Tag Archives: honey

Wild Honey Gathering

We have several bee trees around us. One of them used to be in a wild cherry tree on the back of the farm down in the woods by the creek. It was blown down during a storm a couple of years ago. Boone wanted to save the bees that were in it so he cut out about an 8-foot log out of the tree and strapped it to an old stump to get it back up off the ground.

Wild Cherry bee tree

Wild Cherry bee tree

When we gather honey we never take all of it. The bees need to eat through the winter. One of our neighbors went with Boone to get the honey so he could learn how. Normally, Boone opens the tree while I work the smoker. When he and our friend got there, no bees were to be found. Not dead, not anywhere. We think they absconded for some reason. Boone did find signs of something digging up into the base of the log as there were pieces of comb laying on the ground so maybe that had something to do with the bees leaving?

He decided to gather the old honey combs and leave the new ones. Later on when checking the tree again he found bees back in it. Was this a new swarm that ran the old ones off or did they come from a neighbors box hive? We do not know but I am glad we left enough honey for them.

Honeycombs in tree cavity

Honeycombs in tree cavity

To extract the honey, we use the very scientific procedure of crushing the comb with a potato masher. Once crushed we drain the honey through a paint filter. I have tried cheesecloth but the filter works better. It works like a big jelly bag if you have ever made jelly. The filter doesn’t cost much, seems like it was a couple of dollars and it can be used over and over. I wash and rinse the new filter well before using for the first time and after using it I store in my water bath canner so no one tries to use it for straining paint!

Capped honeycomb

Capped honeycomb

Crushing comb

Crushing comb

There was a lot of comb so I needed to get the filter up above a stock pot. I stacked books on either side of the stockpot and ran a piece of pipe across to tie the filter bag off to after filling it with comb. The pipe was just what I came across first; a dowel rod, a piece of metal or anything that will not bend would have worked also.

Draining honey from comb

Draining honey from comb

After straining for most of the afternoon, I had to squeeze the rest of the honey out by hand using a pair of salad tongs. It worked really well. I had planned on trying to render the beeswax out but ran out of time with all of the holiday events we were attending and such. The spent comb was not wasted as it went to the pigs, which they loved!

Honey flowing!

Honey flowing!

After cleaning the filter, I strained the honey about 5 times. One last straining was with a jelly filter into mason jars. Normally, we only get a quart jar as we try to be conservative and leave the bees plenty. This time there was so much in the tree that Boone took a bit more and we ended up with 2 ½ quarts. The family has already requested Zippy Wings!

Filtering honey

Filtering honey

Wild Honey

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.

Bee Tree

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.

Honeycomb

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.

Bucket of Honey

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.

Caulking Honey Tree

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.

Straining Honey

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.

Wild Cherry Bee Tree

Harvesting Wild Honey

While we do not consume mass quantities of honey I do like to use it for a few recipes and in hot tea. I have had friends do a taste comparison between the wild honey we harvest and a supermarket brand. While I’ve never had a complaint against commercial honey the wild has what I would describe as a mapley, buttery, vanillish, and amazing flavor.

We have 3 bee trees around us. There is a hive in a black walnut across the street in the “holler”, a hive in a cherry tree by the creek over at our sheep farm – Maplewood Hill, and the third is back behind us in a cherry tree down near the river. The black walnut has provided us with the most delicious honey for quite a few years so we have yet to harvest the other trees.

The honey is harvested on a cold day when the bees are least active. The bees eat a large portion of their honey stores through the winter so we need to leave plenty for them to feed on until spring. A single hive can produce from 60 pounds to upwards of 100’s of pounds of honey in a season so we are comfortable with getting enough to fill a couple of mason jars.

Harvesting Honey

Honey Harvest

Removing the plug

Hone_combs

Harvesting Honey

Plug recaulked

We never saw a bee but could hear them happily buzzing away somewhere in the tree.