Apiculture is probably the most fascinating facet of agriculture, and Lake Como has a long history of beekeeping. Bees are not big animals that you can close within a fence, you can not decide where or when they fly, or even if they’ll come back. You know that, normally, they come back, but there is something meditative and almost philosophical in setting bees free and waiting for them to come back. Riccardo Gramatica and Sonia Selva are two of the many beekeepers of Lake Como, but they are two special ones because they take active part of Non Solo Lago project.
Before meeting them, I didn’t realize how important bees are to lake Como. Riccardo is the son of Antonio Gramatica and the grandson of Giovanni Gramatica, who started Apigram in 1880. He was one of the first in the world to use what then was a new technique of beekeeping, the so called rational apiculture.
Why rational? Well, I have always wondered how exactly honey is extracted from bee-houses, and the answer is simple. Before rational apiculture, it was simply extracted, with the inevitable death of some bees. This lead to two main issues: first of all, the killing of the bees, which may not have been a main animal concern, especially at the time, but as long as bees make honey and you work with honey, you don’t want your bees to die; the second, but not less important, issue, is that bees need their honey for themselves.
Before rational apiculture, all the honey was taken from the bee-houses and not much was left for them. Rational apiculture led to a new technique that allowed to extract honey without killing any bees and also leaving for them as much as they need. If bees are treated well and they have big families, they produce much more honey than they actually need, and that is what we end up eating.
On April 16th Riccardo hosted a tour at his shop and laboratory, where he explained some history of beekeeping, the passage from the traditional to the rational technique, that made it possible for men to get more honey without any bee to die, and then he showed how he actually works honey until it’s ready to be sold and eaten. Everybody left with some gadget including honey and seeds, only after tasting every type of honey that Riccardo produces. For those who missed this event, there is a visit at Apicoltura Robba, by Sonia, on June 18th.
The type of honey that one produces, or that one has one’s bees produce, depends on the plants and trees that are in the area where the bees fly and eat. This is why beekeepers usually take their beehives to different woods in order to obtain different types of honey.
A beekeeper could decide to live as a nomad. Lake Como’s most common varieties are lime honey, chestnut, acacia, sloe, sorb, maple, and some lovely underwwod varieties such as rhododendron, heather, blackberry bush, dandelion, blueberry bush, bellflower, sage.
Riccardo told me in an email exchange that lake Como has extraordinarily low rates of pollution, which make it possible to still have a great honey variety and production. If you are interested in learning more on the topic, you can contact him because he is very passionate and I don’t doubt he’ll be happy to share his knowledge with you, or you can go and visit Sonia’s Apicoltura Robba on June 18th to see her beautiful and peculiar beehives that, as I understand, she builds herself.
Caterina, Land Ambassador