Beekeeping is a relatively new tradition on Lanzarote, and one that has been developed by foreigners as well as locals. We spoke to Betty Bonanni, one of the founders of Apicultura Lanzarote, a company which produces organic honey and manages hives on the island.
“You can sit and watch them for hours” says Betty Bonanni as we approach the five small hives located on the finca in Mácher where she cultivates and produces fresh organic honey that comes purely from bees and flowers on Lanzarote. “They fly out rapidly, they return laden with pollen, they guard the hive from intruders, there’s always something going on.”
Even though this morning is overcast, with a threat of rain, she’s right. The hives are literally buzzing with activity, as their inhabitants go about their daily work. These are Canarian black bees, a naturally occurring sub-species of the Spanish black variety, and they were originally imported from Gran Canaria.
Although wild bees are also found on Lanzarote, they are few and far between, and the hives here are generally imported from Gran Canaria or Tenerife, greener islands with more established beekeeping traditions.
Betty warns me not to get directly in front of the hives “They can sting, “she says “And at certain times of day it’s like being at the school gates when the bell rings. Like young schoolchildren, they just come rushing out and bump into whatever’s in the way.”
Raised Among Bees
Betty was born in Argentina to Italian parents and grew up with bees. “My mother taught me the basics of beekeeping and, when I moved to Lanzarote, I found that I missed them,” she says. She met Klaus Gutternberger and Darlene Kist of the La Tanganilla organic gardeners association, who also felt an urge to keep bees and soon afterwards they acquired their first hives and set up the Apicultura Lanzarote business.
Betty and her colleagues know of no records of beekeeping on Lanzarote in the past, and they encountered some opposition when they first located hives around the island. “Some complained that they would get stung, and others even vandalised the hives. When that happens we’ll always move them elsewhere. Nevertheless, many other locals are delighted by the hives”
Now Apicultura Lanzarote manages more than 50 hives, which are situated all over the island in 20 locations ranging from Máguez and Haría to Masdache and Güime. “The hives have to be kept apart, so they’re not competing,” says Betty, “It’s also important for organic honey that the land around the hives is either wild, organic or abandoned for three kilometres in all directions.”
“The honey is different every time we take it from the hives,” says Betty. “It reflects the type of flowers that the bees have been visiting, which changes throughout the year. The honey from the barilla plant in May, for example, is very pale and clear, while other flowers produce darker honey.”
“It’s impossible to produce honey from just one type of flower here,” says Betty. One analysis of the honey identified 23 types of pollen in one sample, and this included garden plants such as lilies, as well as rosemary, lavender, oregano, aulaga and fennel. Bees get around.
The organic honey produced by Apicultura Lanzarote can be found in many of the island’s health food shops, and has also been embraced by cooks on Lanzarote. “The hives here don’t produce a large amount of honey – the average is around 15-20 kilogrammes,” says Betty, “But it’s high quality. We have a waiting list whenever we produce a new batch.”
Nevertheless, honey is only one of the benefits of beekeeping, and Betty’s association originally brought them in to provide natural pollination of organic crops. “On Lanzarote, farmers have to pollinate pumpkins by hand,” explains Betty. “They wait until the flower appears, which may only be for a day, then they “marry” the blossoms by introducing pollen from another flower by hand. It’s a laborious job, and one that bees can do much more easily.”
Betty and her colleagues always leave some honey for the bees to feed on. “This is another commitment of organic beekeeping,” she explains, “Commercial beekeepers often feed the bees with sugar and water, but we think that if you are what you eat, that goes for the bees too.”
The average female worker bee has a lifespan of just 30 days, and every moment of that time is devoted to working for the hive. There are also other threats: “Birds and even lizards like to eat bees,” says Betty, “But the greatest threat by far are pesticides, which are destroying bee populations throughout Europe. It’s not just agricultural nicotinoids and sulphates – household pesticides are also a problem.”
Betty says that if you want to attract bees to your own garden, the best plants to choose are aromatic herbs such as rosemary, lavender, oregano and thyme. Citrus trees are also good, but “any flower that gives off a fragrance will attract bees. After all, that’s the only reason why flowers smell nice in the first place.”
She also pleads with gardeners to consider using natural ways of pest control, rather than chemical pesticides. “There are plenty of natural ways to deter insects without killing them,” she says. Clear, fresh water in your garden is also a blessing for bees, which love to take a drink while they’re working.