Thursday, July 9, 2015

A taste of honey

Beekeeping (apiculture) is not just a job for Frédéric Brosson — it’s a passion.

Beekeeper Frédéric Brosson tends to his hives near Lauzun.

For the past five years, 48-year-old Brosson has been “growing honey” near the village of Lauzun in the Lot-et-Garonne. He moved to Lauzun, where most of his relatives lived, when he was 3 years old. His day job is in the field of logistics. After work and on weekends, he happily spends his time up to his elbows in miel.

Beekeeper Frédéric Brosson tends to his hives.

“I like checking on the bees,” Brosson says. “I enjoy being in the forest … in nature.”

Brosson has around 50 hives in four different locations. The nearby vegetation determines which flavor of honey the bees produce: miel d’acacia, de chataigner (chestnut), de miellat (honeydew), de foret(forest), de tournesol (sunflower), de fleurs (flower blossom).

On the afternoon of my visit, Brosson lends me gear to wear: rubber boots, a jacket with hood and face netting and rubber gloves. He lights la fumée that blows smokes on the hives. The bees scramble from the smoke, and I timidly approach the hives in order to get a good look.

“Don’t move too quickly and don’t be scared,” Brosson says. “You’re not allergic, are you?”

Frédéric Brosson prepares la fumée.

Blowing smoke on the hive causes the bees to retreat.

Les abeilles

The hives are wooden boxes containing vertical frames that contain the honeycombs, which Brosson pulls out to examine. Most of the hives are fine, but occasionally a second queen will tresspass, causing disorder in the colony: Une reine par ruche, SVP!

Frédéric Brosson tends to his hives.

“La ruche is a society,” Brosson says. “When I open the hives, I am checking if everything is running smoothly.”

After examining each hive, Brosson attaches trays to the bottom of some of the hives. Here, the bees will deposit pollen. Later, he will collect the pollen and sell it to those eager for its possible health benefits.

Frédéric Brosson attaches pollen collectors on one of his beehives.

Les ruches are just part of the process of making honey. On another day, I meet Brosson at his atelier, which he calls un dépôt, on the edge of the village. No honeybees are in sight, but there’s an occasional Asian giant hornet — a bee’s arch enemy for which la tapette à mouchede l’apiculteur (the beekeeper’s fly swatter) shows no mercy.

Scraping the wax from the honeycombs

Brosson shows me how to scrape the beeswax from the honeycombs with a saw-like knife. Lacking confidence with sharp objects, I prefer to watch and chew on the wax. He places the frames into an extractor. Somewhat like a washing machine, the frames spin inside the stainless steel drum and the honey is flung from the comb and eventually drips to the bottom of the extractor. Turn on the tap, and voila! The honey is transferred to large barrels where it will sit for several weeks before its put into jars.

Honey on tap
Frédéric Brosson prepares honey in his workshop near Lauzun.
I ask Brosson if there’s anything about beekeeping he doesn’t like. He says it can be difficult maintaining the equipment, and there is a lot of heavy lifting. A hive can weigh around 50 kg when ladened.

Some tools of the trade for un apiculteur
In an average year, Brosson’s bees will produce about 1,500 kilos of honey. He will add almonds or hazelnuts to some jars. Some honey will be used to make nougats and other sweets. He sells his products under the label Rucher de Lauzun at the local Saturday morning market, and it is also available online or at les Agriculteurs Réunis store in Bergerac.

A sampling of sweet stuff offered by Rucher de Lauzun

On our first trip back to the states after settling in Lauzun, we brought a suitcase full of honey for friends and family. Although honey is easily available there, I think our little gifts created some lifelong French honey fans. 

Me in my beekeeping outfit. Unfortunately I had to give it back.

No comments:

Post a Comment