Mingle together horses and bees
I was born in Sumy region, my parents are farmers and livestock breeders. I learned a trade of animal technician department in agriculture academy. I studied at the horse breeding department as I started with horses, but later I passed on to bees. For the beginning I bought two or three hives and I liked this work. Now I have 30 hives with which I make my living.
Usually to become a bee-keeper one just buys special books and instruments and practices. However, in Ukraine there are educational establishments: technical secondary schools and colleges where the students learn theory and get practical skills. The course lasts from 1 to 2 years, but the point is that bee keeping is usually a family business. When your grandfather or grand grandfather did bee keeping you know the matter well from the childhood, and the practical skills are most important.
Before the honey was pumped once a year, nowadays three or four times a year. We can gather around 60 kilos of honey a year from one hive in our region. The high season for the bee-keeper begins in April when the bees go out of hibernation and lasts till September.
A good bee-keeper is first characterized by diligence. Bees need care the same as all other domestic animals. First, after the hives are being built the bees need to be moved into. I buy bees and they breed. Sometimes a swarm came flying and moves into a hive by itself. A bee family needs to be looked after, I look into a hive at least once a week. I need to buy and install the wax sheets with cells shape holes, they are called empty honeycombs. There the bees keep their honey. In each ‘house’ there should be 20 frames with cells. To organize it I need to clean each frame, fix the wire and stick empty honeycombs. As the family is growing I need to add new frames with wax. At the same time, I cannot add a lot of empty honeycombs at once, as the temperature inside would be affected. A hive is like an incubator. Ideal temperature is 30-35 degrees Celsius in summer and in winter as well. Bees can control the temperature inside with their wings. Usually the food they get is the pollen collected from flowers. However, sometimes it may not be enough so we have to feed up with sugar syrup or honey.
Barehanded in a hive
To work with bees I need a lot of appliances, as I don’t want to get into a hive barehanded. There are special stores where one can buy all the necessary instruments for the apiary. I sew oversleeves myself, but I buy masks. The clothes are enough only for one season as they are made from cheap fabric and get worn out. I need to change the clothes so that the bees cannot sting through or fly underneath. In these stores another inventory can be bought: first of all hives, besides a bee-keeper might need a smoker, a honey extractor, special knives and forks to uncap the cells. There are people who make beehives by themselves, but I prefer to buy them.
It’s not enough that the bees fly in the radius of the place where you keep them. To have more honey you will need to transport the hives to other fields and woods for honey flow. I move my apiary three times a year.
It is a rather labor-intensive process — I need to pack the hives having previously closed all the holes so that the bees don’t fly out, and to load them into a car. Usually we carry them in closed or open truck bodies. It happens that we seemed to close everything, but one little bee finds an exit and leads all the others outside. They fly out and sting a lot because of fury. They don’t understand that we move them to a honey flow and think we are going to steal their honey.
Once we were stopped on our way by the traffic police, inspector tried to find fault with everything. One of the bee-keepers, a very cheerful man, took a matchbox with bees and threw it underfoot of the traffic inspector. The bees got out and started to sting him. You should have seen him run away! That moment we could escape quickly.
Beware of the bee
It is not so difficult to work with bees if you like it. The most considerable side effect is, of course, the stings. A human organism can bear up to 500 stings, but one sting may be lethal if a person has an allergy. Bee-keepers are immune against the stings and don’t suffer much.
There are evil and kind people. The same with the bees: there can be evil and kind families. Bees’ temper is inherited at the genetic level from the queen. When they sting it is a normal reaction. If I disturb the bees and they don’t sting I worry about their health.
Fight for honey
Honey gathering goes in this way: I wear oversleeves and a gauze mask to protect myself from the stings. I come to the apiary and open a hive. I need to put the bees to sleep right away. I fumigate the hive with a smoker. Then I can take a frame to see if the honey is ripen. After the bees collect fresh nectar from the trees it still contains a lot of water. With time the bees let out the water with wings flapping, and only after the honey is ripen they seal the cells with wax. I take out the frames, cut the wax lids with a special knife and put the cells into a honey extractor where under centrifugal force the honey flows out. The honey has to be collected only in the daytime, from 5 or 6 in the morning till 8 in the evening. At night the bees have a rest. But they sleep in turns, there is always someone in the hive who doesn’t sleep.
In winter the bees’ vital processes slow down, they become drowsy, and I need to help them to keep the stable temperature in the hive, so I cover their houses with pillows and blankets. However, a bee-keeper doesn’t rest in winter, because the honey is in demand and we try to sell as much as we can in winter. I go to the capital and sell my goods at the different markets.
Apart from honey I sell wax, apitoxin, pollen, bee-bread, different liqueurs and honey wine. Before selling I melt and clean the wax. I either sell it or exchange for new frames, as the wax is a consumable material. There are special centers where I return wax and receive empty honeycombs.
As I don’t produce a lot of goods I sell retail. The ones who keep a hundred or more of families sell in bulk. Usually dealers buy honey in large amounts. They can export honey to Poland, Germany and Russia. My goods are sold at the markets to private consumers.
Bee keeping cannot be called a national sector. A lot of honey is produced in China, Russia or Europe. There are a lot of bee species besides our Ukrainian ones, for example, American, Caucasian, Italian and so on.
There is a tough competition between us. Nowadays when a lot of people are jobless, especially in the country, many of them acquire an apiary. If to treat it seriously the business is rather profitable and interesting. Honey is the main but not the only bee keeping product. We also sell bee glue, royal and drone jelly, liqueurs, ointments and mead. The products of bee keeping are used in medicine, cosmetology and even in armaments industry. Thus, the production is almost waste-free.
Most of their time the bee-keepers spend outdoors in the fields. They sleep in the haystacks. It helps to lead a healthy lifestyle. I need to keep an eye that no one steals my honey (my bees, to be more precise). There can be thefts as the apiaries are situated in tree-plantings with no people nearby. So I need to go there and watch my bees. Thanks God, I am lucky not to have encountered such cases.
Honey quality depends on diligence and conscience of a bee-keepers. A person has to do his work honestly and to be decent with people and bees.