Spain has a long and illustrious beekeeping history. Mesolithic peoples between 3000 and 8000 years ago were illustrating their craft on cave walls. To the present day, beekeeping has played an important part in Spain’s agricultural history.
Statistics usually bore, confuse and can even lie, but I make no apologies for including some, simply to give a picture of the apicultural makeup of Spain. There are about 2,4264601 hives in Spain, of which around 67% are in the hands of professionals and semi-professionals. There are probably more, but perhaps tax considerations play a part in reducing the true figures somewhat (See above about statistics). Purely professional beekeepers form a small percentage of the total, whereas for the rest, beekeeping supplements other occupations, mainly agriculture. Of the professionals it is estimated that 60% are migratory and ‘follow the bloom’.
Total honey production stands at some 30,000 metric tons per year and the most common honeys are multifloral or ‘milflores’ (thousand flowers). The most important single source varieties come from sunflowers, followed some way behind by citrus fruits (mainly orange), rosemary, thyme and heathers.
Europe is the largest buyer of honey in the world and most of the honey that is exported from Spain goes to other European Community countries, the foremost of which is Germany, followed by the UK, France and Italy. Despite this, Spain remains an importer of honey and most of this comes from Argentina, China and Cuba.
Varroa is the chief plague of Spanish bees and when the mite arrived in Spain in the late eighties/early nineties, beekeeping declined. The most effective control is Apistan, but as this is expensive many beekeepers use Klartan, a fluvalinate used as an agricultural product to control mites on large animals. Wooden laths are dipped in the liquid, left for a few hours, then dipped again (‘to make sure Senor’), and then inserted in the hives. These are often left there and, over the years, the accumulation of these sticks in the brood nest only comes to a halt when the bees can’t move any more and move upwards. More and more emphasis is being placed on organic production with EU grants available for bee farmers using organic methods. There is even a complete department at the University of Cordoba dedicated to the furtherance of organic production.
Pollination contracts for cash are few in Spain. Growers usually get their crops pollinated and the beekeeper gets the honey and pollen, (the latter being a major export for Spain). Professional beekeepers with over 100 hives do receive, however, a pollination subsidy from the government of around 10 dollars per hive (it varies according to province). This is paid up to a maximum of 500 hives. If the beekeeper is a member of certain cooperative associations, the subsidy can be more. This is a sensible solution to the problem of getting a decent return from beekeeping and the view seems to be that you can import honey in a free market, but you can’t import pollination, so subsidize it. It helps everyone.
Overall most modern methods used in Northern Europe or the USA, are known about and used in Spain and, indeed, much advanced research is carried out by Spanish scientific institutions and universities, but for some beekeepers, modern ideas still come as something of a shock. Annual or two yearly requeening being a case in point. Some do it. Most don’t. The average Spaniard, though, is still closer to the land than most Northern Europeans and even though many still use primitive methods, their basic instinct and knowledge of the countryside is ingrained. I always learn something whenever I speak to them.
The more professional beekeeping enterprises tend to use the Langstroth or Dadant hives and a beekeeper from any advanced beekeeping society would recognize almost all aspects of these beekeeping operations. Many of these hives are modified for migratory beekeepers with each box having a revetment around it’s base so that it ‘slots’ into the box below. This simple feature ensures that the boxes don’t separate during transport.
Another popular hive, especially amongst migratory beekeepers is the ‘Layens’ type. This is a single story hive with a hinged lid, a fixed floor and 12 to 14 large combs. These hives can be moved rapidly and easily from crop to crop and combs of honey removed as and when the hive becomes full. It seems to fit the bill with many beekeepers, but, to my mind, cannot compete with stacking hives in terms of production, hygiene, or number of useful manipulations. The government is trying to persuade beekeepers to change to either Langstroth hives or Dadant types.
Many types of primitive hive are also used for producing honey for the family. In the far South of the country, where there are huge cork oak forests (I live in one), round cylindrical hives made of cork are popular. Cross sticks are placed in the hive for the bees to hang their combs on, a lid and floor also made of cork are nailed on, two small holes are made near the floor, and there you have it, a cork hive. Honey is removed by cutting out the combs and squeezing out the honey. Increase is made by attracting swarms to the hives. Other hives are merely a variation on this, using wood for construction, and would be similar to the ‘gum’ hives that used to be used in the USA.
“From Various Internet Sites”