The Italian Almanac

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honey frenzy

Italian News - August 19

Italians are taking their passion for homegrown produce one step further this summer, with dozens of converts to beekeeping. According to the National Union of Italian Beekeepers (UNAI), more people than ever are setting up apiaries in order to produce their own honey.

Discussing the growing interest in apiculture, UNAI President Francesco Panella explained that people are drawn by the idea of a hobby that is close to nature and that is fairly easy to get started. "All you need are two or three hives in order to get a real sense of this fascinating world," said Panella, noting that some urban dwellers were setting up hives on their terraces.

Panella suggested that the craze for beekeeping may in part have been popularized by a recent spate of celebrities developing an interest in the hobby. The two most famous of these are the British musician Sting, who also produces his own wine and olive oil on his 600-acre estate in Tuscany, and Veronica Lario, wife of former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who personally tends the hives at her villa north of Milan.

However, one of Italy's leading allergy and immunization experts, Domenico Schiavino of Rome's Gemelli Hospital, warned that the hobby could be dangerous, particularly for beginners. This is because regular exposure to the poison in bee-stings creates a kind of "of ongoing vaccine", he said. But novices have not yet developed this immunity, while those who take a break can lose their protection.

Beekeeping has an ancient history, with 15,000-year-old rock-paintings showing evidence of honey production. By Ancient Egyptian and Roman times it was well developed and was discussed at some length by Roman writers such as Virgil.