure you will find it interesting, and I’ll cover the subject again next year when the little buggers return.

Collecting honey from wild bee colonies is one of the most ancient human activities and is still practiced by aboriginal societies in parts of Africa, Asia, Australia and South America. Some of the earliest evidence of gathering honey from wild colonies is from rock paintings, dating to around 13,000 BC. There are more than 20,000 species of wild bees.

If you have children in the car, remind them that what they are looking at (the white boxes) is an activity that has been going on for more than 13,000 years.

At some point humans began to domesticate wild bees in artificial hives made from hollow logs, wooden boxes, pottery vessels and woven straw baskets. On the walls of a temple in Egypt, workers are depicted blowing smoke into hives as they are removing honeycombs; this dates back to 2422 BC. Sealed honey pots were found in the graves of Pharaohs, such as Tutankhamen.

The oldest known archaeological finds to date relating to bee keeping have been discovered at Rehov, a Bronze-and Ironage site in the Jordan Valley, Israel. Thirty intact hives, made of straw, unbaked clay and dating from about 900 BC, were discovered by an archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In ancient Greece, aspects of the lives of bees and beekeeping were discussed by Aristotle.

For several thousand years, human understanding of the biology and ecology of bees was very limited and riddled with superstition and folklore. It was not until the 18th century that scientific study delved into the hidden world of bee biology. Scientists had observed queen bees laying eggs, but nobody had ever witnessed the mating of a queen and a drone.

It was a mystery how a queen was fertilized. Eventually, researchers discovered that queens are inseminated by drones outside the confines of hives, usually a great distance away and high in the air.

“How did things go at work today, dear?”

“Man, all I did all day was chase after queens and drones, queens and drones, queens and drones. I’m pooped.”

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