Movable-comb hive beekeeping was a crucial intermediate step between fixed-comb beekeeping, which had been done in many parts of the Old World, and the movable-frame beekeeping used today.
In a book published in 1682 in England, Sir George Wheler recounted his journeys in Greece and provided details of the hives he saw there (Fig. 3). He described the wooden bars shown lying across the top of the hive as "broad, flat sticks" and said that the bees built a comb down from each top-bar, which "may be taken out whole, without the least bruising, and with the greatest ease imaginable." So it was a movable-comb hive. The Greek beekeepers must have placed the bars at the bees' natural spacing of their combs. They made a new colony by putting half the bars and combs from a hive into an empty one; the queen would be in one of the hives, and the bees in the other would rear a new queen.
In the mountain range that separates Vietnam from China, some of the native peoples use a movable-comb hive for A. cerana; it is not known how old this method of beekeeping is. The bars are fitted across the top of a log hive at the correct spacing for A. cerana. This bee builds small combs without attaching them to the hive sides, and the combs can be lifted out by their bars. There seems to have been no development of a movable-frame hive from this movable-comb hive for A. cerana.
In tropical Asia, a nest of the giant honey bee, A. dorsata, which is migratory, can yield much more honey than a hive of A. cerana. In a form of beekeeping with A. dorsata practiced in a few areas, people use horizontal supports called "rafters" instead of hives. (A "rafter" is a strong pole, secured at a height convenient for the beekeeper by a wooden support, or part of a tree, at each end.) At the appropriate season, beekeepers erect rafters in a known nesting area for migratory swarms of the bees. Sheltered sites with an open space round one end are chosen, which the bees are likely to accept for nesting. After swarms have arrived and built combs from the rafters, the beekeeper harvests honey every few weeks by cutting away part of the comb containing honey but leaving the brood comb intact. When plants in the area no longer produce nectar, brood rearing ceases and the bees migrate to another site.
The small honey bee, A. florea, builds a single brood comb perhaps 20 cm high, supported from the thin branch of a tree or bush. It constructs deeper cells round the supporting branch and stores honey in them. The whole comb can easily be removed by cutting through the branch at each side, and in some regions combs are then taken to an apiary where the two ends of each branch are supported on a pile of stones or some other structure. This is done, for instance, in the Indus basin near Peshawar in Pakistan, and on the north coast of Oman.
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