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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He has a brilliant face, so full of character. Thanks for showing me your hives, Domenico!
Lastly and best of all, my gorgeous fiance at the seaside. His camera is never far from his side.