The secret life of urban bee-keeping in Lithuania

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Pranešk apie klaidą

Victoria Leigh | The Lithuania Tribune

Photo of Andrė Balžekienė and Tomas Balžekas

Andrė Balžekienė and Tomas Balžekas | Photo courtesy of Gedmantas Kropis, Laima Magazine

To my fascination, I was once told that most people in Lithuania have a link somewhere in their history to bee-keeping, if you look back far enough into the generations.

“Most people in Lithuania can trace their roots back to beekeeping at some point in their family history,” says co-owner of Balžeko Bitės Andrė Balžekienė, an independent honey retailer that is certainly bucking the trend considering the hysteria currently surrounding the fate of Europe’s bees.

In light of the adoption of a two-year EU-wide restriction on three main pesticides

(clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiamethoxam) found to be harmful to bees, and entering into force in December 2013, one would arrive at the conclusion that, as calamitously reported by Reuters amongst others, “the bees are dying,” and that save banning these few pesticides, irreparable damage has already been done.

Photo courtesy of Gedmantas Kropis, Laima Magazine

Photo courtesy of Lina Martinkėnaitė

Whether you believe the panic or not, bee-keeping is taking off in Lithuania, and, thanks to a renewed European interest in apiaries, Vilnius is gathering momentum and becoming a hub of urban bee-keeping.

Bee-keeping in other areas of Lithuania is well documented, with the Lithuanian Museum of Ancient Beekeeping (Senovinės Bitininkystės Muziejus), near Stripeikiai in the north-east, exhibiting the history of bee-keeping in the area.

Yet bee-keeping in urban centres such as Vilnius is, for the moment, less well known.

Through the family of Andrė’s husband, Tomas Balžekas, who is also co-owner of Balžeko Bitės, they have inherited the family apiary, and it is through this that they have been able to branch out into business.

With Balžeko Bitės at the forefront of the new generation of Lithuanian bee-keeping, however, things seem to be looking on the brighter side, and their hives are thriving at her home in Uzupis, in the north-eastern European climate of Vilnius.

“There is concern about bee conservation yes, but our bees are happy,” Andrė says. “We have no problems in terms of our bee population. We check them twice a month during summer, and they are doing fine. During the winter, we let them sleep and rest.”

Lithuania is not exactly internationally known for its bee population, or honey, so where else stands out as being honey producers that the rest of the world does not know about?

“I’ve tried honey from various European nations: Italy, Greece, even Poland. But, naturally, I prefer Lithuanian honey,” she says.

Andrė Balžekienė and Tomas Balžekas

Andrė Balžekienė and Tomas Balžekas | Photo courtesy of Gedmantas Kropis, Laima Magazine

Balžeko Bitės will be staying small-scale, and despite gaining manufacturing deals to make honey-derived products such as lip balm, as well as cultivation of honey for consumption, Andrė does not see the business expanding at a wanton rate anytime soon.

“We don’t want to commercialise ourselves too much, as we don’t want to end up selling out,” she reflects.

By now very familiar with them, Andrė divulges some secrets about the enigmatic life of bees, and their alleged sixth sense.

“I’ll tell you something interesting about bees: you must be a good person if you are able to keep them, because they can sense your personality, and your aura… my young daughter can handle them quite well, like a natural!”

Bee-keeping has been accumulating some eminent fans, and according to Andrė, amongst them is Lithuania’s very own President.

Bee-keeping has been accumulating some eminent fans, and according to Andrė, amongst them is Lithuania’s very own President.

“Even President Dalia Grybauskaite has been bee-keeping. She was given a hive as a gift, and now gives out honey as a gift herself to important guests of the EU Presidency,” she reveals.

Bringing the Lithuanian bee-keeping of the past full circle through to today’s urban-dwelling generations, Balžeko Bitės is sure to keep the interest in bee conservation alive for future consumers of honey, and its manufactured by-products.

Here’s to hoping that European bees, and the unquestionably time-resistant practice of bee-keeping, will be around for much longer with Balžeko Bitės.

To find out more about Balžeko Bitės, go to their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BalzekoBites

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