What do you call a hobby that you’ve had for more than sixty years? Something that intertwines with life until it becomes a part of it? Perhaps the word “passion” isn’t enough to describe it. Maybe we could call it “love”.
My name is Fernando, and I’m eighty years young. I was in my early 20s when, almost by chance, I ran into a friend of mine who used to come to my father’s mill. I don’t remember how we started to talk about how he spent his free time. The activity wasn’t so popular at that time, but it would soon become so. And it was going to amaze me so much that I would end up practising it for the rest of my life. So, I accepted his invitation and followed him, so that I could discover how to breed bees.
Curiosity is truly persistent, and once it’s ignited it’s impossible to turn it off. And I was no exception. I started to study and read everything about bees and how to breed them. I still have many of those books. Each one of them tells a different story, but there’s one thing they all agree on: measurements. With those precise measurements, I built my first few beehives. Yes “mine”, because when you create something with your bare hands, that’s when you can truly call it “yours”.
I have to admit that the first few years weren’t easy, because it’s only after you close the books that you start learning for real. Collecting honey from the hive is not that easy if you’re not an expert. You need to know about the systems, the seasons, how to protect the hives from predators and torrid heat, and you must learn about blossoming seasons. And most of all, you have to get to know them – the bees – which is the most difficult part. In their society, nothing is left to chance, and defending their family is their most important value. They are even ready to make the greatest of sacrifices, which for human beings translates into a painful sting. They defend, care and protect; they’re not that different from us, after all. We both know what’s really important.
Perhaps this is the reason why the honey I collect is usually for my family. My wife likes to use it for her cakes. My favourite is her crostata (tart) with a thick layer of honey topped with slices of strawberries or apricots. You can also enjoy it by the spoonful, even before going to bed. I always keep a little bottle of natural homemade propolis at hand. A few drops are a cure-all, from a sore throat to a toothache.
My wife has heard me talking about bees so much that she has become an expert herself. My daughter grew up with me and the bees. Maybe, without knowing it, the notes I started taking in the early years were for her. My daughter has always helped me, but now she has decided that she wants to learn even more. She asked me to purchase a beekeeper suit and all the equipment. The other day she got stung by the bees, but she shrugged it off because she shares the same passion that has driven our family for years. Keeping that passion alive is the only way to pass it on to future generations so that they too may be amazed by the extraordinary life of bees, which have been such a big part of our lives and always will be.
Text by Carlotta Fiore
Photo by Diego Rosselli