Bee the change you want to see

The beekeeping sector contributes significantly to the society economically and environmentally with 84% of plant species and 76% of food production in Europe dependent on pollination of bees.

This is what Jorge Spiteri, Executive Secretary for The Malta Beekeepers’ Association (MBKA) told us during a visit to Alexander Ball garden in Ħal Safi where he keeps some of his bees.

He explained that without pollination, most of the food we eat will be very scarce or expensive and most of the plant species would cease to exist.

The Malta Beekeepers’ Association was established in 1979 mainly to address the beekeepers evolving needs. The association aims to protect, enhance and coordinate the interest of beekeepers as well as the local production of honey. It works to foster appreciation of the honey bee among the general public and encourage the conservation of the Maltese honeybee (Apis mellifera ruttneri).

But the sector is under continuous threat. “Beekeepers in Malta face the biggest challenge of the continuously decreasing habitats supporting flowering plants, especially wildflowers. Beekeeping has changed considerably over the years from a passive one to a highly active one by the beekeeper due to the pests and diseases that were introduced with the introduction of foreign honey bees. Also, the increase in honey bees and the decrease in habitats supporting these pollinators, has pressured both the beekeeper and the honey bees to thrive with very limited resources whilst providing a reduced crop for the beekeeper.”

On 5 February 2022, the Federation for Hunting and Conservation – Malta (FKNK) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Malta Bee Keepers Association (MBKA) to enable MBKA to keep their bees within a set period in summer in designated parts in the Miżieb and the Aħrax FKNK Reserves.  In the summer drought, bees rarely find a natural habitat where to work, except for heaths where wild thyme is in flower.  Therefore, thanks to the MoU, the MBKA will be able to use certain sites in the Miżieb and Aħrax Reserves for their beekeeping for the production and promotion of local honey.

Spiteri explained that ​​this MoU will give access to the MBKA for the wild thyme honey flow which occurs only in specific places in Malta where garrigue exists. “This would help the beekeepers sustain their passion of beekeeping especially in the light of the recent disastrous years in honey crop. The pollination of the existing garrigue flora would increase the propagation of new crops of such flora in their habitat, accelerating habitat regeneration.” 

We also spoke to Victor Busuttil, President of MBKA. Victor currently keeps more than 52 bee hive boxes, having every hive box serving home for around a colony of 80,000 bees, which amounts to an astonishing 4,000,000 bee figure.

One of the hives being inspected. The dark patches show honey is being stored on the wooden framed hive.

Protective clothing is essential, although honey bees are very sensitive to smell and can associate smell with their beekeeper.

A smoker is used to keep bees calm during hive inspections. That is because when bees sense danger, they release an alarm pheromone called isopentyl acetate from a gland near their stingers. This will allow the beekeeper to safely perform a hive inspection.

A healthy bee hive box is home to around 80,000 bee colony.

During cold months bees keep their cluster warm by vibrating their flight muscles.

Honey is not the only resource harvested from hives. Wax is also produced by honey bees.

Depending on the season and nectar source, different honey can be harvested throughout the year.

Pollination is very important for agriculture and ecosystems.

Victor has been keeping bees for the past 30 years, and one can say that he has beekeepers’ genetics in his blood. Being the fourth generation as a beekeeper, Victor kept this incredible practice going and refers to beekeeping’ as part of his lifestyle. He wants to keep working in order to promote and safeguard the practice for future generations.

“When inspecting my hives, I feel truly connected to nature. There is no words to describe this feeling,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

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