Bees usually work the areas that are within a 1/4 to 1/2 mile away from the hive. As we get further into the season and the hives build up in population, they will tavel farther and farther to to collect nectar and pollen if they can't find nectar close by. They will travel up to 1 1/2 miles or further if they can't find what they want.
I think the reason you did not see them earlier on your apples, was that the hives are far enough away from you, that they were harvesting closer to their hive at that time of the season.
I don't have any bee hives and have no plans on getting any in the near future, but I can understand why you guys are into this. I was out doing a little scouting this morning and came upon a wild behive in an old oak tree. I was actually close enough to hear them before I noticed them. the entrance was about 10 feet up and there had to be hundreds of them going about there business. I don't think that any of them even knew that I was around, but I never got any closer than about 12 feet from the base of the tree. It was pretty neat just watching them for a couple of minutes.
5prong and others,
Interesting story and it reminds me of a story of my own. Back in 1977 me and a buddy attempted to harvest honey from a tree as you had described. It was located on my buddies property and the hive filled the hollowed out tree that was laying on its side for good 8 to 10 feet. It was a big hive. There we many combs.
We took two fishing hats and taped on a pair of his moms old leg stockings to the brim of the hat. Then we put on two layers of clothes and taped up our sleeves and ankles with duct tape and wore thick gloves. His mom laughed at us and said we looked goofy. She was right, we did.
We took a coffee can with rags soaked in used motor oil to use as our smoker. So us two 15 year old hillbillies went off to collect all this honey.
Looking back the smoker worked fairly well at first. The bees were really slurping up the honey. We knew nothing about what we were doing. Many of the combs had honey in them but many were filled with bee larva.
Our makeshift attempt in making a bee mask with the fishing hat and stocking worked for a moment. But eventually they were finding their way in and we got stung on the neck and face.
We took buckets filled with combs back to his farm. We had plenty of honey but I am sure we were eating some smashed larva in the process. We had no idea how to get the honey out of the combs and didn't have any equipment even if we would have known how.
Good memories and I know to leave the hive alone now. If I need honey, I buy it at the grocery store. It's less painful.
I have never seen a wild bee colony in the wild. I do know that most honey bees in the wild are a result of one of a beekeepers hives swarming, where have of the hive along with a queen take off and find a new home to live in. They are fun to watch. And when they are busy going about their business, they hardly know your there.
Thats quite a good story from 1977! Thats amazing that you boys sort of figured out a way to protect yourselves, nylon stockings and all, from the stingers of thousands of bees. What a sight to see, two bold and crazy boys digging into a wild colony of bees.
Oh, I do like your invention of a coffee can smoker filled with oil soaked rags.
Classic - I've seen quite a few wild honeybee colonies in my lifetime, but most of them were in my younger years when they weren't as scarce. This was probably the first one I've seen in at least 5-6 years though.
Were most of the bee hives that you have seen, up high like 10 feet or higher? I have read that Honey bees usually nest in hollow trees that have an entrance opening that is 10'-15' high. And sometimes in hollow trees on the ground, just like the one Latt was talking about.
I know that alot of beekeepers trap swarms during the swarm season. And they put a single hive box way up high in the crotch of a tree. Or they hoist the box up the side of a tree with a rope. They also bait the entrance of the hive box with an artificial queen scent to attract the swarm into the box. By trapping a swarm, you can start a whole new hive.
I hope to see one some day, and I hope its not the result of one of my colony swarming.
Most of the ones that I've seen have been in upright trees with an opening somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-12 feet above ground. I also remember seeing one in a hollow log laying on it's side. The one thing all of them have had in common is that they were all in fairly large trees with a diameter of at least 2 feet. The one I saw in the log laying on its side was neat because it had a fairly large hole in it and you could see quite a bit of the combs.