A hundred bee-stings a day is pretty standard for Paul Collett.
“Three hundred give me really weird dreams. But 500 give me a venom headache, and then I get grumpy. And take it from me: by far the most painful place to be stung is your armpit.”
Paul and his wife Valerie farm sheep and bees near Cradock, and Paul has become something of an unwilling sting expert since he learnt his bee-keeping skills with Dr Garth Cambray who now runs Makana Meadery in Grahamstown.
Their honey, sold under the label Speelmanskop, is in high demand in the Eastern Cape – possibly because their bees harvest nectar entirely from the wild Karoo bossies.
Speelmanskop honey (named for a distinctive conical hill nearby) is unheated, organic, badger friendly and delicious.
Paul and Val also make a tincture of propolis, which is a natural antibiotic material created by bees to seal their hives. It’s excellent medicine for humans and livestock.
We all don bee-keeping suits and walk like Martians into the knee-high bushes. Val wields the smoker that pacifies them.
“Do you know there’s a distinctive smell when bees start stinging? It smells just like bananas. You do build up an immunity to stings, though, and they say bee venom prevents rheumatism. So it’s not all bad.”
The first hive is opened. It’s still early summer, but Paul and Val are pleasantly surprised. The early rains have spurred the Karoo bossies to flower, and the bees have already started making fresh honey. In several hives, we see the white curled up larvae, bees almost ready to join the world.
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