It’s the month of the flowers
("Mayo, el mes de las flores," as we say in Spain).
This is the richest and most
exuberant month of the year for plants and for Nature in general in the Northern
Here, in the Balearic Islands,
this phenomenal explosion of life can start one or two weeks earlier because
of our weather conditions.
It may be interesting to
remember why this particular time of the year, when Nature shows most of its
splendid and colourful power is called May.
"Mai", "Mai" or "Maggio” is how this month is called
in European languages and the Occidental cultures with Latin and previously
Greek roots to honour the Greek goddess of Nature, "Maya". It seems
to be obvious why they chose this particular thirty-one days period for it.
"Die Biene Maja"
(Maya, the bee), was also, as some readers will remember, the name for a German
television cartoon series in the middle and late 1970s that was very successful
with children (and some grownups) in all the countries where it was transmitted.
In Spain, an entire generation grew up and learned to love Nature singing the
melody of "La abeja Maya"; one of the first and still one of
the best for the youngest children's environmental education.
The month of the flowers
is also good news for the other potent symbol of Nature, the honeybee, which
lives within a perfect symbiosis with the sexual organs of plants. Bees couldn't
live without them, and plants in general would be far less successful in their
multiplication without this amazing and laborious insect.
Bee-keeping or "Apiculture"
is, according to some historians, one of the earliest activities that man learned
to profit from animals without having to kill them. Apiculture was already practised
in its most simple way, just collecting the honey from the natural hives, in
We don't know who was the
first man or people that could collect the swarms and keep them in hives made
by man for this purpose, using for it all kinds of different materials, straw,
osier, clay, cork, wood and even metal. In Roman times, the artificial hives
were then installed near by, for a better control of the bees and a large profit
from their production.
Ovidio, the Latin poet,
says it was "Baco" the Roman "Dionisos", god of the wine
and the good table (and from what they say, the after-dinner-parties as well),
the first one to know of the art of collecting honey.
Plinio the Old, the Roman
naturalist, wrote that it was "Aristeo" son of "Apollo"
who taught the science of Apiculture to the humans. Also Virgilio, the poet,
philosopher and naturalist, wrote in his "Georgicas" (C. IV) the legend
of Aristeo and the bees, as well as some of the concepts and ideas about bees
that were the basis for the modern development of this science, only just a
hundred and fifty years ago, but still going on in traditional ways in some
parts of the world.
The first laws concerning
bees and Apiculture that we know of were written in the year 620 BC, by Solon,
from Athens, one of the seven Greek "Wise Men". In the year
420 BC, Pericles wrote of 20,000 hives in Attic, and Apiculture was also taught
by Aristotle in his writings, almost a century later.
Even before, there are records
of this industry found in ancient tombs of China, Persia and especially in the
Old Egypt that proves already a large knowledge of this science, with hive systems,
objects and tools still used in some parts, such as Crete and other Mediterranean
islands, including Eivissa.
In March this year, we had
the visit to our Islands of the biologist professor Antonio Gomez Pajuelo, a
real expert in Apiculture, who runs an industry and school concerning this science
in Caltellón (País Valanciá).
He came to give a three-day
course about modern Apiculture to our beekeepers, especially about the profit
of the pollen and "propoleos", bee products that are gaining day by
day more importance in the market, but never been properly developed by our
amateur bee-lovers. (We will speak about the bee products in the following articles).
It was he, together with
the president of the local beekeepers association, Sr. Antonio Peinado, who
asked our authorities for help to preserve the local ancestral way of bee keeping,
for its cultural and anthropological interest. Eivissa is one of the few places
(along with the island of Crete and some parts of Aragón, in the Spanish Pirineos,
where we can still see this type of Apiculture) that he considers to be originally
from the Old Egypt, not less then 4,400 years ago.
There is still a lot to be
known about bees, especially in terms of classification of the amount of families
and genes that exist, but obviously this is not the purpose of these articles.
We can say that there are two main groups of these hymenopteron, "clistogastros"
apidae insects (two pairs of membranous wings, the thorax and the abdomen joined
by a very thin waist), the ones that live alone and the social ones.
The first is the most plentiful
group. They collect pollen and nectar and some also can produce honey, but as
they don't live in community it's impossible to profit its production and man
does not exploit them, though they do a very good job with plant pollination.
There are three families
of the second group, "Meliponidos", normally much smaller then the
common bee and without the sting. More then 300 species of this family produce
honey. "Bombidos", this is the family of the cockchafer, big and pretty,
with a much longer horn, they can reach flowers that normal bees don't reach,
so they are very important for pollination of some plants. Finally the "Apidae"
family, to which belongs our common honey-bee "Apis melliphera" and
all its varieties, as I'm reading now in my encyclopaedia, probably the oldest
known domestic animal of all.
(To be continued)
Bee Collecting Pollen
Produces from Bees