Our soft spot for bees is self-evident. We also have a soft spot for Greece in general and the Peloponnese in particular, the southern part of this southern European country that forms the “sweet spot” for olives, olive oil, wine and yes, honey.
Unblended honey is one of the world’s amazing taste experiences, with sensory “notes” as varied as herbal, floral, citrus and wood. The Peloponnese and the rest of the country provides a wide range of habitats with distinct blooming periods because the majority of its land is home to forests and wild ecosystems with less than a third of it allocated to farming.
“Colony collapse disorder”, a problem in the United States and some European countries has not yet reached Greece, partially because the beekeepers are still able to maintain a safe distance from commercial farming, and the pesticides so frequently used there.
Beekeeping is a way of life in rural Greece. It’s both a craft and an occupation that stays in families for generations. In fact, according to Paschalis Harizanis, professor at the Agricultural University of Athens, Greece has 20,000 registered beekeepers out of a population of 11 million, and over 1,500 make their living from beekeeping.
For 46-year-old Nikos Reppas, whose family has been in the apiculture business for 200 years, life is dictated by flowers.
In February we have the rosemary flowers, then in March come the sage flowers. Then those of oranges, pollen, the flowers of thyme in June, those of chestnut and oak trees in July, heather in September and carob in October.
Despite Greece’s enormous annual production (between 12,000 and 17,000 tons), domestic honey has such iconic value that in 2012 the indebted country actually imported far more than it exported.
I love this. There is no other way you can do this profession, if you don’t love it,” says Reppas. My father is 77 years old going on 78 and still works professionally. A beekeeper is for life. You are born and you die as a beekeeper.
The odd part of this story is that last month Greece (along with the UK) voted against a proposed EU ban on pesticides considered harmful to bees and apiculture. A new vote could be scheduled before summer. Hopefully the results will allow the family business to pass to the next generation as well.