Several weeks ago, I read one of the sweetest stories in the Coastal Courier. It was about the beehive that was found in the walls of the old Liberty County Courthouse while it was being renovated.
A man familiar with honeybees was contacted and removed the bees and honey. He processed it and sold it at the Downtown Farmers Market in Bradwell Park. People lined up waiting to buy the sweetest souvenir that ever has been produced in Liberty County — and it was not manmade nor was it made in China. I am sorry that I was not in the line to get a jar.
Spring is the season honeybees love. All the blooming plants are putting forth their sweet fragrances and nectar. Honeybees work hard to gather nectar. By doing so, they help pollinate the farmers’ crops. With the nectar, they produce and make honey, a golden mouthwatering delight that goes so well with homemade biscuits. Years ago, most farmers kept a few beehives on their land if they did not have a bee tree. Every once in a while today, people can see beehives at the edge of the woods as they drive by.
When we go to Waycross, we usually stop by a honey stand and pick up a few quarts of raw honey, which sells for $7 a quart. I choose the one without the honeycomb inside. There are more than 300 varieties of honey in the United States. The most common ones in this area are tupelo, clover, orange blossom and gall berry.
Honey is as old as written history, dating back to 2100 B.C. It is mentioned 73 times in the King James Version of the Bible.
In the hive, there are three types of bees: the single queen bee, a variable number of drone bees to fertilize new queens and some 20,000-40,000 worker bees.
Honeybees must tap more than 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey, flying a distance equal to more than three times around the world. The average worker bee will make only one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey during its lifetime.
Most young people associate honey with Winnie the Pooh bear!
Russell Groover, a native of Gum Branch, spent many summers with his grandpa, Redding Groover. In Russell’s book, “Tales of Grandpa and Gum Branch,” he shared his memories of them robbing a bee tree probably around 1945 when he was 8 years old:
“Grandpa woke me up early and helped me feed the animals so we could get an early start to rob the bee tree. We headed for the woods in front of our house with Grandpa carrying a flour sack over his shoulder. He helped me over the rail fence and I held the sack while he climbed over.
“Grandpa talked the whole time we were walking, pointing out things along the way. It was never boring with Grandpa. He told me not to step on the big clumps of grass as leprechauns lived under them.
“And then he would describe an old witch that had just ducked behind a tree that I could never see. ‘See that root there,’ he would say, ‘you dig that up and cook it just like a sweet potato. Those spider webs over there — take them and put them on a fresh cut to stop the bleeding. The bark on that sassafras tree — strip off a section and make a tea out of it or chew a small piece to make you feel better.’
“A little bee flew by and Grandpa told me he was a traitor bee and we had to follow him to find the bee tree. I asked him how he knew it was a ‘he.’ “‘Because little boy bees always wear pants with suspenders and yellow and black striped shirts, and little girls wear gingham dresses and a bonnet with their hair done up in a bun in back,’ he said. I strained harder to get a closer look at the bees so I could see the difference.
“We followed the little bee as he flew from flower to flower and finally Grandpa stood still. ‘Hear the hum? Let’s go over there as that is where the bee tree is located.’
“Grandpa told me to look around and see if I could find it. I saw an old rotten tree and told Grandpa that it could be hollow and maybe they had a hive in it. Grandpa nodded. My day had been made.
“‘We will find us a clearing and have our lunch. Bees are smarter than people. They work while it is cool. When it gets warm, they stop and take a nap.’
“We sat down and Grandpa emptied the sack on the ground. A syrup bucket, a wine bottle filled with water and a long-sleeved shirt fell out. The bucket had two baked sweet potatoes and four biscuits in it — my favorite lunch. He said he would show me later what the shirt was for. I filled my stomach and the warm sunshine lulled me to sleep. About a half hour later, he told me to get up as it was time to rob the bee tree.
“I followed him through the underbrush but heard no humming. Grandpa built a small fire on the ground in front of the bees’ entrance. He tied the shirtsleeves around the tree just above the hole. “Next, he propped the shirttail up over the fire with two sticks like a tent. He put a handful of damp grass over the fire to make smoke. Then, he turned and took my hand and led me to a safe place to watch the action.
“We watched as the smoke drifted into the opening of the tree. Inside, the bees started to stir and the hum became louder. Grandpa pointed to the top of the dead tree and we watched as the smoke chased the bees through an opening.
“As soon as Grandpa figured it was safe, he went over and put out the fire, took the shirt down and reached his hand up in the hollow of the tree. He pulled out a big comb of honey and dropped it into our dinner bucket.
“‘Come, on. Let’s get outta here,’ he said in the low tone of a thief.
“The walk home brought many questions from me.
“‘Grandpa, why do bees make honey?’
“‘To feed the queen and baby bees.’
“‘Won’t they starve if we steal their honey?’
“‘No, son,” he answered. “The good Lord has the bees make extra honey so they can share it with us and still have plenty left for themselves.’
“With the guilt removed from my mind, I held his hand tightly as we crossed the last field heading home, anticipating Grandma’s homemade biscuits hot from the oven to sop with the fresh honey.”