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Positively Buzzing

When our Portuguese neighbour asked “have you ever thought about keeping bees at Monte da Quinta” I said, “oh yes, but I’m not sure I am cut out to be a bee keeper”. “No problem” he said, “I will keep he bees and we can share the honey”.  And that is the way we like to do things here in the Alentejo.

A Year Has Passed
It has been a year since 5 hives arrived at Monte da Quinta and what a hard year it has been for the colonies they contained. Due to the extremely dry, cold and late arrival of spring in 2012 our bees struggled to stay healthy and started do dwindle in number.
The struggle became even harder when the annual aerial battle commenced with the stunningly beautiful but utterly deadly Bee-eaters. These visiting migrants from West and South Africa are almost exclusively aerial hunters of insect prey. Prey is caught either while in continuous flight or more commonly from an exposed perch where the bee-eater watches for prey.  European Bee-eaters are able to spot a bee 60 m away. Consequently by mid summer just one colony of bees survived at Monte da Quinta.

A new year and a new start. We have now introduced a wild colony of bees, close in proximity to the blossoming Peach, Apricot and Orange trees at Monte da Quinta. Having made a rather rapid retreat from our Orange Grove on a particularly warm afternoon last week, as a large black buzzing cloud started to leave the hive.  I am pleased to report that the bees are currently doing very well indeed. We plan to add at least another three hives, so with our fingers crossed if our little buzzing workers can out smart those aerial predators this year we will finally taste our first honey.

Did you Know:

Pollination
Agriculture depends greatly on the honeybee for pollination. Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination. Without such pollination, we would see a significant decrease in the yield of fruits and vegetables.

Pollen
Bees collect 66 lbs of pollen per year, per hive. Pollen is the male germ cells produced by all flowering plants for fertilization and plant embryo formation. The Honeybee uses pollen as a food. Pollen is one of the richest and purest natural foods, consisting of up to 35% protein, 10% sugars, carbohydrates, enzymes, minerals, and vitamins A (carotenes), B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (nicotinic acid), B5 (panothenic acid), C (ascorbic acid), H (biotin), and R (rutine).

Honey
Honey is used by the bees for food all year round. There are many types, colors and flavors of honey, depending upon its nectar source. The bees make honey from the nectar they collect from flowering trees and plants. Honey is an easily digestible, pure food. Honey is hydroscopic and has antibacterial qualities. Eating local honey can fend off allergies.

Beeswax
Secreted from glands, beeswax is used by the honeybee to build honey comb. It is used by humans in drugs, cosmetics, artists’ materials, furniture polish and candles.

Propolis
Collected by honeybees from trees, the sticky resin is mixed with wax to make a sticky glue. The bees use this to seal cracks and repair their hive. It is used by humans as a health aid, and as the basis for fine wood varnishes.

Royal Jelly
The powerful, milky substance that turns an ordinary bee into a Queen Bee. It is made of digested pollen and honey or nectar mixed with a chemical secreted from a gland in a nursing bee’s head. It commands premium prices rivaling imported caviar, and is used by some as a dietary supplement and fertility stimulant. It is loaded with all of the B vitamins.

Bee Venom
The “ouch” part of the honeybee. Although sharp pain and some swelling and itching are natural reactions to a honeybee sting, a small percentage of individuals are highly allergic to bee venom. “Bee venom therapy” is widely practiced overseas and by some in the USA to address health problems such as arthritis, neuralgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even MS.