Taking a morning walk in the Sierra de Ojen is a pretty good way to deal with the ‘morning after the Saturday night before’ feeling.
There’s the familiar Sunday morning crowd in the countryside near my house; a few joggers; neighbours walking dogs; and as you head further into the mountains, one sees a few locals in khaki fatigues with shotguns held open over their arms; its quiet other than the sound of the odd land cruiser passing by and the warm sound of the bellwether, deep amongst a herd of goats.
One sight that is becoming increasingly familiar is that of beehives. This morning I discovered, nestling amongst some Mediterranean scrum, on a small patch of land overlooking the coast, a modest apiary. I’m seeing more and more of these across Andalucía; compact, pale blue wooden boxes resting on pallets, the surrounding air filled with an almost electrical buzz as the busy honey bees do what they do best. Beekeeping appears to really be experiencing a renaissance as the market for artisan and pure products grows across Europe. Although Spain is probably Europe’s biggest producer of honey, much of it is factory processed. We need to turn our backs on the aggressively heat treated, amalgamated supermarket brands and support local producers. This is even more important when one considers Spain’s bee keepers have had to deal with a decline of some 40% in the number of bees due to unknown illness and its honey market is under attack from cheap imports.
Over recent years there have been major collapses in bee populations across the world, especially in Europe and the USA; with speculation about mysterious diseases, climate change and over use of chemicals by farmers.
National and local governments are waking up the importance of bees to agricultural and are beginning to invest in research to find out what is killing so many bees. The Junta de Andalucía is working with farmers to help the industry, with grants, and the University of Cordoba has created a centre of excellence in Granada’s new ‘Parque de las Ciencias’.
In addition, beekeeping is attracting more and more novices. Bruno, a friend of mine in Paris is making a good living from it and has experienced a revival in his sense of purpose and motivation for work.
“Just go for it!” I said to him; as we sat in a small restaurant in rue Tiquetonne, in Paris’ 2nd arrondissement. We’d known each other for 20 years and worked together in my ‘London-Old-Street’ days. Bruno had continued with his corporate career, but over a meal 18 months ago, he was discussing with me his dream to escape the politics of business and instead become an urban beekeeper.
Now Bruno and his partner Rémy are full time apiarists, caring for hundreds of colonies. He’s been super busy recently preparing for winter, bringing the hives in from the countryside to overwinter across Paris; on the rooftops of apartment buildings. Last year they produced over four and half tonnes of honey and sold nearly 15,000 jars.
Here in Andalucía the sector is dominated by a few large producers, with the natural parks of Grazalema and Alconocales being popular sites for bee keeping in Malaga and Cadiz provinces – although Almeria is Andalucía’s bigger producer.
Yet like my friend in France, local people in Spain, including foreign residents, are getting involved by caring for a colony or two of bees. It’s a great way to save the world, since bees play a fairly major part in pollination and helping farmers grow food to feed us!