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Honey hunters and migratory beekeepers

Apiary woodcutSome of the most vivid imagery in Bees in America involves honey hunters and migratory beekeepers.  Horn reports that during the colonial era, American honey hunters would search through the woods throughout the spring and summer looking for wild bee trees.  The journey would usually begin when the honey hunter set out a plate of flour surrounded by flower petals, attracting and marking the bees at the same time.  By following the path of the now-white bees through the air (a technique known as coursing), the honey hunters were able to locate the bee tree, then to mark it with a slash on the bark to demonstrate ownership.  Come fall, when the bee tree was full of honey, the honey hunter would return, cut down the tree, and split the sweet profits with the landowner.

Another story that really captured my interest involved French beekeepers in Maryland and Pennsylvania in the 1600s.  These early migratory beekeepers kept their hives on flatboats, traveling at night and anchoring beside flower-filled meadows each day to maximize their honey production.  Later, migratory beekeepers used the railroad and then trucks to move their bees, being paid for pollination (in addition to being able to sell their honey) by the beginning of the 1900s.  In fact, by the second half of the twentieth century, pollination services had become more lucrative than producing honey, with some beekeepers receiving $32 per hive placed in almond orchards in the 1990s.


This post is part of our Bees in America lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:


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