Way Back When … 1600s
Published 12:00 am, Saturday, April 22, 2017
The importance of beekeeping in colonial times is well documented. Because of the lack of native pollinators, colonists brought "bee skeps" (baskets placed with the open end down) along with apple trees on their journeys to America. Skeps were made from straw, typically with a single entrance at the bottom for the bees.
The straw skeps in the kitchen garden of the Ogden House, the 18th Century farmhouse located at 1520 Bronson Road, represent the importance of beekeeping in the colonies. Bee pollination insured a garden’s productivity — the key to surviving in colonial New England. Apple trees and honeybees (Apis mellifera), used to pollinate the trees, were brought across the Atlantic in the early 1600s so the settlers could make cider. Cider and rum from the West Indies were the colonists’ two sources of drink, as water was considered not potable.
The bees also made honey, which was used for medicinal, culinary and household purposes. Medicinally it was used in combination with many herbs and was solely applied to open wounds to prevent infection. An important sweetener, it was also an instant energy source and it served as a preservative for ham and fruits. In addition, beeswax was used for waterproofing leather, binding wounds and making candles. Honey and beeswax were so valuable they often were substituted for hard-to-find currency in very rural towns.
In April of 2013 Fairfield Museum and the Fairfield Garden Club started an apiary, introducing two beehives to Ogden House colonial gardens. Today, with major support from individuals and town organizations, the number of hives in the apiary has grown to four. The bees at Ogden House produce honey each year, and it is bottled and sold at the Fairfield Museum Shop every September. Since 2013, hundreds of school children have visited the Ogden House Herb Garden and discovered the traditions of beekeeping, gardening and Colonial times.
On Wednesday, April 26 from 12:30-1:30pm the Museum will host its monthly "History Bites" lunchtime chat and this month’s topic is Backyard Beekeeping with Ann Murray of the Backyard Beekeepers Association. Ms. Murray will discuss the history and basics of beekeeping, including how to get bees, types of hives and other necessary equipment, and share strategies for success. Bring a lunch and the Museum will provide iced tea and dessert. The lecture is free for Members. A $5 donation is suggested for Non-Members.
The Fairfield Museum recognizes the importance of beekeeping in the history of the area and stocks several bee-related products in its Museum Shop, including honey body lotions and soaps, bee ties and bee-themed tea towels. In the fall the Shop sells the honey made on the Ogden House property.
The Fairfield Museum and History Center is located at 370 Beach Road. Learn more about the history and culture of Fairfield, view rotating exhibitions and purchase Fairfield-themed gifts at the Museum Shop. For more information visit Fairfieldhistory.org or call (203) 259-1598; Fairfieldhistory.org.