The challenges of being a beekeeper
Euripides Karayiannakos started working with beehives as an amateur 28 years ago, until 2014 when he decided to move to the next level by becoming an entrepreneur and make a living out of his hobby along with other activities that he has in his place of origin – a small traditional village in Sparta, Greece, called Tripi.
“Our beehives are located at the foothills of mount Taygetus. They are 60 in number and they give us around 300 kilos of honey each year”, he says. “For being a beekeeper, you need to be well trained. There are specific things you need to know in order to stay safe and keep your bees safe as well. One wrong move, one simple misjudgment, can cost your life and kill your bees.”
What are the challenges in being a beekeeper nowadays? Can you actually earn a living as a local producer through your family apiaries?
“Well, that depends on the number of beehives you have. If it is your main occupation and your only income you have to have over 150 beehives in order to make a living. But still you cannot be sure of the outcome. You can have a good year but the next can be empty handed. You see, I mainly work as an olive oil producer. I have these beehives with my father and I also work at tourists’ guesthouses during the summer. All these things, can provide me a safety net as far as my income is concerned that beehives alone couldn’t.”
How hard having a small-scale apiary can be and is it actually doable producing organic honey?
“Well, ignorance is the main problem as far as our profession is concerned. And by that, I mean the ignorance of the people towards our product. I sell my honey for ten euros per kilo and people keep telling me how expensive it is. The truth is that I cannot compete the prices that come out from a mass production apiary (the one that a factory may have). On the other hand, an organic bee keeper produces even less honey than I am. How could he compete these prices? But still, defining as "organic" a honey production is not something as easy as it seems. You see, even if the producer meets up all expectations and condition in his apiaries, how can he be sure that his bees won’t fly to an non-organic site? Bees can fly up to ten kilometers, which means that -in order to produce an organic honey- all of the surroundings they visit must be organic as well.”
What is the difference between your local honey and mass-produced honey?
«All the types of the honey I produce crystallize (all of them but the spruce). This, is a sign which demonstrates that this specific honey was naturally produced. I use completely safe and approved methods to support my beehives, whereas during the winter I use sugar in order to sustain the bee hives alive. Despite this fact, my honey is being constantly controlled by the competent services and there is no trace of medicine nor sugar in it. That is because I use these supportive measures for a very specific period of time that cannot harm the nutritional value of the final product. On the other hand, mass-production factories tend to heat honey up to 90 Celsius degrees. That kind of heat destroys crystalline bonds and honey does not crystallize anymore. As a result, this kind of honey has zero nutritional value in comparison to mine. But, at the end of the day, the state does not support small-scale farmers. Traders and supermarkets are favored. Nothing will change unless the whole system changes. But there is one thing from which this change could evolve: The state should stop honey imports and support small-scale producers who -of course- should sell at reasonable prices.”
Are bees misunderstood? Do you believe that people are aware of the crucial role they have as far as the stability and actually the existence of our ecosystem in concerned?
“Very few people are actually aware of the importance of the bees in our ecosystem. Bees fertilize thousands of species of plants. They consist some of the most important pollinators and without them nature and food chain wouldn’t exist as we know them. In China, where pollution rules, people tend to pollinate the pants by transferring pollen from one to the other.”
Really, have you noticed any difference in the number of bees or honey production all these years?
“Sure! There are huge differences today with respect to -let’s say- the production that we had forty years ago. Back then, my father had just 20 beehives and they were giving us 500 kilos of honey, plus there were no illnesses threatening the beehives.
All these -and many more- are related to climate change, pesticides that kill the bees, transmission antennas which disorient bees and irresponsible beekeepers who do not properly use medicines at their beehives and they are causing the spread of diseases fatal for bees and subsequently for beehives.”
How can we ensure their future? It’s not a simple question and it has innumerous parameters and answers, but just name some.
“We must change our attitude towards nature. We must protect our environment. We must embrace biodiversity. Bees are hungry because of monocultures. Pollution is a threat, hormones and pesticides as well. And all these things consist a threat not only towards the bees, but towards humanity as well. Transmission antennas and wind generators must meet specific standards...”
Does the future seem bright to you?
“I am not so optimistic. That’s the truth. How can I be when I see that the entire planet is sacrificed on the altar of profit? The only thing that keeps me hopping is the conviction that nature knows better. Nature keeps sending messages. All we have to do is to decode them and act.”
Photo: Timothy Paule via Pexels