Find Local Honeybees for Wild Honey

You can reap some sweet rewards with this ancient and challenging form of tracking, including bait the bee, establish the beeline, extracting honey from the hive and domesticating honeybees.

| March/April 1982

Honey-tree hunting is an age-old craft that — quite simply — involves following wild honeybees (Apis mellifera) to their colonies, which are usually found in hollow trees. Besides providing you with a fine excuse to spend some time in the outdoors, such a search can — if successful — yield gallons and gallons of free, natural sweetener and can even give you a chance to capture a hive of bees for your own backyard apiary. You don't necessarily have to live deep in the back country to hunt up a honey tree, either, because wild bee colonies can be found in suburbs and cities as well as in rural areas in every part of the United States, Mexico and southern Canada.

The early spring months, when the first major honey flow of the year begins, provide good opportunities to track bees, since the insects are still "winter hungry" and can easily be lured by scents. The hunting season lasts as long as the insects are still flying, which is a period of about six months throughout most of the country, and even longer in the South.

Baiting Honeybees

The bee hunter has to discover the trail to a honey tree by observing a foraging worker bee because, when the industrious female has collected a full load of nectar, she'll head straight for home. The fundamental tactic, then, is to note the direction in which the pollen-packing lady flies and, by making a series of such observations, eventually determine the location of the bees' home. It sounds easy when it's put that way, but — as you've probably guessed — there are a good many subtleties to the craft.

For one thing, a bee may visit several hundred flowers before heading back to the colony, and keeping track of her during that round of activity would be both difficult and time consuming. The best way to solve this problem is to provide your own source of "nectar" . . . a 50/50 mix of water and ordinary sugar.

Given such easy pickings, the honey-makers will fill up at your nectar station and then head straight back to their tree . . . and they'll keep returning for more, too! However, before you lure bees to your sweet bait, you should be sure you're operating in an area well away (at least two miles) from any known beekeepers, or the nectar-laden insects may simply lead you to a domestic hive.

Try to start your hunt in an open space where the bees are already foraging (it's difficult to establish flight direction in a dense forest of mature trees). Once you've chosen a good spot, set out a shallow dish of sugar water with wood chips floating in it for the bees to land on. When a worker locates the food, she'll return to the colony and tell the others of her find by performing a dance pattern that gives them explicit directions to the bonanza. Soon hundreds of bees will swarm around your offering, flying back and forth between the dish and their home.

9/26/2014 6:03:15 AM

Hello , How do you deal with fighting varoamijt and temporary American foulbrood with the Wild Honey Bees Thank you and regards, Emmelies Jordens

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