The young Beekeepers
Small, sweet-tempered, focused on their goal and highly intelligent – these are the hard-working ladies of the Glemmtaler beekeepers. The local beekeepers are wholly devoted to the continuing existence of the honey bee, whom without, as Albert Einstein already recognised – survival of mankind would not be possible.
“This is going to be a bumper of a season”! The three beekeepers are deep in discussion about the forthcoming honey season when I meet them for an interview for Saalbach Stories. “The trees are in full bloom, as are the Alpine pastures, so much so that the fences are also ensconced with flowers”, laugh the young beekeepers who are overjoyed with the perfect conditions for “their” bees. The “Master” is sitting at the table with “his apprentices”. The Master is Sepp Grünwald from Hinterglemm. The 83-year-old explains to us that he was struck by bee fever at the age of 12. “Even my father and my great uncle had bees. When I was making my way home from school, before heading home for something to eat I made a stop-over at the beehives. Today I have a colony of over one hundred bees and am able to pass on my experience to interested young beekeepers”.
Joachim Mitterer and Siegi Bauer Jr. are two of four young beekeepers from the Glemmtal, and both have completed a basic beekeepers course. They add that without their mentor they would not have come so far: “At the course, one learns the basics of a bee colony throughout the year, but the experience is only gained through practice and for that one needs a ‘Bienen-Ged’”. “Ged” is the local dialect for Godfather and the two young beekeepers have selected Sepp Grünwald as their mentor. “We are able to ask him all questions that are bee related, and it’s thanks to him that our bee colony are doing so well”. Joachim and Siegi address a topic for discussion – the Varroa mite. This insidious bee disease can destroy a whole bee colony, but Sepp Grünwald says “None of my colonies have died from this disease. With lots of experience and knowing the correct time to combat this disease can conquer this pest. An important factor in doing this is communication, it is vital that the beekeepers of the Glemmtal communicate with each other. It is only when everyone works together as a team that the bees are able to remain healthy”.
Joachim shares a passion for honey bees with his father, Sepp Mitterer, the head of the local mountain rescue team. Together they have studied much about the subject of beekeeping and Joachim enthuses just how intelligent and social these little insects are: “Humans are said to be the most intelligent in the world of mammals, and bees the most intelligent in the world of insects. When in flight, if a bee comes across nectar, it flies back to the hive and passes on the information to the other bees and of approximately how far away and in which direction the nectar is situated by way of a tail waggling dance. If a bee feels she is coming towards the end of her life, she flies away from the hive to save her colony from any unnecessary work. On their first flight, a young bee would exit the hive backwards to memorise where the entrance is – which the beekeepers will have marked with colours or with flowers. “It is this passion for the life of a bee that is so important”. As Sepp Grünwald says “We don’t only require beekeepers to be well-trained. Without heart and passion, all the expertise in the world is of no help. Those who pursue beekeeping for image reasons or purely commercial intent will fail in the long run. But with my two young beekeepers here, I have no need to worry, I know their bee colony will have a good year and provide a harvest of honey over many years to come”.
All three agree that the honey from the Glemmtal has a unique quality. “No pesticides are sprayed in the area, and the meadows are only mown a maximum of three times throughout the summer. This ensures a huge variety of herbs and flowers, the diversity of which can be tasted in the honey from Saalbach Hinterglemm”. Naturally, honey is offered on the beekeepers’ breakfast table every day of which the guests can also sample. It’s a nice gesture if we surprise our guests with a jar of honey when they depart” states Joachim, who as well as working at the local Lagerhaus (warehouse) and partaking in many sporting activities finds enough time for his bees. Siegi who works on his family’s farm, as well as running the family’s guesthouse, beekeeping brings even more benefits: “As a farmer, I am more than aware of how important bees are for my fruit trees and fields. It is not only our farm but also the neighbouring farms that profit from my colony of bees”.
Honey is harvested when the bees are ready. “If they don’t cover the honeycomb in honey, then we can’t start the honey spinning process. Only when the bees have preserved the honey with wax, it is time to harvest. This process has to be carried out in a respectful and thoughtful way as the extraction of honey is an encroachment in the kingdom of the bee colony. But with our breed of bees, the docile Carnica bees from Corinthia this is not a problem, as long as you are not jittery and stressed yourself”. Explains the bee master, who has not been stung by his bees due to his calm and stress-free nature: “Therefore, for beekeeping you have to take time, a hasty and abrupt approach will not work”! All three beekeepers could tell many stories about their work and their queen bees, and their fascination is contagious. Those interested in the life of bees can visit the Heimathaus (local history museum) in Saalbach and the exhibition beehive. Also, upon request, the beekeepers are also happy to answer any questions.