The following is reprinted from May 2012.

 

I’ve said it before: anything natural is far better than something artificial, manmade. One of nature’s greatest gifts is a colony of honeybees.

Not many people today realize how important bees are to our overall well-being, but a couple or three generations back knew all too well how valuable a thing was a hive of bees. Back then, it was called a “bee gum.” Back then they didn’t have all of the fancy tools and equipment that we have today; therefore, they had to make do using whatever tools they did have. This was especially true of the country folks. However, they did have an ax and a saw, and muscle power. 

Whenever they caught a swarm of honeybees, they would cut a hollow sweet gum log about three feet long, stand it on end, cross two sticks inside it and put a wooden or tin top held down by a large rock or piece of iron on it, hence the term, “bee gum.” The bees would build their honeycomb around the crossed sticks, and in about a year, the bee gum would be filled with nature’s sweetener, delicious honey.

The farmer could remove the top, blow a little smoke, usually from a cigarette, on the bees, driving them down deeper into the bee gum, and, with a knife, cut off enough honey to last the family for a year. They were always careful to leave a gracious plenty of honey to sustain the bees until they could fill the bee gum back up. Even more valuable than the honey was the pollination of the farm crops in bloom. A farmer with several bee gums always had better crops; therefore, more money, than those with no bees.

There are two additional benefits (I like to call them gifts from nature) that come with having bees. Many years ago, it was discovered that people who regularly handled bees had few or no symptoms of arthritis, rheumatism or other inflammation and stiffness of the joints. Seems that bee venom was beneficial in preventing inflammation and joint pain. Beekeepers get stung sometimes, and that’s how they get injected with venom.

Another benefit derived from bees is prevention of or relief from hay fever and allergies. As bees gather nectar from flowers and blossoms, they also get a certain amount of pollen that gets mixed in with the honey. Many people who can get real honey from local beekeepers find relief, but the pollen must be within a two-mile radius of their home. 

In my young days, I found interesting the method by which country people could locate a “bee tree,” which was a large tree with a hollow in it that had a swarm of bees and usually contained a great amount of honey. They would put a small amount of flour, which is white, or some sulfur, which is yellow, in a snuff tin or other small container and go to a creek or branch in a hardwood forest and find a sandbar. That is where honeybees go to get water by alighting on the sand and sucking up water. The person would quietly ease up close to a bee drinking water and throw some flour or sulfur on the bee. When it took off, heading back to the bee tree, it was easy to follow because the white or yellow showed up in the air. 

About a year ago, I received a call from the Haliwa-Saponi Tribe concerning a problem involving honeybees. They had a hunting lodge with a swarm of bees in the wall. The members of the hunting club were concerned that the bees might attack and sting them. My good friend, Terry and I went to see if we could remove those bees. We were guided in by two young men who showed us where the bees were located, and then they went a good distance away to watch us. 

Terry and I, with hammers and crowbars, removed just enough boards from the outside of the house to expose the entire swarm of bees. Most people would have worn gloves and veils to protect from bee stings, but we opted not to do so because it was a hot day, and besides, we didn’t mind getting stung a few times. As is turned out, I got stung 64 times and Terry a few times. 

When we got the entire swarm exposed, which was between several wall studs, we discovered brood comb, new empty honeycomb and over 100 pounds of beautiful, delicious wild honey. I walked over to the two young men taking cover behind a tree and told them that it was a shame to waste all of that honey, and if they had a couple of pots and pans, we could fill them up with honey. They left, saying they would be right back.

In no time at all, there were about 20 members of the tribe present, all with pots, pans and trays. We filled every one with one of nature’s bounties, something that can’t be bought in a store. All of those people, except one, waited at a safe distance as we cut the honeycomb and put it in their containers. One lady, well up in years with long, flowing white hair, came and stood right beside me as I cut off some honeycomb for her. The air was full of angry, buzzing bees, but she was completely unafraid. I was amazed at her bravery, and only later did I find out that she was a nationally renowned philanthropist, poet, historian and humanitarian. Her name is Belle McGee Frye, and she is not afraid of honeybees. 

That was a good day. We got rid of the bee problem, I got a good swarm of bees, and some good people received something good to eat.

 

–Continued next week–