The hot topic across global financial markets at the moment is Greece. People there are experiencing monetary woes, but it seems like their honeybees aren’t doing too well either. Systemic pesticides are increasingly causing bee losses, and many would argue that the country now suffers from colony collapse disorder as well.
The air smells of smoke and lemons, and the cicadas chirp steadily as I come upon 16 beehives clustered together in a dry field. What I’ve just discovered is mere steps away from Demokritos, the National Centre for Scientific Research in Athens, the largest multidisciplinary research institute in Greece. Every so often, pagoda, pine and olive trees sway gently in the breeze, but overall the climate in Attica, the historic region that encompasses the capital, is hot and arid.
The scent in the air is coming from lemon balm leaves, which associate researcher and apiculturist, Dr. Sofia Gounari, has placed in her smoker to calm the bees. It’s an attractive aroma to the virgin sisters of toil because it’s similar to the secretions they give off when communicating with one another, she explains. No wonder lemon balm’s official name is Melissa officinalis; Melissa is Greek for “honeybee.”
“In the past, beekeepers added lemon juice in melted wax to attract swarms,” says the 52-year-old. Working at the Institute of Mediterranean Forest Ecosystems, Gounari has agreed to rendezvous with me as I explore the state of bees and beekeeping in Greece. It’s the day of Greece’s ultimately pointless referendum, and Gounari remarks that it’s actually good to be in the bee yard today, thinking of nature rather than the country’s future and the terms of Greece’s EU bailout deal.