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post #1 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 12:59 PM Thread Starter
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Cutting a bee tree

Has anyone else ever cut a bee tree for its honey? I know in today's world it would create howls of outrage and the practice is probably all but eliminated in the rural culture. But back in the 60's and earlier it was quite common for folks to find and cut a bee tree each fall for honey. Some of my earliest memories as a kid were going with my grandfather and uncle to cut a tree.

First you had to find a tree. In the fall, many times you could use your nose to locate one, as the bees were drying goldenrod nectar into honey and it emitted a very strong scent. If one wasn't found, my grandfather had small wooden box with a sliding glass lid. Inside he'd place some Karo syrup laced with anise oil to attract honey bees. They would gorge themselves and fly slowly ( they’re packing a lot of sugar weight )and directly back to there hive. And I mean directly. When a bee has a full load of honey, it will fly a completely straight line back to its hive. ( that's where the term "making a beeline" came from). If you ran, you could keep up with them. If you caught several bees at different locations and walked out their flight path, their bee tree could be triangulated from where the courses cross. When you found a tree, you'de paint an X with white wash on it to let others know the tree had been claimed.

Now came the day to cut the tree. This was usually in early October. I was only 3 or 4 went I went, and had to stay in my uncle's Chevy Apache truck. With the windows up. The bee smoker was lit, and a rag with sulfur powder was stuffed inside. My grandfather had a David Bradley chainsaw...that saw must have weighed 40 lbs. The tree was notched and felled. As soon as it his the ground, my uncle would start smoking their entrance hole with the smoker.( the sulfur would kill the bees). The bees were none to happy, and stings were common. I remember watching out the window as a huge mass of bees would swirl around in the air at the exact location their entrance hole had formerly been. There brains were hard wired to that exact location, even though there tree was now on the ground.

After thoroughly smoking the hole, the tree was left alone till the next day. They used the chainsaw, hammers and wedges to split the tree and remove the honey comb. Everything was placed into metal water pails and hauled home to clean it up. Folks said that "wild honey" tasted better than the honey you took from a hive...I couldn't tell the difference.

A couple of years ago I had an oak tree fall over that held a honey bee colony. I recalled what I'd seen 55 years earlier and collected about 40 lbs of rendered honey from that tree. Today, feral honeybees ( honey bees aren't a native specie to North America) are far and few between and I wouldn't cut a bee tree if I found one. But it was an interesting thing to see that most folks today will never get to witness.

Last edited by Bigbrownie; 05-02-2018 at 02:03 PM.
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post #2 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 02:05 PM
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Never on purpose, but iv'e cuts dozens of them. In good weather we just leave the area till they calm down, then avoid any further conflicts with them by working carefully near their tree.

In cold weather they still get kinda' mad, but not for long. After they calm down we get something and cover the nest, some old boards or a peice if a tarp or carpet, to keep the weather out. Don't know if they survive, but i i try to help.

Many times i can tell a bee tree so we a avoid them. When we do cut one by mistake it will be solid down below and hollow up where the nest is, and usually they break apart exposing the nest.

Iv'e also cut some trees with hornet nests in them.
They seem to take it personal and that can be a not so fun experience when you start limbing the tree and they find you.

Interesting to hear about harvesting wild honey, thanks for sharing.🐝
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post #3 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 02:14 PM
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As much as i am in the woods, i have yet to find a honeybee nest. I have always wanted to try and collect wild bee honey but i have been unsuccessful finding their nest. I do however find plenty of yellow jacket nests which is never fun when you step on a ground nest.

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post #4 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 02:29 PM Thread Starter
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Ydog....it would be unlikely that a log laying horizontally would still be a viable home. Skunks, bears ,and ants would have easy access to the colony. Also, the comb was oriented vertically, and the cells within the comb have a slight downward pitch. All that is gone once the tree lays down. I have seen where they survived a season in a white oak that blew over. So it never hurts to try saving them.Thirty years ago, we brought home a log and anchored it with wires into a vertical position. Covered the hollow top with plywood. Itís illegal today to keep something like that as bees have to be kept on frames that can be removed and inspected.

Iíve had timber guys call me about removing them....out of curiosity Iíve gone out a few times, a couple of times I had to mop up the mess with Sevin dust because of tree being in an area of a lot of people activity. If they have to go, soapy water will kill them also.
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post #5 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 02:30 PM
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About 10 years ago,i WAS IN MY DRIVEWAY AND HERD THIS CONSTANT BUZZING SOUND.I looked up and there was a cloud of bees around a big double trunked red oak.I saw a small hole that I never noticed before and there was literally a carpet of bees all around it.I have no idea what stirred them up but never saw that before or after that day.About a year later,the tree had to go so I cut it down in Jan.The tree was hollow probably 4 or four feet above and below the hole.The bees were gone but the honey combs were still there.I probably would have salvaged it but there must have been 3 feet of bat crap packed in there.Interestinging,there were huge maggot like larva in the bat crap.I have no idea what they were but they were big and white.
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post #6 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 03:02 PM
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I have never heard of claiming and cutting a bee tree. Interesting tradition from yesteryear - thanks for sharing the story!
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post #7 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 04:10 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dce View Post
About 10 years ago,i WAS IN MY DRIVEWAY AND HERD THIS CONSTANT BUZZING SOUND.I looked up and there was a cloud of bees around a big double trunked red oak.I saw a small hole that I never noticed before and there was literally a carpet of bees all around it.I have no idea what stirred them up but never saw that before or after that day.About a year later,the tree had to go so I cut it down in Jan.The tree was hollow probably 4 or four feet above and below the hole.The bees were gone but the honey combs were still there.I probably would have salvaged it but there must have been 3 feet of bat crap packed in there.Interestinging,there were huge maggot like larva in the bat crap.I have no idea what they were but they were big and white.
dce...the cloud of bees most likely were a swarm, either coming, going, or temporarily staying then absconding. Without seeing what you saw, Iím guessing the white maggots might have been honey bee larvae, and maybe what looked like bat crap may have been old, black comb. Some old bee trees have been used for 50+ years, on and off. Sometimes theyíll draw fresh beeswax and the old stuff might remain.

Thatís why itís fun to take a look when folks call....you never know what youíre gonna find and I usually end up learning something. I have a cousin in Virginia who does extractions from homes ( for money. You need more carpentry skills than beekeeping skills for those jobs.
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post #8 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 04:20 PM
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Bigbrownie,
I also have that memory as a dairy farm kid back in the sixties in upstate N.Y. I remember it like it was yesterday. thanks for bringing up a memory from a time when life was much much simpler!! :-)

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post #9 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 04:28 PM Thread Starter
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Some universities that have an apiary science department , used to ( and may still) participate in bee lining competitions. A small hive of bees is hidden, and different competing teams set out to locate the hive in the shortest amount of time. When bees find a good source of nectar ( or Karo in this case), theyíll always return. So before a captured bee is set loose, it is dabbed with a little paint. A stop watch is used to time itís flight time ( with allowing time to ď unloadĒ at the hive ),and an estimation can be made to the hives distance. These fellas have good compasses to map a beeís flight path and record their triangulations. They are amazingly good at locating the target hive.

I always wondered how they didnít get tangled up with a feral colony, and literally end up on a wild bee chase!
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post #10 of 28 (permalink) Old 05-02-2018, 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Bigbrownie View Post
dce...the cloud of bees most likely were a swarm, either coming, going, or temporarily staying then absconding. Without seeing what you saw, Iím guessing the white maggots might have been honey bee larvae, and maybe what looked like bat crap may have been old, black comb. Some old bee trees have been used for 50+ years, on and off. Sometimes theyíll draw fresh beeswax and the old stuff might remain.

Thatís why itís fun to take a look when folks call....you never know what youíre gonna find and I usually end up learning something. I have a cousin in Virginia who does extractions from homes ( for money. You need more carpentry skills than beekeeping skills for those jobs.
I don't know much about bees or bats but I'm 99% sure it was bat crap.The disgusting maggot like creatures were bigger than 2".
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