“How many bees are there in a beehive?” I ask.
“Anywhere between 50 000 and 70 000,” my grandfather says as he pulls out the first honeycomb plate.
With the second and third plates coming out, the gentle buzz I haven’t paid much attention to turns into a loud, thick, all-enveloping chorus of a buzz that fills the air and wraps itself around me.
It’s nearly 30°C. I am covered in long-sleeved clothes from top to toe, and a protective mask covers my face and head. As droplets of sweat trickle down my neck, I imagine them to be bees that have crawled inside my clothes. For one short fraction of a moment that feels like eternity, the trickles and the BUZZ of ten thousand tiny creatures sends shockwaves of fear up my spine.
“I might be a bit scared!” I squeal suppressing the urge to run through the fields… or rather fly away from all the bees. “Don’t be.” My grandfather replies with the calmness of someone pulling bunnies out of a hat rather than 50 000 bees out of their cosy beehive.
Then he points down to the smoker and mutters “There’s nothing to be scared of, they are dazed.”
That’s when I actually begin to pay attention. The bees are falling so effortlessly off the plates, they can hardly summon the strength for an aggressive outburst. The little buggers are practically drugged.
Harvesting honey begins with filling the smoker – a small, tin jug – with a mixture of rotten wood chunks, mushrooms and herbs. Beekeepers have been using smoke to appease bees and keep them at bay for hundreds of years. The smoker is placed in the grass next to the beehive.
We still put on protective masks and thick clothes, though. You can altogether skip the layers of clothes if you are used to getting stung. My 76-year-old grandfather has been collecting honey and hunting wild bees for long enough not to care about a sting… or a few. I wouldn’t dare.
I glance at the bunch of bees hovering in and out of a slit in the lower part of the hive, while my grandfather opens the upper part of their home. He pulls yet another plate covered in swarms of bees, who even in their dazed state look too preoccupied with their work to notice that their little construction site has just been pulled up into the air.
I am secretly hoping that there aren’t that many of them inside. Around lunchtime they must be out hopping from flower to flower, going about their nectar-collecting business.
Up until this moment I have no idea what a beehive looks like and before he opens the beehive my imagination is constructing pictures of bees working in highly complex alien-like structures built of a gazillion hexagons.
The reality is a bit more simple and less like a sci-fi animation flick. The bees have built their own intricate patterns of wax and honey on the surface of the man-made wooden plate.
My grandfather sweeps the bees off the plate so nonchalantly, yet with so much care, as if the insects are little romping about. He leaves the plates aside so we can take them away with us. And then he repeats it all over again with every other plate.
Later on, the wax is scraped off the plates into an extractor where it gets separated from the honey. It looks like runny gold trickling, while the particles of wax resemble golden flakes. Pure colours. And heavenly taste!