Human Interest

Busy bees buzz off to spend summer in Provence’s lavender fields

By Sebastien Nogier

Gourdon, France, Jul 6 (efe-epa).- The seasonal movement of livestock is most commonly associated with herders driving sheep or cattle through mountain valleys but in the lavender fields of southwest France there is a different type of transhumance, one that takes place in the dead of night.

Jerome Payen is a beekeeper who has been based in the French department of Alpes-Maritimes, in Provence, for 19 years.

The coming of the summer heralds the blooming of the region’s iconic lavender fields, an annual delight for tourists but also for the bees, who travel far and wide to feed on the flowers, sometimes with the help of a human friend.

Each year, like many apiculturists in the region, Jerome selects some of his strongest hives for relocation to the Valensole plateau, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) away from the winter habitat.

This year he earmarked 30 of his 150 hives to make the journey.

His presence at the hives sparks a flurry of activity.

“They’re just trying to impress me, that’s all,” he tells epa-efe. “They’re not so mean.”

“Firstly, we are going to try to find the strong ones.”

Jerome uses a technique to distribute the sustenance in the hive’s cells to maximize the potential of the colony ahead of the summer months.

“And in this way we can strengthen the weaker ones.”

Armed with a smoker filled with dry herbs, Jerome sedates the bees as he inspects the hives before loading them onto his flatbed truck.

“It’s to warn them it’s me — Papa Jerome,” he says.

As night falls and the bees have returned from foraging, the transhumance begins.

Using a red light to illuminate the area — red being a color bees cannot see —, Jerome sets off under the cover of darkness. His journey will take him towards the village of Puimoisson.

He offloads the hives before sunrise and as the new day dawns, the bees awake to their new summer pastures, rows up rows of purple lavender, which will lend its taste to the honey harvested later in the year.

According to the regional apiculturalist association, there are around 3,600 beekeepers in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Altogether they tend to roughly 163,000 hives, producing 2,500 tons of honey per year, some 8 percent of the national total.

The transhumance of bees helps boost the harvest and diversifies the honey product, the association says, adding that the tradition has been anchored in the region for a long time. EFE-EPA


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