This weekend Filipe and I participated in the first of a three part course in beekeeping. The course will take place over three weekends staggered through out the ‘bee season’ so we can track their progress and learn about the different stages of the hive. Filipe has experience with bees but for me it was the first time getting near the little guys. The course was in Portuguese of course, but the instructor, the wonderful Harold Hafner, is originally from Austria and as anyone who has learned a second language knows, other non-native speakers are often much easier to understand. Of course, Hafner also speaks English so after the lectures I was able to pull him aside for clarifications.
In this first part of the course we learned about the different species of bees. Europe is home to many different types of honey bees, in the northern countries (as well as in parts of the U.S.) the bees are quite calm but in Portugal they (mellifera iberiensis) have what Hafner calls, a latin temper. They are not more dangerous, just more likely sting you, so those charming photos of the guys opening beehives in t-shirts that I so hoped would one day be me, can be forgotten. We were fully suited up and in two days of working with the bees I didn’t get stung once!
|Does this suit make me look fat? Ha, no really, I asked that.|
I’m sure the Southerners are curious about the Aricanized Honey Bee. We don’t have them here because they are not able to survive above the 30th parallel, or anywhere north of the deep south in the case of the U.S. They have migrated slowly north since their introduction in Brazil more than 150 years ago. The African bee’s queen hatches two days earlier than the native bees ( I say native but there were no honey bees in North and South America before the Europeans- pollination was left to bumble bees and insects) so when they come to new hive they are easily able to take it over. Their queen egg hatches first and the queen kills the others as they hatch. This is normal procedure in a hive and if they all hatched at more or less the same time as is usual it would be a battle for the fittest but the African bees two day advantage makes them the clear winner, and we end up with a lot of African bees. The question I had was should we be afraid of them. Hafner doesn’t think we need to be as afraid of them as we are told to be. His mother lives in Florida and he says he has seen the shift from the ‘native’ Italian species to the African hybrid. He says they are slightly more aggressive, but what really sets them apart is that where a normal honey bee hive will follow an intruder maybe fifty yards, a hive of Africanized honey bees can peruse for up to a kilometer. Tip: if you’re being chased by bees run in a zig-zag pattern not a straight line! That said, it seems they are not so much more likely to sting you than any other species and in much of Central and South America beekeepers are not bothering to constantly purify their hives with new queens of a European species, as they are in the U.S. and instead they just go on raising the Africanized populations without much trouble.
|Filipe showing his skills|
We also learned about the different types of hives. In the U.S. and much of Europe the box hive is the standard. But in many places older designs still persist. In Portugal they have long used the bark of the cork tree as a hive. We have one of these, but they aren’t as easy to use as the modern hive. That said, I think it’s nice to have one in the name of tradition.
The best part of the course though, without a doubt, was the hands-on work with the bees. Going inside the hives and pulling out the sheets of wax we were able to locate the larvae, the pollen stores and, best of all, the honey stores! The bees whipped around our faces and crawled over everything but I must say I found the overwhelming buzzing quite soothing. I’m looking forward to getting our own bees this month and trying it for myself. Wish me luck!