17 October 2010

Seeing is Beelieving

Back in July, it was noted in this blog that an apiary, or bee-keeping operation, had sprung up at the site of the old La Vida Mineral Springs in the Brea portion of Carbon Canyon.  Stacks of pallets and wooden boxes were noted there, although, within a couple of months, most of these disappeared.

It turns out that the apiary is located in a more remote location up on a ridge above the canyon and that, perhaps, the La Vida site was merely a staging area.  While taking a little hike in the hills this wet and cool morning, your humble blogger came upon two separate areas where the bees are being raised.  Assuming that the keepers would prefer that the location not be broadcasted, this entry will stop at this point.

Curiously, a little poking around after the last entry revealed a historical precedent for Carbon Canyon as a bee-keeping haven.  The October 1915 issue of the industry journal, The Western Honey Bee, contained an advertisement taken out by N. Matthews of Fullerton:

WANTED—Every bee-keeper in California to call at my apiary in Carbon canyon and see the New Idea brood frames in actual use; only one out of 20 have any brace comb in them; one set that has been on the hives 3 years remain clean as a whistle.

Newton Matthews was born in Indiana in January 1843, the son of North Carolina-born farmer, John Matthews and his Ohio-bred wife, Barbara.  By 1850, the family was in Bear Creek township, Hancock County, Illinois, in the western part of the state near Carthage.  Newton remained with his family there until he relocated in the 1860s to Boulder, Colorado Territory, where he and an older brother were retail grocers.  By 1880, he was married with three children and farmed at St. Vrain, northeast of Boulder within Weld County.  Matthews, probably widowed, remarried in the early 1880s, had five more children and continued to reside in Colorado.  Notably, in 1910, he was listed in that year's census as a "bee keeper with two apiaries," in Boulder. 
Shortly afterward, however, Matthews struck out for California and was living on Walnut Street adjacent to the railroad tracks (now an industrial area) west of Harbor Boulevard in Fullerton with his namesake son when, in 1913, he secured a patent for an artificial box beehive that aimed to keep the queen bee out of the inner chambers and thereby better facilitate the development of honeycombs.  Thus, when he invited readers of The Western Honey Bee in 1915 to investigate the "New Idea" brood frames, this was likely his own invention.  Four years later, he advertised in another industry journal, The Honey Producers Cooperator, that he was selling one hundred bee colonies at $10 apiece, including the hives and good equipment.  If this was indicating that he was getting out of the business, the 1920 census the following year showed that Newton Mathews, age 76, was living on Walnut Avenue in Fullerton with his namesake son and family and gave his occupation as "apiarist."  Presumably, the bee-keeper died sometime during the ensuing decade.
Incidentally, the word apiary derives from the genus name for the bee, apis.  A "brood frame" or "brood box" is the wooden enclosure in which hives are developed.  The western honey bee, apis mellifera, is one of two types (the other being the "eastern") which are domesticated in man-made hives in brood boxes.
Bee-keeping of domesticated bees apparently stems from ancient Egypt about 2400 B.C., though detailed inscriptions concerning honey extraction seem to come from about 650 B.C. there.  Mud and baked clay jar hives were used in ancient times and bees were forced out by smoke so that honeycombs could be crushed to extract the honey.  Later in Europe, baskets of tightly coiled grasses or straw (skeps) were created.  There have also been traditions of raising bees in the hollows of trees and in some cases sticks were placed to allow the bees to build their combs on them.  Later, wooden boxes without any internal structure were created.  By 1860, however, the Langstroth method of boxes with removable frames allowing for sufficient space for healthy hives was created and remains the standard for about three-quarters of all artifical hives.  This seems to be what is being used in the local apiary, as these are rectangular boxes sitting on pallets.
It would be interesting to know more about the nature of the operations of the apiary here in Carbon Canyon, but, again, the remoteness and privacy of the site is likely so keepers won't have to deal with curious interlopers (such as moi) and be able to keep their operation going unmolested.

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