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Honey was the main sweetener for residents of the Appalachian Mountains before commercial sugar was so easy to come by. As late as the middle of the 20th century, most mountain farmers practiced bee keeping.
Mountain folk would make their own hives by sectioning a hollow tree, putting boards over the bottom and top, and making an entrance hole. Black gum was the preferred tree, as it was susceptible to a type of decay that made it hollow. The homemade hives were called bee gums.
The next step was obtaining a hive of bees. Some bee hunters baited the bees with something sweet and followed them home. Book 2 in the Foxfire series offers this recipe from a veteran bee hunter: "Old timers used to put corn and dirt in a bucket, urinate in it, and then leave it for a few days. When they got back, the bees would be there."
The bee tree could be felled at any time of the year, but the best time was in September when the bee hunter could rob both honey and bees. He would bring an axe (to fell the tree), tub (for the honey), and bee gum or a sack (for the bees). Once the tree was down, he would locate the queen bee and place her in front of the gum or sack. Both she and her attendants would crawl into the gum or sack and be relocated at a site near the bee hunter’s cabin.