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Until the late 19th century, beekeeping was almost exclusively a family affair. It was common for households to keep at least two or three hives, and bees were considered valuable members of the family.
It was a common belief that bees could understand what was said and done around them, and they were often treated as having human emotions. As a result, families were careful to inform the bees of important family events such as marriages, births and deaths. This custom became known as “telling the bees.”
“Telling the bees” was done in various ways, including tapping the hive with a key, whispering the news to the bees, and leaving an appropriate gift – a piece of wedding cake or some other refreshment – at the entrance of the hive. It was also customary to drape the hives with black crepe or wool.
It was feared that if the bees…
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