Francisco Cortes has been producing honey for more than 60 years.
Texto de Patricia Serrado
Fotografias de Vânia Rodrigues
Francisco Cortes, beekeeper, and owner of APICORTES, located in Odemira, in the district of Beja, on the Alentejo coast, has been producing honey for more than 60 years. The legacy made a family business, belonged to his father, António Cortes. It is not surprising, therefore, what he says about his office: "It runs in the blood."
Still, about these times, our host tells us that honey was sold to the inhabitants of the region, especially in the winter, for medicinal purposes. That is, "when you have a cold" he says. "They did not use honey as food." The increase in production of this product happened in the last decade, according to Francisco, when it was recognized for its prophylactic properties.
The chores start in the field with the hives. After spring, that is, "when the flowers end and the honey is matured inside the hive, come on and we make a big assault," he explains. Much of the stock of raw material produced by bees is withdrawn. Contrary to what may be imagined, this work demands the utmost caution. "From here we cannot stay asleep! Because if weather conditions are unfavorable, we have to give back the honey that we had taken. We must pay attention so that they do not die of starvation." Because, according to the calculations, the annual consumption inside a beehive - whose population is generally around 40,000 bees - is 150 kilos of honey and 48 kilos of pollen, hence the imperative daily field work. The duration of this insect is only six weeks. In contrast, "the queens live five, six years and only eat royal jelly," he adds.
Within the framework of the steps, it is also possible to change the hives to another area of the field with flowering. "We do transhumance," says XXXX. Here, the question is asked: How is honey made from rosemary or heather? The explanation is simple: it is enough to place the hives, at the beginning of the flowering, in the zone of the field where predominates one or another plant. "Where there is more than 50 percent of these floras." Once removed, the honey is subjected to analysis, to verify its specificity.
Back in the "big assault", the frames with the honeycombs are removed from the hives and then transported to the entrance of the company building. In the interior, "these parts are centrifuged to remove the honey". The honey then enters a deposit and is decanted, a process that allows the natural separation of this product from the impurities. Finally, it is pumped into its own containers and, afterward, packed in duly certified and labeled glass jars, in the space confined to the shipment of the product.
Curiosities? The color of honey is determined by the amount of propolis (resinous substance recognized as a natural antibiotic) deposited by the bees in each comb, causing it to darken. The creamy honey is made from the pollen of a plant with yellow flowers, the rapeseed.
Does it make sense to age honey? "It does not make sense, even because it can lose some properties that it has," advises Francisco Cortes.
The state of conservation of each frame is, in turn, examined in detail. If you keep the stipulated parameters, it is reused. Otherwise, it is set aside, since, by constant pollination of the center of the same alveolus (comb), it reduces in size. The next bees are born smaller and, consequently, the tongue is also smaller than usual making it difficult to extract the nectar. Result: The amount of honey produced decreases.
The beeswax is passed through hot water to remove the impurities and pressed.
These tasks are carried out indoors, with the temperature below 18°C, to avoid changes in product properties. The more than 2,200 hives, installed in the county of Santiago do Cacém and Odemira, result in about 30 tons of honey per year.