Monday, February 8, 2010

Hungarian Beekeeping


I am just getting back into my routine after a whir-wind trip to London, Budapest and Paris. I am fortunate, having married an academic who's work takes us to Budapest. I worked countless extra shifts this summer and fall, saving my pennies so I could experience the best these places had to offer. Highlights included the ballet in London and wonderful Indian food every night and standing under a full moon at the Eiffel Tower with the love of my life. However, my over the top day was a trip to the Hungarian Bee Museum and Agricultural Center and visit to a private beekeepers apiary in Godollo, just east of Budapest.

While it is the Hungarian system of Mathematics that takes us to Budapest it really beekeeping and honey for which they are most famous. OK, they are also famous for their wine but that doesn't interest me like beekeeping.

Last year when we were in Budapest I meet Carolyn Bánfalvi, a food and wine writer and chef living in Budapest. Carolyn is the owner and founder of Taste Hungary, a tour company based in Budapest specializing in food, wine and market tours in Budapest and Hungary. I took a tour of several Hungarian markets with Carolyn and knew just were to go when I wanted to explore beekeeping in Hungary. Carolyn and her husband Gábor arranged the day excursion and Gábor was my guide and translator for the day.

We traveled by way of car to Godollo, about an hour or so east of Budapest and arrived at the museum and research station which is situated in a botanical park. The museum was opened in 1983 as a showpiece for the International Apimondia Conference which was held in Hungary that year. We were meet by a Hungarian beekeeper who was our host and guide. Our guide provided some historical background for the property and then took us inside the museum which houses ancient hives, tools and extractors. As we looked about the two story building which was stone cold, the progress of European beekeeping was evident from skep boxes to hives and smokers that required beekeepers to blow into a metal tube to get smoke. Our guide explained that it is easy to recognize a Hungarian beekeeper as they are missing their two front teeth from using the old smoker. The museum was chalk full of interesting beekeeping equipment.

Then we went into the research station. I was grateful to move into a heated building. Until recently the research station was strictly dedicated to the study of bees but economics in Hungary have lead to a significant loss of funding and they now share the space with other sciences. Each and every individual I meet here spoke to the difficulty of funding and the lack of money to conduct their research. One of the primary responsibilities of the agricultural ministry is to certify and licence queen breeders.

There are 44 queen breeders in Hungary. Every year, all 44 breeders must send five queen bees to the center for inspection. The technician explained that each of the five bees is evaluated on three things, their stingers, their wings and the color of their body. It was difficult to understand exactly what they were looking for in the queens but it seemed that by measuring the veins in the wings they could determine if the queen was a pure Carniolan Honey Bee. They kept telling me that a pure strain was essential and that they don't have any Africanized Bees in Hungary. At any rate, if all five bees did not pass all three inspections the breeder would not be certified and could not sell their bees! The center also tests for other diseases, especially American Foulbrood Disease. They also keep a database of beekeepers in Hungary, apparently the list is 17,000 long. They alert beekeepers to agricultural spraying, timing of blossoms for hive moving purposes and also inspect private apiary's before and after each season.

If American Foulbrood is discovered by an inspector all the bees, hives, any associated equipment and product must be destroyed by fire and the apiary is quarantined for 90 days. If the beekeeper identifies the disease before the inspector the same treatment occurs but the beekeeper is reimbursed for 90% of their costs. American Foulbrood is a very serious brood disease!

Hungary has over 700,000 beehives and exports 15,000 tuns of honey and honey products a year. The most famous Hungarian honey is Acacia, which is a black locust tree originally planted in 1794. The botanical park on which the bee museum and research station stood was home to hundreds of Acacia trees.

After our visit to the museum we made our way to a private apiary and meet a traditional Hungarian Beekeeper. Jósef was a gracious host and has been keeping bees for over 30 years. He has over 100 hives in his very small back yard. They actually call them families in Hungary, rarely referring to a "hive". He showed us his entire operation. There are very little ordinances in Hungary regulating where hives can be kept and according to Jósef, his neighbors were just fine with his 100 hives. He also claimed that Hungarian beekeepers are perfectionists and they don't have any problem with mites or disease. When I asked him why he thought we had such overwhelming problems with beekeeping in the US he essentially said American beekeepers are sloppy and don't take the time to prevent problems like they do in Hungary.

It was a wonderful day, but the bitter cold was very distracting, especially at the museum and I am hoping to return in better weather. The museum guide suggested a return visit in summer when I can actually accompany the beekeepers on a day of hive inspections and spend time on the grounds of the research station where they have hundred's of "families" to study and watch. If all goes well, we will be back in June and I will go back.

I don't know if Jósef's perceptions of American beekeeping are true, or if he accurately portrayed the condition of beekeeping of Hungary. What I do know is that the generosity of beekeepers in Hungary is identical to that of their American counterparts. Beekeepers are the most generous individuals I have ever meet, willing to give their time and share their expertise in a moments notice! When I returned from Hungary my friend the beekeeper and my beekeeping mentor came over to help me order my stash of bees. I am expecting 6 pounds of bees the end of April and I started my beekeeping class last Thursday evening. I am overwhelmed by how much I need to learn but reassured by the generosity and spirit of the people I am meeting that I have all the support I need at my disposal. Deep breath, the adventure is underway.

5 comments:

cbanfalvi said...

Beekeeping sounds so fascinating....good luck with it, and I hope to see you next time you are in Budapest!
Carolyn

All About Food said...

What an exciting field trip in Hungary. Carolyn and Gabor helped us plan visits to wineries during our trip to Hungary. They are so wonderful to work with. There is so much to see in that country. We must get back there.
I live in northern MN and get to the Twin Cities often. I'd love to visit with you about your new venture with bees. How exciting!

All About Food said...

P.S. Do you travel to Hungary often?

sweetpea said...

Hello All About Food. I tried to reply to your email but not sure if you will get the reply. What a small world with regard to Carolyn and Gábor! They are wonderful and a great connection for us in Budapest. Send an email and I will contact you about our travels to Budapest and my beekeeping off the blog.
Cari

GF Gidget said...

Please "bee" careful! hahahaha Sorry! I couldn't resist!