In Camuffo’s opinion, the retail price of Millefiori honey should be around €10-12 per kilogram, rising to €15 per kilogram for all monofloral honeys such as acacia honey. “For us, however, things are different – he explains – Even in critical seasons such as 2019, when we had a cold and rainy May that led to a reduction in acacia production, there is a total stalemate on the conventional market, so much so that, at the end of October, no price had yet been set for wholesale honey sales”.
October is the month when the annual honey harvest ends, there are no more blooms, and the bees prepare for winter rest. In 2019, in his honey farm MielificioMattia produced around 1,800 kilograms of honey, doubling the amount recorded the previous year. With the honey he produces, he can also devote himself to experimenting with his own original recipe for producing mead, an alcoholic beverage obtained by fermenting honey with water. The recipe was part of the project that was awarded at the end of the ReStartApp “on-campus” course and is an alternative to selling honey. We taste a sweet and a dry version, and, as is the case with wine, the flavours change considerably depending on whether the beverage has matured in wood or steel containers. “The base of the drink is a sort of must, a 25% solution of honey and water. At first, I used to heat it, while now I use lukewarm water – explains Mattia – This keeps the yeasts naturally present in honey intact. In this way, I am experimenting with new spontaneous fermentation techniques”.

The bees prepare for their winter rest

Bees spend the cold season huddled up into a ball inside the hive, forming a tight cluster, if possible in the centre, where they keep warm: “by making only imperceptible movements, they considerably slow down their metabolism, thereby also significantly reducing their need for food” explains Mattia Camuffo. During this time, the queen does not brood so as not to waste energy. When spring comes and the outside temperature reaches 12 degrees, the beekeeper re-opens the hives to make sure that the bees will not starve. Indeed, this is the season when brooding resumes, so the growing family needs a lot of energy, but if adverse weather conditions do not allow the bees to carry pollen and nectar into the hive, leading to a shortage of food, this will weaken the entire colony and prevent it from working properly when acacia blooms – acacia being the most important among spring blooms.

Mielificio Sottovalle‘s growth in production in 2019 was the result of both a larger number of hives and the fact that some were placed at a lower altitude, in the Scrivia valley, to be precise. “Lowland locations have the disadvantage of being closer to conventional crops, but I have noticed that production is higher and, above all, the time intervals when no food sources are available are shorter. The bees can rely on more abundant stocks and, consequently, their life is easier. On the other hand, they are more prone to the risk of poisoning and to more diseases, also because there are more beekeepers around. In the Apennines they are healthier, but there is shortage of food and oftentimes they need to be fed, especially in spring, when the queen is brooding and the family needs more energy to grow” says our beekeeper.
Life in the apiary resumes between January and February, when hazelnut trees bloom. These trees are essential as an early source of pollen: “Pollen is very rich in proteins, and helps the bees feed the new-born insects. Hazelnut tree pollen marks the beginning of spring, although formally we are still in the dead of winter – explains Mattia Camuffo – After the winter rest and the end of brooding, the new foraging bees are getting ready to come out, to collect nectar and carry pollen aroundthereby continuing the cycle of life.

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