If not for the boards or pieces of flat scrap metal atop most of them, the row of upright logs in front of Everett “Ebb” Barnette’s house along Brushy Mountain Road might appear to be remnants of a closely planted row of trees.
Except for during the cold of winter, a closer look will reveal honeybees swarming around most of the logs.
Barnette is one of the few people around who still keeps honeybees in true “gums,” but most of his hollow logs aren’t from namesake black gum trees.
Many of his bee gums are from hollow “honey trees,” which he cut down to reach honeybee colonies within the trees and move them to the apiary at his house in the Brushy Mountain community.
He said honeybees seem to have a preference for red cedar, apparently because of the wood’s strong scent.
Barnette, his brothers and friends often followed honeybees from their water sources back to their honey trees. “Back when there were plenty around, we once found 86 bee trees in one week,” he said.
Although Barnette still finds a few bee hives in the woods, there are far fewer now because of increased honeybee mortality from varroa mites, tracheal mites and other threats that seldom were encountered decades ago.
Barnette said it takes good vision to follow honeybees from a water source to their hive. To start with, find a place like moist sand or moss along a stream or even mud puddles where a lot of honeybees are getting water.
Start in the direction the bees are flying as they leave and keep looking for bees to stay on track to their hive, which will be a straight line. “Bees will go a long way for a good place to drink,” said Barnette.
“The best time to find bees (by following them from their water sources) is when the apple trees are blooming because it’s when their minds are intent on making honey,” he said.
Once a bee tree is located, he said, look for an entrance hole and cut the tree 3 to 4 feet above and below the hole. “When you cut the tree down, it’s best to find something for it to land on, like another tree,” he said.
Although the length of Barnette’s hollow log bee gums very, historically they most often were about 3 feet long.
Barnette also makes and keeps honeybees in box hives, which are simple rectangular boxes (taller than they are wider) made of four planks nailed together for sides, a smaller plank nailed on the bottom and a removable top. The bottom plank protrudes in front to provide bees a place to land near a small entrance hole in the bottom of a side plank.
Two sticks, crossing each other to make an “X,” are placed between the interior walls about midway in both hollow log gums and box hives to provide a place for bees to hang the comb they make.
The honeybee queen naturally tends to lay her eggs toward the bottom of the hive, which means comb in the upper areas is usually full of pure honey and no bee larvae. This helps make it possible for the beekeeper to remove honey without damaging the “brood” area, thus helping the hive to keep going.
Barnette also has honeybees in modern hives. The greatest difference between these and hollow log and box hives is that they have removable frames that are placed in the hives with wax “foundation.”
The Rev. Lorenzo Langstroth, a native of Philadelphia, developed the first beehives with removable frames in the mid-1800s. Subsequently, many improvements were made.
Barnette is the son of the late Virgil James and Alma Nance Barnette, who raised their family of nine boys and five girls in a home on Vannoy Ridge Road in the Brushy Mountain community.
His brothers were Ted, Ralph, Hobe, Roy, Sandy, Herman, Howard and Willie. His sisters were Violet B. Combs, Lois B. Smithey, Bonnie B. Shoemaker, Rhonie B. Pennell and Samma Barnette.