‘Bees and humans have similarities, both of them are indescribably greedy’ – beekeeper jokes about bees when taking the honey harvest.
Have you ever seen how beekeepers harvest the honey ?
We neither. That’s why we decided to visit beekeeper and see harvesting process with our own eyes.
When we met Mindaugas he took us to Lithuanian forest, where his bees live. He goes to the woods to collect the honey from beehives. Or firstly, to collect honey combs to produce honey. Exactly, you thought that it’s an easy process, haven’t you! First season honey is a real treasure after a long winter – Mindaugas says.
We put our beekeepers hats and walk to the forest with him, where the bees swarms live.
An important lesson we learn – it’s great when the weather is mild. Peaceful Summer days are the best time to take harvest. Then bees are more quiet than usually. They are more calm and beekeeper can work with bare hands without any stings. Can you imagine that?
Beekeeping is not an easy profession. You have assess the health of the hive, check mite infestations, monitor and treat the hive and maintain records of health, medication administration, and honey production.
A beekeeper is also responsible for feeding bees, cleaning and constructing hives, raising and replacing queen bees and other. Some beekeepers also work directly with honey processing and bottling equipment. Mindaugas does that too with his family together.
Mindaugas keep his hives close to small city called Babtai in Kaunas district. Not far from his homeplace, so he can check his bees during weekends.
When we met Midaugas, we couldn’t stop smiling. He was joking about bees and beekeeping all the time. Mindaugas could probably talk about his bees more than about anything else. There is a saying in our country:
Only a person with good heart can grow bees
And that’s absolutely applies for Mindaugas.
Oridnary person with an extraordinary passion.
Ever heard about strange hobbies? Well you would say that Mindaugas has a interesting one. He loves to catch feral bees swarms and place them into his beehives. The technique is quite simple, but you have to know where bees swarms like to buzz around. Mindaugas also told us that nowadays bees could hardly survive without human help. And they need to be treated and sometimes even feeded. Some of those caught ‘feral’ bees might also be just from another beekeeper.
The harvesting process is quite a long game. Beekeeper has to open the hive and check all the honeycombs to see if they are filled with honey. Every beekeeper use a smoker. I always thought that is the way to protect beekeeper from bees stings, but it is the all way around. This makes sure bees fly away from their hives filled up with honey. The smoke makes bees think that the hive is on fire and they instinctively try to save as many honey as they can. That saves bees even if they lost their own hive, because they will be accepted into another hive if they carry enough honey with them.
Some swarms are stronger and some are not. Some produce few honey combs from their hive and the other ones are more or less empty. You need to check honeycombs and collect only those with fully closed cells.
Beekeeper shared his knowledge with us:
‘When you start working with bees, it seems that life is bustling up there. But after a while, bees calm down and start to recognise their beekeeper.
The honey collected during Spring time is a recent invention. Our grandparents in Lithuania have never collected honey till Autumn. Nowadays beekeeper can harvest 30kg honey from one hive. If you compare it to our grandparents they harvested only 10kg of honey, because they collect the honey only one time per season.
The type of harvesting that Mindaugas use is called ‘German beekeeping’. Beekeeper don’t harm bees. They share their honey with us and we take care of them – Mindaugas says.
Martens eat bees and their honey, as well as hedgehogs. One friendly hedgehog live close by Mindaugas family house. He always sees the hedgehog coming to guttle the dead bees, who die along the way when with collected honeycombs. I can always recognize that hedgehog – Mindauas says – he has one blind eye so you can hardly unrecognize him.
Bees has an enemy from nature. It is shallows. They catch bee drones, because they are heavy and slow. Mindaugas even has an agreement with his neighbours: No shallows nests on the buildings or no honey!
Bees or honey are more expensive?
There is one the most expensive honey in the world (250g can cost 70 €). It’s manuca honey, collected only in New Zealand from mānuka tree. All type of honeys have antibiotic quality, but manuca’s honey has more components with antibacterial qualities that’s why it’s so valuable.
Now you think that honey is the only good thing that bees produce. But think about it. If all bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live. That makes us rethink a little bit and try to protect our mother nature from this disaster to happen.
Bees keep beekeeper healthy
If you ever wondered why raw honey can help you with sore throat. Then you probably know about probiotical powers of honey. Raw honey consists of probiotics and therefore can stimulate your immune system. It also has antibiotic effect. Why? Because probiotics secrete numerous natural compounds to kill off those bacteria that threaten their territories.
That is the answer why all Mindaugas family forget about the flu during the Autumn time The entire family works in honey processing farm. They own an old school which they converted into honey producing ‘fabric’. Mindaugas wife and his daughter work with an extractor to remove honey from combs. During this process the whole room starts to smell like a honey! And after few times of honey extracting gives you extra portion of power to defend from diseases for 3 months.
Harmless way of harvesting honey
Mindaugas takes care of his bees even when he is harvesting honey. Not like Californian companies which seek more money and keep bees only for that. Did you know that there is two ways of harvesting honey? The cold type. Honeycombs that are filled with honey are covered with beeswax. Firstly, these beeswax caps have to be removed. Mindaugas wife and daughter uncap the honey combs to let the honey flow. For this they use uncapping machine, but before all what they used were their hands and special fork.
Later on they put the uncapped honey combs into extractor. It spins the frames around inside. The honey is thrown out and collects at the bottom of the drum. There is a tap at the bottom of the extractor, so the honey ir pulled out that way. The honey comes out from the tap with a golden flow and through a mesh into bucket. Then the honey is bottled into the jars.
You get honey that is not heated in any way during the process, which means none of the delicate antibiotics and enzymes within the honey are destroyed. It all makes it into the jar.
Beekeeping for Mindaugas is a fun and profitable hobby, but he hopes it to become a real business venture. Now money from beekeeping directly goes for family holidays. We think that is a good ways of investing money! If you want to support Mindaugas idea you can buy honey directly from his farm at ‘Medaus Dvaras’.
After a day on a bees farm we found harvesting interesting and dedication required process. We also found it a bit magical, because all bees were incredibly calm and peaceful that day. So we enjoyed bees mesmerizing humming and the harvesting process.
All words by Eisve Treciakauskaite and all images by Justinas Lekavicius, unless otherwise noted.