Bella Italia: visits to Italian bees and their keepers

Last week I spent a few days in Italy, near the little village of San Constanzo, in the Italian region of Marche. Drew’s Scottish aunt Alison lives there with her Italian husband Pino, and they kindly let us stay in one of their spare rooms. If you’re interested in staying in a lovely part of Italy, near the sea and rolling countryside, this is their bed and breakfast website – Alison Scott.

Bull eating carrots

Bull eating carrots

Above is Alison feeding the local farmer’s bull carrots. He has two bulls, both surprisingly shy. They came up cautiously for the carrots, and let us stroke their big fuzzy heads. In about six months time the farmer will turn them into steaks, so they deserve their carrots.

I left a country where I had been shivering in a winter coat and scarf, and touched down in a place where summer seemed to still exist. A golden glowing globe was present in the sky, so much so that I could walk around without a coat on!! Below are some photos of the lucky warm Italian bees and their keepers, taken by me and Drew.

Italian bees flying home

Bees on the farm zooming home. Although this location must be very productive, since about thirty hives are located there, the grass was very long around the hive entrances and I felt the hives could do with being on higher stands.

Long distance Italian beehives

Pastel colours on the skyline.

I like the bee on the left arriving home with an impressive load of pollen. The hive must be quite hard to defend with all these holes? Each hive also had a small entrance hole at the back, which I noticed a few wasps nosing around. Wonder if the beekeeper will put mouse guards on.

Borage and moth

Borage and moth

In Italy, borage was still out. I saw some pretty brown carder bees and lots of these moths visiting it.

The bee highlight of the trip, however, was visiting Alison’s friend Domenico. He is a skilled farmer and beekeeper (and also a complete flirt!). When Alison told him about me taking exams, he modestly insisted that I could teach him a thing or two, and that he was embarrassed to show me his hives. I have been keeping bees four years; Domenico has been keeping them since he was 15 and is now 83. When I replied that on the contrary, he would be the one who could teach me, I wasn’t being modest!

Domenico’s hives, shaded by pomegranate trees. Copyright Drew Scott.

Above are some of his hives, under pretty pomegranate trees. In the summer these must provide welcome shade for the bees. As well as honey production, Domenico grows grapes, pomegranates, olives, apples and pears. Additionally he keeps chickens and bulls. All this activity certainly seems to keep him fit and young looking. Alison told me she regularly sees him shimmy up trees to pick fruit.

Below, Domenico is opening up one of his hives in a fetching yellow suit.

Domenico at work

Domenico at work. Copyright Drew Scott.

I look on, while he talks away in Italian (I can’t speak any, and our translator Alison had momentarily gone away). A few bees instantly flew out and landed on my fleece, trying to crawl up inside my arm. Domenico shook them off and I kept my hands in my pockets after that. This was towards the end of our week, when the weather had taken a turn towards chilliness, so perhaps that had made them a bit moody.

Domenico showing me his hive

Copyright Drew Scott.

February 2012 was unusually cold and snowy in the Marche area, so many beekeepers lost their hives. Domenico asked me how I insulate mine, so I explained about using polystyrene in the top. Of course varroa is also a problem, so he uses Apilife Var strips, which are based on essential oils including thymol.

Domenico's honey

Domenico’s honey. Copyright Drew Scott.

Above is Alison holding a very heavy frame of honey. Domenico usually gets three to six supers per hive. I didn’t know how to explain that I’m lucky to get one! Normally the honey crop is over by August, but this year the acacia flowered late and produced a big late crop. Amazingly, the six hives he currently has were split from one swarm in September 2011. Beekeeping really is a different game over there.

Domenico, Alison and me

Domenico, Alison and me. Copyright Drew Scott.

I’m wearing a head scarf because I wasn’t sure if Domenico would have a spare veil for me to wear, and bees have a tendency to get stuck in my hair. By the way, he has a very strong grip! And check out the size of his hand compared to Alison’s in the bottom right corner. Big hands to grab bulls with.

Domenico

Domenico. Copyright Drew Scott.

He has a brilliant face, so full of character. Thanks for showing me your hives, Domenico!

The view from Alison's garden

The view from Alison’s garden

Double rainbow

After rain, a double rainbow shimmered above the fields.

Alison and Oslo

Alison and her affectionate tabby, Oslo. Copyright Drew Scott.

Drew at the seaside

Lastly and best of all, my gorgeous fiance at the seaside. His camera is never far from his side.

About Emily Scott

I am a UK beekeeper living in Ealing, west London. I have been keeping bees in the Ealing Beekeepers Association’s local apiary since 2008 and created this blog as a record for myself of my various beekeeping related disasters and - hopefully - future successes. Busy taking the British Beekeeping Association module exams too!
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33 Responses to Bella Italia: visits to Italian bees and their keepers

  1. Amazing pictures! What a fun trip!!

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  2. Great photos in such a beautiful location! You are having too much fun. I love cows and never saw such a placid bull.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks. I always thought bulls were angry beasts to be feared and avoided, but not these ones. They were more afraid of us! Alison told me we would not be safe if we went inside their enclosure though, as they would get worried and skittish. I could feel the power in their big wide foreheads.

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  3. Enjoyed sharing your visit to Italy and the great photographs. Domenico sounds a great character.

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  4. cecilia says:

    Loved this post, really. oh how I wish i could have been there, and you are a beautiful girl in your scarf. and what a tremendous shot of your hunk of a fiancee with his camera! Wonderful work all round! Now I am going to worry that my hives are too low, should they be up higher?c

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    • Emily Heath says:

      I wish you could have been there too!

      I thought the hives were a bit low because they are on a hilly field, which must be quite difficult to mow. The grass was obscuring a lot of the entrances. They don’t have cold winters there often, but when they do there would be a lot of dew round the entrance. Had they been using open mesh floors (they weren’t), the foliage could also have stopped air getting in and ventilating the hives properly.

      Here’s a pic of how high up the hives are at the Ealing apiary – https://adventuresinbeeland.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/l1010703-e1302364162881.jpg – I can see some of our foliage needed cutting back too! It grows up so quickly in the spring.

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  5. disperser says:

    Very nice. I’ll keep the B&B in mind.

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  6. Herb says:

    Emily … Thanks for taking us on such a beautiful trip to the Italian Countryside by the sea. Such a beautiful place … I feel like I known the people you visited! Great pictures and write-up. Makes me want to visit.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      Thanks Herb. It’s a lovely place to go if you want plenty of relaxing countryside walks, sunshine, pretty villages and great food – pizza, prosciutto, cheese, gnocchi, polenta, olives and plenty of honey. It’s much more of a laid-back sort of holiday than doing the big cities like Rome, Venice and Florence.

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  7. beenurse says:

    What a wonderful opportunity to meet with a beekeeper in italy. Very nice pictures too. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Mei says:

    Thank you for bringing some sunshine into our dreary mistiness. Lovely photos and post. I’d love to visit the area – it looks magnificent.

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  9. Such pretty pictures! Thanks for posting the bee pics … always so much fun to see how different people ‘bee’ differently.

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  10. A really good read, Emily. Enjoyed that.

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  11. anniesbees says:

    What a great trip and fantastic photos!

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  12. Alex Jones says:

    Great images, great article.

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  13. daveloveless says:

    Now that’s my kind of vacation! I’ll have to hide these pictures from my wife lest she get any ideas. 🙂

    Then again, maybe I should show them to her so that she gets some ideas….

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    • Emily Heath says:

      He he! There was also a local vineyard where I saw hives and tasted delicious honey. It was a very easy going holiday, getting away from the bustling city and spending time hanging out enjoying nature & good food & wine.

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  14. P&B says:

    Lovely story. Their hives look so much different than traditional hives I’ve seen, very interesting. Someone should document beekeeping around the world to see how different beekeeping is.

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    • Emily Heath says:

      The Italians seem to like painting their hives pastel colours, which looked very pretty. They generally were in a more ramshackle condition than British hives, with more holes and cracks. This might be because of the warmer climate meaning keeping cold out is not so important, or maybe just because Italian beekeepers are more laidback!

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  15. Great post, and your photos really bring it to life, I feel like I’ve been transported there myself. If only…

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  16. Mil says:

    Jealous! I still wished I could’ve met with some beekeepers in Spain and/or France. Next time, we plan to visit Provence, so maybe we can make the rounds in France and see bees.

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