On a day trip once up the slope of Mount Aguioncha, the highest in the area at almost 1,000 metres above sea level, we realised that it was the ideal place for bees. With hardly a second thought, we started talking to the villagers to see whether someone would let us put our hives on some of their land. Then we met Domingos, and after talking with him and his wife Lola, they told us that they'd be delighted for us to install our hives on the land they once used to grow potatoes on.
This peak, known as O Picouto de Mediodía, is visible from everywhere in the surrounding region. In the past, people used it as a point of reference, as when the sun was at the top of the peak it was time to stop working and go home for lunch, hence its name and that of our apiary.
The farm is located about twenty minutes from my village Rairiz de Vega (in Lobás, Calvos de Randín), in the heart of the Baixa Limia-Serra do Xurés Nature Park, away from the tiny settlement and further still from large towns. The plot structure in the area is based on the traditional Galician smallholding, made up of small farms that have been abandoned due to the rural exodus and an ageing population. This situation is dramatic but true, with the population density in Calvos de Randín being less than eight inhabitants per km2. We believe that organic beekeeping is the perfect way to earn a living in a rural environment in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
Our bees live surrounded by vegetation in a wooded environment, with the coldest winters in the province (temperature can plunge to -13ºC). This forest is made up of oaks (*European oak* and *Pyrenean oak*), chestnut trees, brambles and all kinds of heath, elderberry, buckthorn, prickly broom, common broom and many other wildflowers that our bees enjoy. They live happily here and produce an exceptional honey.
Our beekeeping is totally organic, sustainable and respectful to the bees. We work hard to treat varroa, a mite from Asia that causes a disease that kills entire hives if it's not treated at the optimal time. To do so, we use a compound based on natural substances that doesn't leave residues in the honey or on the wax.
To understand our work and respect for bees, you need to realise that they persistently collect honey and pollen. They don't think about us and they work tirelessly to store enough food for the winter, a time when flowers and food sources are scarce. However, a hive has many more bees during the months of blossom than during the winter. This causes the bees to produce an excess of honey, which is exactly what we collect. We always leave plenty of honey for them, as our goal is not to feed the hives unless strictly necessary. To do this, we collect before the end of the flowering periods and always keep a surplus in case they're needed at the end of winter.
In general, we don't interfere with the replacement of the queen in the hives, letting them decide the ideal moment themselves. And, of course, we don't clip their wings, because if their instinct leads them to swarm, we let them do so.
As you may know, rainfall in Galicia is quite frequent, so on and around the farm there are small springs that flow down streams from which our bees drink, who in summer can consume around 500 millimetres per hive per day.
For the past six years, my father Manuel and I have been taking part in this project. We usually go to the apiaries together and do the same jobs, but he has more strength and I have better sight, so we complement each other well. When the good weather kicks in, we check the hives to see whether the bees have had a good winter, we renew the wax and we reproduce the most advanced colonies that are about to swarm. This means that we get new colonies without limiting the natural instinct of the hive to swarm. During this period, the supers are also placed on the hives (supplementary boxes in which the honey is collected).
In the summer, we collect and package the honey. Another important job is to keep the apiaries clean in order to prevent the vegetation from stopping bees from entering and leaving their homes, and to prevent possible fires. In the autumn and throughout the winter, I spend my time preparing and repairing the material for the following season. What's more, we visit the apiaries to check that storms or animals haven't damaged the hives.
Our waste management is simple: we reuse all the wax resulting from the extraction of honey to produce new sheets. What's more, we're currently conducting some tests to make mead and propolis tincture.