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Basic Information

Beekeeping (also known as apiculture) is a form of primary industry that involves tending bees for their honey. This is normally an auxillary activity to other things (no-one is realistically going to be a "bee-farmer" full time) and many pre-modern farms and other businesses will have at least a few hives (orchards and mill-meads were common locations for them). Obviously the would-be bee-keeper needs a location where the bees will not be much disturbed (as neither they, nor the person disturbing them are prone to prosper if they are bothered) and then to either split an existing colony or catch a swarm of free flying bees and encourage them to take up residence in a hive. Ideally this will be a man-made hive, designed for ease of access to the honeycomb so that it doesn't need to be destroyed to harvest the honey, allowing the colony to survive into future years. The best bee-hives are made of wood - woven ones tend to rot and ceramic ones are prone to extremes to temperature which can kill the bees. Contrary to Biblical account, a dead lion generally makes an extremely poor hive (although this may be why that particular riddle was so hard to guess).

As an interesting piece of trivia, tradition dictates that a bee hive should be moved less than a yard or more than a mile - apparently one is less than the error in the bee's navigation systems and the other large enough to make them realise they're in a completely different place. Anywhere in between and the bees will tend to hang around where the hive used to be and in extremis may swarm back there. Obviously the hive should only be moved once the bees have turned in for the night, otherwise foraging bees are likely to be unable to find their way home, in addition to any other problems the move may cause (such as a large cloud of furious bees).

All being well, the bee-keeper can tranquilise the bees with smoke and, when there is a sufficient amount of honey in the hive, harvest it, making sure to leave enough for the bees to survive the winter. Despite the smoke-sedation, a beekeeper is usually well advised to have an all-encompassing suit of clothing to protect themselves from bees. The viguor of an attack by bees will depend on the species - all of them different criteria for starting an attack, the number of bees that will participate, how hard they will press the attack home and how far they will pursue a fleeing target. Some varieties need to be physically disturbed before they will attack, others will attack anything that comes (not particularly) close to their hive.

Due to the tempramental nature of the species, there are a variety of superstitions to do with bee farming, not least that they should be kept abrest of all important gossip in the community lest they feel unwanted and go off in a huff.

Bee-keepers need to be aware of what flowering plants grow in their region and the effects it can have on flavor and properties of the honey. If there are too many rhododendrons, for example, it can result in a toxic honey called mad honey for its dangerous hallucinogenic properties.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Bee hives are always amusing things to encounter during a cross country chase.
  • If the PCs have a rural base such as a castle or manor, they should be looking to get bee-hives and a bee-keeper.
  • Catching a swarm might well prove an interesting diversion in the otherwise routine life of a medieval manor … and likely a useful economic bonus if they can be housed at short notice (perhaps useful for anyone writing a table of random events).
    • A good beekeeper can usually spot a hive about to swarm, but a wild swarm arriving from elsewhere is another matter altogether.
  • Fantasy or alien cultures might well farm other eusocial insects (such as ants) for honey - perhaps even giant ones.
  • A bee-keeping suit might well provide useful protection from other small, swarming creatures.
  • A bee-keeper is also likely to be fairly resistant to bee venom - certainly anyone with a severe allergy to it is likely to be weeded out of the profession quite early.
  • Some of the more aggressive breeds, as noted, will attack passers by - these are generally not the domestic kind and might make an interesting encounter for people travelling in, say, a jungle - a swarm of furious bees appearing out of nowhere and attacking. Likely to be giant, repeat stinging bees as well.
  • Beekeeping superstitions can be a source of story hooks.
    • A beekeeper breaks one of the taboos, angering the hive.
    • A beekeeper who is also a priest takes a confession, and considers it "important gossip" that the hive should be told about (reasoning that the hive isn't a person, and it won't break the confessional seal). However, someone else is eavesdropping.
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