Lining Bees

You've probably heard the expression "bee line," meaning the straightest and shortest route between where you are and would rather be. But do you know where the expression comes from?

Here in rural America, hunting is a popular activity. And yes, it normally involves killing your prey. But in years past beekeepers would go hunting to capture, not kill, their prey. Maybe one weekend, if you have a place to do so, you might find it a pleasant way to spend some time in the woods, maybe with your kid(s), and if you're lucky (or good) you could even score a new colony of bees.

Remember, this was written a long time ago, and I am presenting it as it was originally published. Suffice it to say they had a different notion of "paragraphs" then.


How to “Line Bees”

an excerpt from
Advanced Bee-Culture

by W. Z. Hutchinsonn

original copyright ca. 1905p>

In all probability, more of my readers would be able to secure bees by finding and cutting beetrees, than by putting out decoy hives, and, as the subject will not be touched upon elsewhere, I will here describe how bee-trees are found. In principle, it is simply that of putting out honey, in times of scarcity, when bees will "rob," watching the loaded bees as they fly home, and following the "line" of bees to the tree, but there are many details the observance of which greatly aids the hunter in his search. Those who hunt bees to any great extent use what is called a "bee-box." This is a small box made in two parts, the lower half being used to hold a piece of comb filled with honey, while the upper part, or cover, is used principally for catching the bees and getting them at work upon the "bait." The top of the upper part is covered with a glass, and a short distance below the glass is a horizontal, sliding partition; while still lower, just at the lower edge of one of the sides, is a small opening covered on the inner side with glass. Equipped with his box and a bottle of diluted honey, the bee hunter begins operations in some field or cleared spot near the forest in which he expects beetrees may be found. The honey is diluted with an equal amount of water, as it enables the bees to load and unload quicker, to fly faster, and in a more direct line. Sometimes pieces of old comb are burned, the odor from the "smudge" attracting bees from a long distance. If, by careful search, a bee is found industriously at work upon some weed, the cover to the box is taken off, the slide drawn nearly out, and the open or lower side of the cover held near the bee. A handkerchief is then held upon the opposite side of the bee, and, as the cover and the handkerchief are brought quickly together, the bee is caught in the former. Seeing the light, the bee at once buzzes up against the glass top of the cover, when the slide is shoved in, thus making the bee a prisoner. The cover is now replaced upon the box. the box set upon a stump or upon a stake stuck in the ground, the slide drawn nearly out, and the handkerchief spread over the glass top. The bee now sees only one opening, the small one in the side of the cover near its lower edge, and in attempting to escape by the lower opening, the bee comes in contact with the comb of honey in the lower part of the box.

To find the honey is to at once begin "loading up." Occasionally removing the handkerchief shows when the bee has found the honey and as soon as it is seen filling its sac, the hunter carefully removes the cover, and places his eye near the ground. This position is assumed to secure the sky as a background in watching the bee take its homeward flight. Under such conditions a bee can be kept in sight for a long distance. A minute or two suffices for the bee to fill its honey sac, when it slowly rises in gradually widening circles. Each time around it sways more and more to one side — toward the spot where it lives; finally, having taken its "bearings," it strikes a "bee-line" for home. In a short time it returns with perhaps three or four companions in its wake — eager to learn from whence came that fine load of honey. The result is that a strong "line" of bees is finally at work between their home and the hunter's box. He now puts the cover on the box, shutting in the bees, and moves along on the "line" towards their home. After going some distance the bees are released, when they at once leave for home, only to return and re-establish the "line," when the hunter again closes the box and moves forward. When the bees turn and fly back on the line, it shows that the tree has been passed and must be near at hand. At this point in the game it may be advisable to resort to what is known as "cross-lining," that is. the box is moved off several rods to one side, and another, or "cross-line," established. The tree must certainly be near the point where these two lines intersect. The trunks and branches of all largfe trees in the vicinity are now carefully examined, particular attention being paid to any knot holes or openings. Getting the tree between the sun and the observer greatly aids in discovering any bees that may be flitting about. An opera glass is also a great aid in this part of the work.