Honey bees are probably the most well known insects, second only to ants. Like the ants they are social insects, living together to form a hive. A queen directs what actions the hive to take and workers providing services to the queen are also present as well as the drones for mating purposes.
Honey bees showed up an estimated 56 million years ago and have been producing honey and pollinating flowers ever since.
Like most insects, they live in castes or classes. You have the queen, a fertile female that is capable of producing eggs; the worker, a female that can not reproduce and the drones and male bees or drones which primary purpose is for reproduction. Workers and drones do most of the foraging and taking care of the young when not in swarm season. When they do swarm, the hive splits off into distinct colonies and new queences take a portion of the workers to new colonies with the old queen taking the majority.
Unlike wasps or bumble bees, they have to work all year round in order to survive. They work hard when there is nectar and pollen and feed off this surplus in the winter when there are no flowers. This is where beekeeping comes into its own.
The earliest record of beekeeping dates back to 10,000 years ago as evidenced by a cave painting in Spain. The painting shows honey hunters gathering wild honey from hives. The earliest archaeological record for beekeeping was in Israel, near the Jordan Valley, all equipment found at the site pointed to at least 1 million domesticated bees and up to 500 kilograms of honey produced at the site.
Starting your own colony
A beehive must have a queen, workers and drones for it to start. Usually, most commercial beekeepers buy a complete package, complete with a queen, drones and up to 20,000 worker bees. It is also important that you allow the bees to make a hive for themselves so that it would be easier to extract any surplus honey that they make. Some beekeepers start a small colony of may be a few workers, a queen and some drones and let these attract other bees to the up and coming colony.
Whatever strategy you employ to start a colony, it is important that the placement of the hive is such that it is near readily available sources of food for them, as this is their source of livelihood.
All bees are vegetarians. All they live for is nectar and pollen. And this nectar is what they use to feed themselves and their brood in the form of honey. Simply put, honey is a very sweet form of sugar and packs a lot of energy, energy that is used by the bees for feeding the larvae and themselves.
Nectar and pollen is collected from flowers gathered by foraging bees. This is the reason why bees have become central to farms and industries that need flowering plants and vegetables. Without the bees, we would not have flowering plants, and vegetables that we eat. More than that, the pollination that bees do allow flowing plants and trees to survive and prosper.
Honey extracted from the hive is usually surplus honey. Remember bees need honey in order to survive winters, so any honey that the beekeeper collect must not endanger the hive itself. So there are a number of strategies in order to collect surplus honey.
Usually, a hive will produce only enough to feed themselves and the young, since it is important to manage how you take care of the colony first. Bee colony is just like take care of any pet or farm animal, ie, you "groom" it by inspecting if any disease manage to infiltrate the colony, managing colony survival in the winter by giving them sugar water when there is no nectar and water for their own use, and when the nectar does flow between spring and fall, honey production does not endanger the bees when the larvae has grown into mature bees themselves.
There are standard equipment that is used to manage honey production. You usually have hives, in fact, these look like big hollow wooden boxes wherein you put artificial honeycombs inside where the bees store honey. This is called a "honey super". There is also a box inside where the bees live and breed. This is called the hive body. It is just like a house where you live and a grain elevator where you store your excess grain.
Other important pieces of equipments are the smoker, feeders, hive tools, veil and gloves. The smoker, well, calms the bees down so you can open the hive to inspect it. Feeders are the feeding trays you provide the bees in the winter and veil and glove protect you from unnecessary stings.