Boone grew up in a traditional household. His father had a job in town and his mother stayed home raising the eight children while working the farm. His family lived in the hollers of Kentucky and milked cows, stripped tobacco, dug ginseng, gardened, hunted, fished and robbed bee trees periodically.
Since Boone is regularly out in the woods and pastures he is very good at spotting honey bees. We happened upon one of our bee trees purely by accident while out hiking. We were headed back to the house and smelled something really strong and oddly sweet. Backing up we started looking around and spotting a black walnut with bees buzzing around it. It was a bee tree and what we were smelling was the honey. It was that loaded with it.
We only take a small amount of honey from a tree. We need our bees to pollinate and they need enough honey to get through the winter. Boone, myself and our son went out to harvest some honey last year but due to so much rain ruining the pollen for the bees the honey was not as plentiful. We decided against harvesting any in fear that the bees would not have enough for themselves.
A couple of days ago, we had a beautiful frosty sunny morning and Boone pronounced that it was a good day to collect some honey. We gathered our tools in a bucket; knife, hammer, crow bar, caulk and caulking gun, smoker, handfuls of hay and matches. I donned a bee hat because while I have read that smoking the bees will make them retreat, I have never done it and only halfheartedly had faith in it until I had proof that it would work. This bee tree is a black walnut that is in a pasture near the house so off we go.
First, Boone uses the crowbar to pry the opening out. Years ago, he chainsawed a block out of the tree for an access hole to the honey. The bees have their own access hole on the other side of the tree. Once he gets it open, we will be able to get to the honey. The bees are buzzing away somewhere in the tree but we do not see any yet.
The block is out and wow, look at that honey! It is new honey with light colored combs bursting full. The smell is amazing. I have the smoker in hand and SON OF A BEE TREE, here comes the bees. They have been down in the bottom of the tree and a few hundred it looks like come up to see what we are doing. I start pumping the smoker and sure enough they simply withdraw back into the tree. Boone had a few minutes of hopping around as one of the bees did fly out and land on him somewhere. We found it, plucked it off and put it back in the tree. Boone cut out a bit of the comb and we could see plenty of dark honey behind it but we did not mess with it.
Combs are in the bucket and a few bees have come out to sit in the sun at the opening of their access hole in the sunshine but do not bother us.
We tap the block back in place, caulk all around it to keep the cold air out, gather up our tools and we are done. All in all, it took only about 20 minutes.
Back at the house, I crush the comb, set a mesh strainer inside a large pot, then line the strainer with a new paint filter, pour the honey comb in, put a lid on it and set it by our wood stove.
The heat from the stove will warm it up a bit so that it will strain easier. Using this method, I strain the honey until it is free and clear from any bits of comb, etc. This batch took 3 strainings. After straining I ended up with a bit over a quart of honey and it is heavenly. I cannot wait to make Zippy Wings, they are going to be amazing made with wild honey.
There is another bee tree that was part of a dead cherry that was brought down in a storm a few years ago. Fearing an animal would ravage the honey thus killing the bees, Boone trimmed the bee section out and propped it up to get the bees higher off of the ground. He has already cut the access hole so we will be checking it out next.