ALI EL AMINE
THE BEE WHISPERER
Captured by The Recipe Hunters in Lebanon
Meet Ali, Keeper of Lebanon's southern bees.
Why and when did you decide to start beekeeping?
"I love bees. I have always loved bees. Since I was a child it was amazing for me to watch my father’s bees, to see how they work, how they buzz, and to see the honey that they made. In the footsteps of my father, I began taking care of bees in 1981 with five bee boxes, one queen in each box. I now have beehives throughout the south of Lebanon. I am the keeper of my bees. They have accepted me as that and they trust me. I am a retired engineer who has decided to spend my free time caring for my family and my bees."
How is honey made?
"Bees collect nectar from flowers. After ingesting, the enzymes in the bees' stomachs invert the simple sugars of the nectar into fructose and glucose. When the bee returns to the hive it regurgitates the majority of the inverted nectar into one of the comb’s cells. Young bees feed upon the combs until they reach maturity. As the water evaporates from the nectar inside of the cell, honey is formed. The taste, color, and consistency of honey depends on the flowers that the nectar was taken from."
Why do bees make honey?
"Bees have been making honey for at least 100 million years. Honey is food for bees. They store the honey within their hives so that they will have food for the dormant months of the wintertime, when the flowers are not in bloom."
A wild hive that was not framed
Where do you keep your beehives and when do you harvest the honey?
"Our country is known as the land of a thousand flowers. I graze the bees and move them to areas where the flowers are most plentiful. We have two seasons in Lebanon to harvest honey from the bees. Bees that live at sea level in Lebanon produce orange blossom honey in the spring during March, April, and May. During the springtime we have so many flowers that the bees are on overdrive trying to collect and store all of the pollen. I usually harvest the honey around the 20th of April, when the flowers begin to droop and the honey boxes feel very heavy. At this point the boxes are saturated with honey and bees are usually very docile and calm. The rest of the honey is harvested in August from the bees that live higher in elevation; this is referred to as summer honey. All of the bees that I own are Syrian bees, for the climate here they fare the best."
"When it is time to harvest the honey, I take the boxes to my warehouse, scrape the wax off of the frames with a special fork and then centrifuge it to remove any impurities. I then jar the honey. Each bee box harvests an average 10 kilograms."
How do bees work together to make the hive work?
"Bees exist in a social colony that works together as one entity. In bee colonies there are typically three types of bees: workers (females), drones (males) and the queen bee. The worker bees are there to construct the hive, maintain the colony, and collect nectar. The drones are there for reproduction purposes. The queen is there to reproduce. There is a special language between bees. If one bees finds a good location to collect nectar, it returns to the hive and tells the other bees of the location through a special dance. Every bee box is like your body, if you cut your body then the body receives signals to repair that one area...the whole body works together to take care of itself. The bees know where home is based on a pheromone that the queen bee emits; the same pheromone limits the worker bees from making a new queen bee. If a foreign bee enters the hive, the bees can immediately detect the intruder and their response is annihilation."
How can you ensure that your bees are healthy and will produce good honey?
1. I graze the bees and move them to the best flowers
2. Give my bees natural wax to create natural honeycombs
3. I do not feed my bees sugar, which has unfortunately become a common practice. Instead, I leave my bees enough honey so that they can feed themselves and be healthy during the wintertime.
4. I neither use any pesticides or chemicals on my bees, nor do I let my bees feed on flowers with any pesticies or chemicals.
What should I look for when I am buying honey?
"Make sure that the honey has not been heated. Once honey has been heated it loses nutritional value. It is better to buy honey in it's crystalized form (see picture below). It is also better to buy honey from apiarists who do not feed their bees sugar."
What is your relationship with your bees?
"I am their keeper. I swear by them. When the bees are in trouble, they come to me. One time I was at home far away from the hives and some bees came to me, one after another. I followed the bees to a box, that box had been burnt by someone."
"The world of bees is a healthy world. If we want a good world, we must be good to nature and thereby good to bees. I believe that the relationship between bees and humans is a symbol of the relationship between the world and humans. As Lebanese, we believe that all humans deserve to be happy and peaceful amongst each other and amongst nature, just like the bees."
You can find Ali's Honey at his small honey store, "El Amine Honey" near Maghdouché, outside of Sidon. His Lebanese telephone number is +96176942801. E-mail us for more info!