The things I do for honey

I cannot believe I am doing this. I am in a little boat, four metres thirty, the sea is wild and I have twenty thousand passengers. I look to see if they are OK. I look in through the mesh, they look out. They seem OK, but then they can't see what I can; the waves, the rocks, the spray. An English sailor would call this sea lumpy, a Greek, with equal understatement, would say ekei thalassa, there is sea.
  Thank God it is not windy. Waves can cause problems, they can break over your boat, especially if you go into them too fast, or you are too slow and a following sea catches you, but they do not drive you into the cliffs and onto the rocks. The wind does that and there is no wind, so I can keep in close to the cliffs, maybe five metres, and I can dodge in and out of the rocks. This close to the shore the waves are not so big. They break up as they rebound and meet the oncoming wave and create a choppy, lumpy, environment. Not dangerous, unless I make a mistake, but stressful and tiring and I have been up since four this morning.

In June a wash of mauve tumbles down the mountainside

  I cannot believe I am doing this. Moving my beehive from the winter location, snug on a steep hill in the forest, to their own private valley by the sea in the north of Saria, the next island. There they will be ready for the blooming of thymari, the thyme, which, in two weeks will cover the mountains with a mauve wash and provide nectar and pol-len and enable my lovely, lovely bees to flourish and give me honey. I was in the trees before dawn and it was dark and I had to approach the hive without light. I did not want to disturb the bees and have them come pouring out as I closed their entrance. They guard the entrance valiantly against robbers in daylight. But they were asleep inside as I approached and I had no problems. They were quiet too as I carried the hive down the mountainside, loaded it onto a truck and drove it to the beach. There they rested while I drank tea and waited for dawn.
  It is best to transport bees in the cool of the night, so they do not suffocate, but the way to Saria is rough and in the dark that can be difficult, so we wait for the light. Bees regulate the temperature of their hive. If it is too hot they stand by the entrance and by the mesh and whirl their wings to circulate air. Too cold and they block up the mesh and the cracks in the wood with propolis, a magic, sup-posed healthy element, secreted by special glands. They make honey by collecting nectar, mixing it with water, stor-ing it in the comb, whose cells slant slightly upwards to avoid drips. Then they cure the mixture, by maintaining the temperature precisely and evaporating off excess water. You and I make wine or beer in a similar way. We read books about it, we learn from our friends. But a bee?   This tiny, furry creature. How does she know, for it's the females who do the work? How does she know what the tempera-ture is and what to do about it? When the honey is ready, they cap it with wax, secreted by another gland, so that they can store it for the winter. As it happens, capping the comb means that I can transport full combs home without spilling any. We work together my bees and I.

It is best to transport bees in
the cool of the night.

As the sky grew lighter in the east I returned to the beach. I look through the mesh again. All is quiet; the workers are calm and deep inside, the queen is at ease. I have been taught to respect the queen. I do not call her mana, or mum, as the locals do. I am a beginner. A subject. To me she is E Vassilissa, the Queen. I loaded my twenty thousand passengers and the queen into my little boat and off we go in what looks to be a dead, calm sea. But not for long.
On my own I would turn back. It is too rough now, too difficult. I have to look in four directions at once, avoid this wave, slow down for that, wait behind this rock, then glide between those two small ones. And what's it going to be like in Alona? But when we reach Alona it is dead calm, dead flat. Sheltered from the Sirocco, the south west sea, it causes me, for the first time ever, no problems at all. Around the Mediterranean, wherever they grew wheat or barley, you will find in the old historic countryside round flat stone constructions among the terraces and the olive groves by the sea. In Greece, in the villages, they are called Alona. This is where they took advantage of the summer wind, the Meltemi, shaking the grain from the sheaf, break-ing it a little then throwing the mixture up in the air so that the wind can separate the wheat from the chaff. If you have seen this you are lucky. If you read about it, then, no doubt, you will have been told it is biblical. It is not. They were doing this long before the bible became the confused oral history of tribes of nomads and farmers. So I cross the bay of Alona, away from the cliffs, away from the rocks. And Steno too is calm. The narrow, normally wild passage that separates Karpathos from Saria is benign today, the sea oily and flat like yoghurt.
  I chug up the east coast of Saria as fast as I dare. The sun is climbing, the day warmer now. I don't want my bees dis-tressed. They are by the mesh now in their hundreds, wings whirling, facing the breeze, keeping the hive cool, keeping alive. Me too. Still alive. Where are those rocks outside Palatia? There. OK. Wide berth and we are at Alimounda, the summer residence. I anchor the boat, tie up on the beach, carry my little darlings two hundred metres inland. I place the hive in its spot, sheltered from the wind and the afternoon sun, and provide them with a little runway; for they like to land a few centimetres from the entrance to the hive and wait before walking in the entrance.
It is hot. I am tired. I rest for ten minutes. I put on my gloves, my beekeeper's mask and jacket. I light the smoker. It is the smell of smoke that enables us to work bees. They think there is a forest fire coming and they start to gorge on their honey, ready to transport it to a place of safety. I open the entrance, smoke it a little with the smoker and wait. Nothing. They do not come pouring out, an angry, danger-ous, mass of high pitched buzzing. I have done my job properly. They are not frightened, they are calm. I walk away and sit quietly. A little while and a few bees come out to search for water, pollen and nectar. When they return they will perform a dance, a circle or figure of eight in front of the entrance to show the others what they have found and how far away and in what direction. They will be happy. Her majesty will be happy. Here there is plenty. I have done my job. Now they can do theirs.