Honeybees have had a place on the landscape at Harriton since the 18th century, and we maintain hives of bees in the park today. You are welcome to attend one of our beekeeping programs free of charge at Harriton to learn about the importance of this little creature.
Honeybees are not domesticated in the strictest sense of the word. No one really "raises" or "keeps" bees in the same way that we "raise cattle" or "keep a few chickens". The honeybee will go about its flights pollinating flowers and collecting nectar despite our interference called "beekeeping". All we really do is provide a home for a colony of winged insects in an arrangement of wooden ware called a hive. The hive is designed on the natural social structure of the bee family but is constructed for our convenience to steal some of the honey and wax produced by the bees. If the bees decide to go elsewhere - or abscond - they will go, and we cannot keep, chain, or cage them for our purposes.
Our relationship with the honeybee is an important one. The honeybee will pollinate flowers, trees, fruits, berry bushes, and vegetables. The honeybee is an indicator of landscape health. Do you like almonds? Do you relish a fresh apple, or an orange, or a strawberry? Thank the little honeybee. Much of the food you eat is pollinated by bees, and they make possible the quantity and quality of American agriculture produce.
The story of the honeybee on the American landscape is part of the story of growth of American agriculture. Charles Thomson retired from Congress to his farm called Harriton, in 1789, to be a progressive or "scientific" farmer. Agriculture was America's principal industry after the American Revolution, and Thomson, promoted new agricultural techniques. He may not have actually understood as much biology as a 21st-century college freshman, but he did experience the reality of his improved orchards and fields when they were populated by honeybees. Thomson was a founder of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, which operates today as the oldest continuing agricultural organization in the country, and he wrote and published Notes on Farming in which he refers to his "useful little animals."