When I arrived at the orchard of Antonis Ilias, right next to the dam of Achna, I asked him how it is possible to open cells without a uniform. He told me that I came at a good time to inspect hives with bare hands, since the nectar secretion of the flowers is great, which calms his bees. It is also something else very important: it is a king breeder, so to some extent it can produce bees with less aggressive genes, while it is one of the few in Cyprus that exercises artificial insemination of a queen with drone sperm of its choice. He has been a beekeeper for about 50 years.
We arrive at the first hive that Mr. Elias will inspect. Carefully remove the outer lid and place it in the adjacent hive, along with all the bees inside. He takes out the frames one by one and examines them. Inspects bees, cells, larvae, nymphs, eggs, pollen. As long as this process takes the bees are not aggressive: by holding up the frame they allow him to set them aside every now and then with his finger, to observe the stored honey inside the honeycombs, sealed with wax and unsealed, as the bees dig in their heads and store it drop by drop.
“If the bee is hungry it is much more aggressive, while if it has enough supplies of honey it is much calmer,” he says, while continuing to examine. “That is, if we had come two or three months ago to this beehive that we opened now, when there was not enough flowering, it would not have allowed us to approach at a distance of less than twenty meters.”
In general, what do you have to observe about Cypriot honey, Mr. Antonis?
Look, all the honeys are of excellent quality, it is enough for the man not to intervene to destroy them. Okay, the Cypriot has more aroma, mainly due to the dry-thermal conditions that exist in Cyprus, it also has minimal humidity.
People often suspect honey. Is there a way to know when a honey is adulterated? Some say that by taste they can recognize it.
Nothing to do with. You can buy a honey that tastes perfect and is not even honey. For example, two years ago I bought a honey that tasted perfect, the label said it was 100% thyme, and it ended up being a syrup along with thymol, which is toxic. The only way to understand authenticity is through specialized chemical analysis.
And the other thing that people have some idea about is the crystallization of honey. Some say that when it crystallizes it is genuine, others that it heats up.
Nothing to do with. Both are wrong. All honeys in Cyprus crystallize. Either adulterated or genuine. Why does a honey crystallize? It is the combination of fructose with glucose. The higher the glucose, the easier it is to crystallize. Humidity also plays a role, but more so does increased glucose. For example, lapsana honey crystallizes in the honeycombs, especially in the outer frames, while when the weather is a bit cold it does not come out of the honeycombs, it becomes like stone, nor can the bees eat it then. It is a perfect, amazing honey, but it crystallizes. It is natural. And if you boil it at 2,000 degrees, it will crystallize again. Orange, for example, at 22 degrees starts and crystallizes, while thyme may want to go to 5 – 10 degrees to crystallize. All honeys crystallize, there is no honey that will not crystallize 100%.
Storage and sealing of honey by the workers.
“Woe to the bee if it spawned anywhere”
Then we head to another row of hives. With us is the wolf dog, Max, who, although he is not afraid of anything else, is often frightened by the bees that tease him.
“People should not be afraid of the bee”, his boss emphasizes in “P”. “The bee in just one radius around the hive can be aggressive – and that depends, it can be one meter, another two, another three, another ten. If you go to a tree that is loaded with bees it will not even try to get the bee on you. Alas if the bee was spinning anywhere. And when you see her coming at you, she's just trying to get away and she can hit you inadvertently. “Only in Cyprus, unfortunately, do we have the mentality of 'seeing the bees'”.
Mr. Elias admits that he will never forget his experience about 50 years ago, when for the first time in his life he went to harvest honey. There were four hives in an orchard in present-day Achna, a few kilometers from the orchard we are in. “I forgot to tie the uniform in the middle and as soon as we opened the hive, the bees entered the uniform from there,” he says. “The orchard from the house is 2-3 kilometers. “I ran through the pergolas to the village, the bees were crowing”, he says laughing.
“We never got enough honey from those beehives!” He says. “So, if we had today's bees, each hive would produce 100 kilos of honey with so much flowering at that time,” he says.
The A pis melifera cypria we lost
The incident of Mr. Antonis gives us, as he says, some of the characteristics – specifically the aggression and the little honey production – of the local Cypriot bee Apis melifera cypria, which, according to him, was lost due to the systematic introduction of foreign species of queens. by many beekeepers.
Of course, according to him, for those who imported and are importing foreign species may have achieved in the beginning more honey production, less swarming (the abandonment of the swarm by parts of it, something that creates weak in number of bee parts and therefore no or minimal honey production during each nectar leak), more brood production by the queens and ease of handling by the beekeeper, since the foreign ones are calmer, but over time their bees move away from the purebred gene so that all this is lost and created damage: the bees become more aggressive and the swarming increases. “ From what I hear, the practice is pan-Cypriot this year, a huge problem that we will face in the coming years”, he emphasizes. “It's a huge problem, which the vast majority of beekeepers do not realize,” he says. “90-95% do not realize the damage they are doing. Because he comes and says 'I want a perfect queen!'. There is no such thing as a perfect queen or a perfect bee. It is a continuous struggle in which over the years you try to improve a little each year with kingship. But again, where does that queen from whom you made your royal breed come from? How stable are the genes? If you take a queen whose genes are not stabilized, then you take your eyes off the essence yourself. You easily create a problem in yourself, which you can not change “.
Can you find the queen?
The development of the dam – the “bee park”
We close and leave behind the hive, moving along the borders of the orchard with the dam of Achna. Mr. Antonis plans to create a bee theme park, which he believes will be the beginning of the dam's development. It has already secured the relevant planning permission. “It is something that will offer not only the tourist, but also the local population, something different, an alternative way of tourism, very different from what we know,” he says. “The dam has terrible prospects, we have a plan for planting trees, based on Forestry programs. But it takes patience because it is not something that will happen in a year, it takes about a decade for the project to be fully implemented “.
The dam of Achna.
Beehives and climate change
“The beekeeper understands climate change. In the last decade I see the years of drought one after another. “Basically we had a rainy year, the other years we had drought.”
“This year of beekeeping in our area started badly – it did not rain and we were disappointed at first, then it was quite good, until January 10, then we went back. Generally the beekeeper, like the farmers, depends on the weather conditions. Whatever bee you have, even the best, if you do not have the right flora from the weather, you will not produce honey. And there is no stable flowering in one place, unless you turn the bees all over Cyprus, and again that, if it does not rain, will bring the same result “.
You are part of the process
What has beekeeping offered you for so many years, Mr. Antonis?
More moral satisfaction. Look, if you do not like beekeeping, do not worry, it has always been a passion, it is and always will be something I like. I am satisfied only to open the hive and see that it has white honeycombs, even if it does not produce honey, because I see that it is a bee that is progressing. I just see that society, those efforts of mine – especially when I see whether or not the queens I create succeed. This value is! Just work, offer, see that you are part of that beekeeping process and that it goes well. You are in nature, because if you do not like nature or the bee, do not bother at all, nature and the bee go together.
Do you have a sequel?
Yes, he is my son.
You can watch videos from the inspections of the hives of Mr. Antonis Elias: