"Tupelo time"

Group Title: New Series - State of Florida. Department of Agriculture ; no. 98
Title: Tupelo honey
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00002880/00001
 Material Information
Title: Tupelo honey
Series Title: Bulletin New Series
Physical Description: 12 p. : ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Whitfield, J. A
Florida -- Dept. of Agriculture
Publisher: Florida State, Dept. of Agriculture
Place of Publication: Tallahassee Fla
Publication Date: 1939
Subject: Honey -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Tupelo -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Honey plants -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Genre: government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Statement of Responsibility: by J.A. Whitfield.
General Note: "April 1939."
General Note: Cover title.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00002880
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 28539329

Table of Contents
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    "Tupelo time"
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Full Text

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It is not difficult to speak of Nature to a friendd, and under-
standing audience. Both you and I turn to her in her primitive
glory, when we seek rest, inspiration and strernthL to carry on.
Perhaps we have been cruising on the Gulf and su-:,enly be-
came filled with the urge for "fresh woods and pastures new".
If we set ojr course up the historic Apalachicola Ri'er to the
Chipola and the famous Dead Lakes and feasted our eyes on
the inspiring verdure of virgin forest, if, in desire to prolong
the vision, we had shut ofi the rnutur arid Icd rnhrd ._-tarily to
some overhanging bough, our eats would have joined our eyes
in ecstatic appreciation. The busy hum of myriad ees would
reach us, sooth us and comfort us. An upward glarce would
disclose above and al! around us thousand- of fuzzy blooms,
giving of their sweetness to the greatest workers in the world.
You would have chanced upon industry in its pristine glory,--
TUPELO HONEY TIME--latter part of April
Most of this bee keeping country is as wild aJ in the days
of the Conquisidores. If we pursue our investigation further,
we f;-d that the only evidences of man or civilization are the
apiaries, elevated upon high platforms up and do.vn the banks
of the river. These are from five to twenty five feet ;n height,
from fifteen to twenty-five feet wide and from three to five
hundred feet long. The hives are placed upon either side of
the platform with the bee entrances pointing outward, leaving
a walkway o, between six and eight feet between the hives.
Aside from its mild and delicious flavor, this Tupelo Honey
has distinct and peculiar characteristics that make it a preemi-
nent product in certain fields. By analysis, it contains about
twice as much levulose as dextrose, or a proporaticn of 23%c.
dextrose, 46% levulose with the usual four or five percent of
sucrose The average American honey curtains about 39.:. of
levulose and 34% of dextrose The higher percentage of le-
vulose in Tupelo Honey makes it a product that DOES NOT
GRANULATE. Samples have been kept for twenty-five years
without granulation.
A number of physicians have discovered that sugar, levulose
is more readily tolerated by diabetics than any other sugar and


Tupelo has been recommended to many thus affected with
wonderful results. It should not be used, however, without the
attending physician's investigation and approval.
Another problem of the Tupelo Honey producer is one of
early pollem. Many of the keepers find it profitable to move
their hives to points in South Georgia, where plenty of natural
pollen is available. In fact for months the bees are subjected
to an unconscious process of preparation for the brief period
of tupelo flow, which in normal seasons is at its height from
the middle of April to the middle of May. The flow lasts be-
tween three and four weeks ac.crding to climatic conditions
and the hives are robbed two or three times, practically all of
the honey being removed the last time.
Usually during the first part of January the bees are brought
back from their winter quarters in Georgia and they begin to
feed almost at once on titi, maple, ironwood and a variety of
other early blooming plants. Having been practically dormant
for the past three months they are in their weakest condition
at this time. During the remainder of January and all of Feb-
ruary they are carefully built up and nurtured in preparation
for the real work of the spring. In unusually cold seasons it is
necessary to feed the bees, but normally they find sufficient
sustenance among native growths.
In March the black tupelo gum, oak and other trees begin
to bloom and the bees, which are now in good condition, begin
to work in earnest. The colonies are encouraged to continue
building up and the foundation is placed for the top boxes. At
the end of the black tupelo flow and just before the white tu-
pelo blooms, the hives are completely cleaned out, so that the
white and dark tupelo may not be mixed. Black tupelo is known
to the trade as amber and is sold to manufacturers of candy
and confections.
About April the 20th, the white tupelo flow is at its height
and the bees have reached their best condition of the year and
they need all their strength, for within three or four weeks
many hundred thousand pounds of honey are gathered. The
bees work so frantically that the average life during this flow
is twenty-one days. They wear out their wings in that time
and die.
At the conclusion of the white tupelo flow, some of the pro-
ducers leave their hives to be filled during June and July with
honey and pollen from the wild grape vine and snow vines for
the winter months, as all of this is dark honey and not profit-
able commercially. The most profitably operated apiaries fol-


low a different plan. They screen over and c'ose their hives
and transport them into the farming sections of extreme North
Florida and South Georgia where they are allowed to pass the
rest of the summer in gathering honey and pollen for the
winter months. With the arrival of cold weather they become
dormant and as stated in January are brought back to the home
apiary to begin the operation all over again.
From the foregoing it is readily ascertainable that the pro-
duction of tupelo honey does not follow the same smooth roads
as that of other varieties. The problems of transportation north
and return, the location of the apiaries with reference to own-
ers' homes, as well ds the ordinary expenses and replacements
incidental thereto, all these make necessary a price slightly
higher than for other grades. When one considers the merit of
the product, the difference is entirely negligible. The bee-
keepeir who prodJuc Tu plo Honey, during ihn quarter of a
century of its existence, have never striven for r.:hes, but have
been, and still are, perfectly satisfied with a fair return for
their labor. Their excess profits are in the associations inci-
dental to their work, the beauty and soul's satisfaction of the
woods and waters
It will be remembered that Tupe!o Honey is never sold in
the comb, but always in liquid form. This gives an essentially
purer product as every drop is strained The honey men have
always been proud of their product and taken keen interest in
preserving its reputation. To this end a little over year ago, a
Cooperative Association was formed among the most progres-
sive of the beekeepers to perpetuate the progress and purity of
Tupelo Honey, as well as to take charge of the marketing of
the product.



A GRAY, April morning-coldt and dreary even on a palatial
extra fare train rushing across the continent. Travel-weary pas-
sengers drift into the dining car, scowl at the menu and stare
gloomily at the cloud veiled landscape. The waiter deferen-
tially suggests to one, "And will you have honey with your
waffle, sir? It is the very finest honey made-pure white tu-
pelo. Yes, sir! I'm sure you will like it."

The breakfast is served, and in due time a small, squat jar
of crystal clear, pale yellow fluid appears before the weary
guest. Its contents are revealed as a delicately flavored, infi-
nitely smooth, slow-pouring liquid, which becomes subtlety it-
self on the palate, perfect in flavor and consistency. The guest,
suddenly hungry, consumes the last drop with satisfaction.

Two thousand miles from the chance diner and his pleas-
antly, though expensively gratified appetite, there lies a heav-
ily timbered, sparsely settled region of which he never heard,
and through it runs a calm, purposeful river with a long Indian
lame that would be only a jumble of the alphabet to him. It is
a friendly river, but it is businesslike and as it rounds a deep
curve in the shoreline it neither repulses nor urges one to fol-
low. Yet if one descends the gentle slope of the shore to a boat
waiting among graceful, gray tree trunks that stand in the shal-
low backwaters, there would be no delay in paddling out into
the bayou, clear of the clustering trees, past the steamboat
landing and out into the current. For those who listen to rivers
know that this one has something to say.
Rapidly, happily the miles flow past. Evenly, unhurriedly the
river swings on between banks massed with the glorious green
of a virgin forest, rich in realization of a southern April. Cyp-
ress, cottonwood, water, elm, sycamore, laurel oak, cedar, hick-
ory, live oak, chinquapin, water ash, sweet bay, box elder-all
these and more crowd its banks and form a background for
thickets of willow, button bush, black haw, titi and hackberry.
Darkly massed behind them loom giant magnolias dotted with
early bloom that trails its exquisite fragrance on the morning
air. Wild Wisteria scrambling adventurously over shrubs and
trees, swings its first purple tassels in the river breeze, and
feathery cottonwood and fluffy willow blooms drift lightly down
through the soft air.
Far more numerous than any of these, however, are thickly


branched trees with sturdy gray brown trunks and dark, glossy
leaves They seem to be everywhere-tender slips at the
water's edge, thick bushy younglings mingled with the forest
growth on the low shore, mature trees standing in the still
backwaters and lagoons. This is the tupelo gum tree of the
southern lowlands. From its branches at this .season depend
thousands upon thousands of small fuzzy ball's or blooms, on
long stems and in thick clusters. And upon those has been
founded, casually and gradually, an industry that offers to
discriminating world markets a valuable corrarcdity in the
form of a choice type of the most wholesome sweet known.
For miles down the river there is no sign of human habita-
tion, but hidden in the edge of the leafy screen along the banks
one unwittingly passes many well tenanted homes of timeless,
eager workers. Though the air be he:vy, with the scent of
spring blossoms these busy swarms of Italian bees pay no at-
tention to ariy but he white tupelo looms, and the riverfront
and swamp in all directions are astir with them through the
daylight hours. The "flow" is on: It is tupelo time.

For those who think of Florida only as a tropical %.inter play-
ground where a fortunate few may loll in summer attire on
white sand beaches, there is a revelation in a trip to the little
known northwest section of the state Here four counties dip
down to form the last descending point of land before the Gulf
Stream sweeps up to hollow out the great curve of the penin-
sular's western shore. Here is a land undeveloped drowsing
happily among its riches, covetous of no one, desirous of noth-
ing, unselfish to a fault. Endless acres of cutover pine land,
worked cut years ago by the great lumber corrianies, are aban.
doned to pasturage and casual turpentining of the younger
growth timber. Deep swamps thickly crowded with hardwood
trees, as yet spared the timberman's axe and saw, shelter birds
and game in great numbers.
Centrally located in this undeveloped region and fronting
on the Gulf of Mexico is Gulf County, created from the south-
ern part of Calhoun County in 1925. It is sparsely settled,
there being perhaps no more than 5,000 people in the entire
county. Wewahitchka, a small village located in the north cen-
tral section, is the county seat and is the nucleus of the tu-
pelo honey industry of northwest Florida, with an annual pro-
duction of 535,000 pounds of fancy white tupelo honey, which
brings the producers about $60,000
Fancy white tupelo honey is considered the choicest kind
and grade offered to the trade, as it is delicately flavored, crys-


tal clear, light in color, smooth in consistency, high in density
and is not variable in any way. In addition to these advantages,
the pure white tupelo honey has the remarkable qualities of
never granulating and never becoming rancid. One producer
at Wewahitchka has a sample of honey which he has kept for
nineteen years. It is kept in an ordinary glass jar with a cork,
and retains the same flavor, color and consistency which it had
in the beginning. Despite these exceptional qualities, white
tupelo honey rarely reaches the consumer in an unadulterated
state, because the producers for the most part sell direct to
canners and commission men who have utilized it 1t. build up
and improve blended honey fr.-m other sections. The advant-
age to the concern which bottles honey is obvious; the addition
of a small quantity of white tupelo honey to that of other fla-
vors and grades improves the taste and lengthens the time dur-
ing which it will keep without granulation or deterioration.
The disadvantage to the producer who has so carefully
handled his apiaries throughout the year in order to guarantee
the purity of his tupelo honey is also obvious, since few con-
sumers ever obtain his produce in an unadulterated state or
know its source. The remedy, apparently, lies in a movement
now on foot to revolutionize the prevailing system of market-
The tupelo gum tree, both white and black, is native to the
swamps and river bottoms of northwest Florida and grows pro-
fusely in them. It also grows in Louisiana, Mississippi and other
southern states, but Gulf County apiarist state that the pro-
duction of pure white tupelo honey has not been reduced to an
exact science except in their locality. The black tupelo makes
a darker and less desirable honey than the white, and mixing
of the two is carefully avoided in the Wcwahitchka section
where beekeepers have learned to manage their hives in such
a way as to accomplish this.
The Chattahoochee River, rising in central Georgia, flows
south to the Gulf of Mexico, and is joined near the Florida line
by the Flint River from Alabama. From this point the stream
is called the Apalachicola until it reaches the Gulf at the town
and bay of the same name. For about sixty miles of its lower
course the banks and backwaters of the stream are heavily
wooded with the tupelo gum, and the river swamps in which
this tree thrives vary from one to twenty miles in width. Learn-
ing early of the superior quality of honey produced by the tu-
pelo gum and the preference of the bees for it, local apiaries
placed their colonies of bees on the river bank or deep in the
swamps, often locating from ten, twenty or more miles from
any human habitation .There are few roads in this section, and


many apiaries are inaccessible except by boat. Most of the tu-
pelo acreage is leased from its owners by apiarists, though
some own the land on which they operate There :re twenty-
eight of the larger apiary sites, averaging twernt,/ five acres to
the site and covering more than twenty thousands acres in all.
Scientists have stated that bees will fly three miles for hurney,
but practical apiarists in the Wewahitchka section believe that
two miles is an average distance of flight, and they locate their
colonies with this in view. The Italian bee predominates in this
district, though some of the wild bldck Lees vhich abound in
Florida forests have mingled with hives in a few apiaries. The
wild bees are difficult to handle and arc not defirabl' f,'r com-
mercial use.
Honey producers were alarmed and distressed ab-out a year
ago because of the cntranre of cigar box manufacturers into
the white tupelo section and the purchase of tu-elo gum tim-
ber by them. It was found, much to the relief of the apiarists,
that the wood of the tupelo gum is too light and brittle for use
in box making and other hardwoods were substituted
The tupelo gum, or cotton gum tree, is usually fifty to sev-
enty-five feet in height and two or three feet in diarnele,, and
it frequents swamps and inundated areas. The base is often
enlarged, and the tree has a fairly straight trunk covered with
thin, gray-brown bark, deeply furrowed. The branches are
smooth and light brown, and the blender, pointed leaves are
thick, their upper surface being dark green and lustrious and
the lower pale and downy. The blossoms are usualsi borne on
separate trees, the male in dense round clusters and the fe-
male alurke on long slender stems. The bloom appears before
the leaves on the black tupelo gum, but the opposite is true
of the white tupelo. The male tupelo bloom resem'!es a black
clove and is said to contain more honey than the female bloom,
which is a small fuzzy ball. Each of them sprretes nectar con-
stantly and profusely from twenty to twenty-five da s, and bees
return again and again to the same blossoms for honey, which
often gathers so thickly that it could be scraped off with a
knife. It is believed that twelve days elapse from the bud to
the full bloom of the tupelo, and after the period of sccretion
the pod turns brown and drops off.
The present State apiary inspector for that district has re-
sided near Wewahitchka since 1885, and he has records of
carefully conducted tests in which single colonies of bees have
been known to gather twenty pounds of honey in one day. In a
favorable season one apiary containing ninety colonies pro-
duced thirty-eight barrels of honey in three weeks, each barrel


containing thirty gallons. The average production of one hun-
dred colonies during the brief period in which they gather
white tupelo honey is twenty, thirty gallon barrels, but records
of twenty-five and even twenty-seven barrels are common. The
confinement of the bc-s' activities to the short space of three
or four weeks makes possible the production of unadulterated
white tupelo honey, and the insects "on vacation" during the
remainder of the year.

For months the bees are subjected to an unconscious process
of preparation for the brief period of the white tupelo "flow"
which in normal seasons is at its height from April 20th to
May 15th. It lasts from three to four weeks, and the hives are
robbed two or three times, practically all of the honey being
removed the last time.
During the first week in January the hives are brought from
their winter quarters to the spring colony locations and the
bees begin to feed at once on titi, maple, ironwood and a va-
riety of other early blooming plants. Having been dormant for
two or three months, they are in the weakest condition of the
year at this time. Through January and February they are care-
fully built up and nurtured in preparation for the real work of
the spring. In unusually cold seasons it is necessary to feed the
bees, but normally they find sufficient sustenance among na-
tive growths.

In March the black tupelo gum, oak and other trees begin
to bloom, and the bees which are now in good condition begin
work in earnest. The colonies are encouraged to continue
building up and the foundation is placed for the top boxes.
At the end of the black tupelo flow, and just before the white
tupelo blooms, the hives are completely cleaned out, so that
the white and black tupelo honey may not be mixed. The black
tupelo honey is known to the trade as "amber" and is sold to
manufacturers of candy and confections.
About April the 20th the white tupelo "flow" is at its height
and the bees have reached their best condition of the year.
Within a period of about three weeks, more than 500,000
pounds of white tupelo honey are gathered in this vicinity and
the bees work so frantically that the average life of a working
bee during the "flow" is estimated to be twenty-one days. He
wears his wings out in that length of time and dies.
At the conclusion of the white tupelo flow some producers
leave their bees to fill up the hives during June and July with
honey and pollen from the wild grape vine and snow vine for


the winter months, as all of this is dark honey and is not of
high value commercially. The most profitably operated api-
aries, however, follow a different plan. Immediately after the
white tupelo season the hives are screened over and closed, and
a river steamer collects them from the small landings which are
built at intervals. They are shipped from sixty to one hundred
miles up the river and its tributaries into farming sections of
Georgia and Alabama, where they are scattered in small groups
of several colonies each and allowed to ps: lt".e rest of the
summer in gathering honey and pollen for the v.inter months.
With the arrival of cold weather thr:y Lecc.me c'rmant, and in
early January, they are again shipped down the river to begin
their work of hive building and preparation for the brief period
of hcney flow. This pr.)ctice gives the bees access through the
summer to pollen and honey from cot;cn, corn and other cul-
tivated crops in addition to that from other wild growths. Very
little farming is done in th: white tiupelo scction where the
bees do their most important work, and they must be nourished
and maintained in good condition throughout the remainder
of the year. The large,.t individual producer in this section has.
an apiary thirteen miles from Wewahitchke where 326 colonies
of bees average 40,000 pounds of pure white tupe'o honey each
season. The presence of high water in the tupelo swamps dur-
ing several months of each year renders it necessary to build
many of the apiaries on platforms fourteen to sixteen feet in
height and three hundred to seven hundred feet long. The
honey house, containing two stories, is built immediately be-
hind the platform at its center and an inclined runway leads
from each story to a small wharf or steamboat landing.
The hives are placed in double rows along the platform, with
a passageway between, and the entire work of harvesting the
honey and packing it for shipment is handled in the honey
house at each apiary. All white tupelo honey is sold in the ex-
tracted form. When the hives are robbed the combs are
brought into the upper story of the honey house and placed in
a large vat, where a slicer removes the caps. It is then placed
in frames in a revolving drum and the honey is extracted by
centrifugal force, after which it runs through a pipe into a
large tank of very tight construction on the lo'.-er floor of the
honey house. Here the small amount of sediment and foreign
matter contained in the honey settles and the finished product
is drawn off into barrels constructed for this particular pur-
pose. Because of its weight, honey is particularly subject to
leakage, and it is difficult to handle in bulk. The barrels used
are specially coopered of choice cypress, carefully washed,
dried and paraffined inside. They are used only once, each sea-
son's shipments going out in new barrels. River steamboats run


twice a weel, : nd the barreled honey is delivered to them direct
from the dc k at the front of each apiary, or from regular
Prices received by the producers are very low in comparison
with the high price finally paid by the few consumers who ob-
tain this choice produce in its unadulterated form. The average
for the past four years has been ten cents a pound.
For many years the honey was bid in by representatives of
large commission houses who came to Wewahitchka for that
purpose at the close of the honey harvesting season each
spring. Eventually the monopoly which a few of these held
forced the price so low that local producers refused to sell and
formed a cooperative association which has successfully han-
dled the crop in recent seasons.
The advantages and possibilities of the industry are obvious.
The apiaries require comparatively little attention, though
practical operators are constantly studying the needs of the in-
dustry. The net returns on each producer's investment are
, good, even at present low market prices. It is, however, a sea-
sonal business,' involving very heavy work during the harvest-
ing season and slack periods of employment at other times.
Because of the isolated location of the apiaries, losses from
forest fires and similar sources are considerable. Ill-timed
rains sometimes prove very costly to honey producers, and a
single hard shower in the height of the white tupelo flow is
estimated to cost the producers $25,000 or more. Apiaries
have been carefully spaced with regard to the probably num-
ber of bees operating on each tract, and as yet the white tupelo
is plentiful and there has been no shortage of honey material.
The industry was established in this section more than fifty
years ago, apparently in an accidental manner, and it has grown
to proportions which are admittedly beyond the capacity of lo-
cal producers to handle satisfactorily. It remains only for busi-
ness to recognize the possibilities of the industry and to ex-
ploit them through practical channels, in order that the public
at large may come to know by name a delicious American prod-
uct now enjoyed by only a few-fancy white tupelo honey.

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