In a true TEOTWAWKI situation, many people will naturally resort to hunting and fishing to procure food. The increased hunting pressure will make many animals nocturnal and quickly deplete the populations of wild game. There is, however, one overlooked source of food that flies completely under the radar by even the most seasoned survivalists. It tastes delicious, lasts forever, replenishes itself to be harvested again and again, is a phenomenal barter item, and can be found in every state in America. I am talking about wild honey! The Bible says that this is the food that sustained John the Baptist during his time in the wilderness and that’s all the endorsement I need.
Allow me to give you a quick primer on honey. Honey has roughly 1,376 calories per pound. It is not uncommon for a healthy colony of bees to produce 60 to 80 pounds of surplus honey in a good season. That equates to 60-80 days of life sustainment for one person from one hive. Honey has an indefinite shelf life. Honey found in the tombs of Egyptian kings was found to be perfectly edible. Honey also has multiple uses. Besides its obvious value as a food item, honey can be fermented to make mead (honey wine) which can be further distilled to make ethanol fuel. Honey also has antibacterial qualities since it contains trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide and it was reportedly used by Roman Soldiers to pack sword wounds. Honey can and will crystallize over time since it is a super saturated solution but you can easily restore it back to liquid form by gently heating it. Did I mention that Winnie the Pooh loves the stuff?
I think it’s safe to say that John the Baptist didn’t get his honey from the local food co-op or Piggly Wiggly. Our ancestors didn’t have the luxury of buying bees from the Internet and having them shipped in a tidy box via UPS, instead they used an ancient technique known as “bee lining”. Locusts may not travel in a straight line but fortunately for us, the honey bee generally does. It is this straight-line behavior that we can utilize to lead us back to the proverbial “honey-hole”. There are numerous techniques for bee lining and although I doubt John the Baptist used trigonometry to locate his wild bees, we can. Do you remember the days back in high school when you were plodding with contempt through trigonometry homework and thinking to yourself “I will never use this”? Personally, I would rather have watched paint dry as I was never very adept at math. I don’t think I could count all my protruding body parts and get the same number twice. I am now man enough to admit that I was wrong. A little simple math can reveal the bee’s secret location.
Bees predominantly forage when the weather is nice so do not waste your time trying to do this in the rain. It takes honey to make honey! You need to start with a sweet solution of sugar or honey and water (dissolved 1:1). Put this solution on a small piece of sponge in the center of a bowl. Set the bowl with sugar baited sponge in an open area and wait. The wind will carry the scent to foraging bees. The first time a honey bee takes her fill, she will fly up in ever widening circles trying to remember the landmarks so she can lead her sisters back to the source. It helps them if you wear brightly colored clothes as they will use you as a landmark. The exception to this is the color red as bees cannot see the color red. You can get a very rough estimate of the distance to the hive by timing the round trip time between the first bees departure to its return. 3-5 minutes is generally indicative of a quarter-mile, 5-10 minutes a half-mile, and 15 minutes or more indicates a distance of at least one mile. Once the bee communicates the source of food to the hive, the whole family will join in and you should see an ever increasing volume of bees visiting your bowl. Take out a compass and note the direction that the bees are flying in between the dish and the hive. Shoot an azimuth and note the azimuth (in degrees) on a map. Write a line from your current position out a few miles indicating the bee’s current flight path. (We will call this line SIDE “A”) The hive is obviously somewhere along this line. Once you have 15 or 20 bees in your bowl you can place a cover on the bowl thus capturing the bees. Take your captured bees and walk 50 yards in a line that is exactly perpendicular to the bee’s line of flight. (It is very important that you are exactly 50 yards as this will figure into our equation later) Jotting this line down on the same map as the bee’s azimuth would now form an “L” with your new position now being at the bottom right edge of the “L”. (We will call this bottom line SIDE “B”). Now do your best to release just a few bees at a time from your new position and again shoot an azimuth with your compass. Writing this line down on the map should now give you a right triangle with the right angle being in the base of the “L”. This last line SIDE “C” is the hypotenuse of our right triangle. The angle that you need to figure out is in the bottom inside right corner of your triangle (where you are now standing). We will call this angle “a”. You can use a protractor on the map to determine this angle (angle “a”). Once we have the bottom right inside angle of our triangle, we need to do a little math to determine where our new line (SIDE “C”) intersects with our very first line (SIDE “A”). This intersection will be the exact location of the hive. The formula to figure this is:
SIDE “C”= SIDE “B” / cosine (angle “a”)
So let’s say that we used our protractor on the map and determined that SIDE “C” made a 47 degree angle with SIDE “B”. This means that angle “a” is 47 degrees. We also know that SIDE “B” equals 50 yards.
SIDE “C” = 50 yards / cos (47)
SIDE “C” = 73 yards
Our wild bees are approximately 73 yards from our current position at the point where our last azimuth intersects with our first azimuth. Now we can bring our bowl to that spot and use our ears and eyes to look for the entrance to the hive. Many old time bee liners claim to hear the hive before they see it. Now finding the cosine of an angle usually requires a scientific calculator (solar powered scientific calculators are available for five or six dollars). To make life easier, I have created a lookup table that automatically converts the degrees of angle “a” into the exact distance to the hive so no cosine calculation is necessary. This table will only be accurate if you walk exactly 50 yards (150 feet) to form SIDE “B”. I have printed a small version of this table and laminated it to keep in my wallet. The table follows:
Once we find our bees we need to don our protective gear. It might be a good time to mention that this should not to be done by anyone with bee sting allergies and I always carry two Epi-Pens with me just in case. A simple Tyvek painter’s suit sold for a few dollars at Home Depot will provide protection that is comparable to most commercial bee suits. Be sure to get the suit with the built in hood. Purchase some nitrile gloves as they are more puncture resistant than either latex or vinyl and are the choice of medical professionals to prevent needle sticks. A simple mosquito head net worn over a ball cap completes the outfit. Many beekeepers remove hives with no protective gear whatsoever but this is not recommended for the novice. Tie some dry grass together tightly and light it on fire. Extinguish the flames so that it makes smoke. Fan this smoke into the hive entrance. This will trick the bees into thinking their home is on fire and they will immediately gorge themselves with honey in preparation of seeking a new home. This causes the bees to become very docile. Would you want to get into a fistfight after eating Thanksgiving dinner? At this point, you may need to enlarge the access hole to reach the comb. It is preferable to only remove a portion of the honey and to do it without destroying the colony so that we can come back for more later. Remember that the bees need honey to survive throughout the winter and without sufficient stocks, they will die. This is the equivalent to shooting your cash cow.
Take the honey comb back to process the honey. You can eat it right in the comb or you can employ the crush and strain method. Whichever you do, do it indoors otherwise you will create a swarm of bees all looking to rob your honey. Crush the comb and strain it through a paint strainer or cheese cloth. Make sure that at least three quarters of your honeycomb is capped. The bees cap the comb once they have the moisture content down to 18% or less. The uncapped portion is still nectar but with a much higher moisture content. Uncapped nectar can be eaten if done right away but it does not store as it will ferment from the natural yeasts that are present. The wax can then be utilized to make everything from candles to lip balm (again, outside the scope of this article).
Some people see the face of God in the clouds. I see Him in the bees. They are an amazing gift to us and they have been sustaining man for thousands of years. God’s Manna from heaven was reputed to have honey in it and the best land was referred to “the land of milk and honey”. When you realize that one out of every three bites of food you eat is a byproduct of honey bee pollination, you get a picture for how important they are to our sustainment. Mr. Rawles, please forgive the unabashed plug but if you are interested in learning more about honey bees or about purchasing wild honey you can visit my web site, The Bee Shepherds.