Each year, the local beekeeping associations in the state present ‘Beekeeping Schools’ or Short Courses. The Anderson County Beekeepers Association is among those who do. For many years, we were fortunate to have as one of our speakers our own Francis Moore who was instrumental in helping many of the beekeepers of today get started with their own business/hobby. In addition to speaking on the basics of beekeeping and the various management techniques, he would tell us of his humble beginnings as a beekeeper.
Below are his own words from a talk he gave in the early 1980’s that you may find enjoyable:
It seems like a long time ago that I had my first lessons in what has been a long interesting involvement with bees. Some things have changed but for the bees they still will sting and continue doing the same things they were 65 years ago.
I remember the first bee veil that I used was made from two 25 pound flour sacks ripped open and sewed into one with a 6 to 8 inch window covered with screen and a smoker made by making a roll of cotton rags about 12 inches long and about as big as your arm . Just light and blow the smoke where needed.
The first containers for bees was hollow logs 3 to 4 feet long – usually cut in the summer and the bark peeled off with cross pieces put on the inside about halfway up. 3 or 4 notches cut in the bottom for the bees to use. Usually when time comes put the bees in, the log was set on a flat rock and leveled up.
The first bees I can remember was kept more as a family project to supply honey for the homes. Anyone who can remember back to the late 1920’s & 1930’s knows that a family lived on just about what they produced. Even though sugar was 5 cents a pound, you had to have the nickel and honey was a good substitute.
The only way to get started was to find bee trees and cut them and catch the bees in a nail keg and bring them home and transfer to the log. IF you was lucky and got the queen you had about a 50% chance they would stay. If so the chances were good that the first year you would have 1 or more swarms to add to your bee yard.
Usually June was robbing time and that would be the only time you would take the top off. No medications was ever used and no queens replaced.
By the early 30’s we began making box hives and using rough strips to put top bars in brood box and make frames for the supers but no foundation used.
Even though I was around bees, helping cut bee trees and taking honey from hives, I never had any bees I could call my own until I finished school in 1937. I bought my first bees from Findlay Armes in a log for $3.00 and purchased a veil and smoker from Sears Roebuck. That put me in business. In 1940 I was moved to Clinton and I sold my bees for $2.00. Thinking I knew all about bees (later finding out just how little I really knew) I then bought 4 hives in odd size boxes for $20.00 – no two the same size. I spent a lot of time caring for them and catching swarms that got me up to 8 hives before I entered the Army in 1942. I left the bees hoping to start again when I returned. After my tour of duty I returned home to find my bees all dead for the lack of care. A lesson learned – if you are going to keep bees you have to take care of them.
I thought my work with the bees was over for some time which was wrong. In 1943 when on a quick trip to Camp Breckinridge, I found bees in a tree that had blown down. Using mosquito nets as veils, Corporal Kristy and I removed 75 to 100 pounds of pretty honey from the tree. We had 90 troops in our company. We would have honey for 2 – 3 days.
Not long after that we shipped out to The Islands. To my surprise I found plenty of bees; some under rock cliffs and other ones in abandoned huts. Being the 1 st Sergeant, I had some free time and after talking to my Captain, Robert Flynn, I sent home for my smoker and veil. Corporal Kirley likewise. We made hives out of apple boxes and saved all the bees we could. We kept our company in honey and had 24 boxes of bees which we gave away when we left The Island.
After returning to the US in 1945 and discharged from the Army, my wife Thelma (who I married in 1943) settled down on a small farm in Anderson County which was purchased in 1943. Being allergic to bees, she can’t help work with the bees but she does more than her part in preparing the honey for sale.
One thing was missing – no bees. Over the years I learned a little more about what was required to successfully keep bees. I purchased some hives and got the foundation and fixed some up. In 1946 I bought 3 elm logs in good condition complete with some of the meanest bees I have seen. One by one I transferred the bees into modern hives along with 2 hives I cut from bee trees. Things went along good for the next 2 years. Was giving away our honey to neighbors and relatives.
I was back in business. Due to my outside employment, our bee business was confined to a few hives but it was a time of learning. I began to realize just little I knew about beekeeping. To solve this problem, I began to collect anything and everything I could from the county agent and the University of Tennessee. Most of all from anybody who kept bees. A beekeeping association was started in the county. I found out and took an active part in it.
I was forced to retire with health problems in 1970. Along about this time I became acquainted with a young man, Kenneth Glandon who had a hive or two of bees and was also interested in learning more. It didn’t take long until we had 50 hives by picking up swarms, dividing and a few purchases – it began to be more than a hobby.
I purchased a tractor, tanks, and other necessary items and we began selling our honey on the honor system. A large cabinet on our porch which Thelma keeps stocked. It has worked wonderful for us and our customers. Also since we have a lot from other counties and states.
For as long as I can remember I have always had a deep admiration for nature. There’s something special about being able to combine nature and one’s love for bees and vice versa.
After keeping bees for 50 years, I’m by no means an expert on them yet. Bees are something you are constantly learning from.
If you are a beginner, have patience. Don’t expect a honey crop without some work and management.