Of Bee Hives and Saturdays:

A bee skep at Dalgarven Mill. The base is part...
A Skep (Image via Wikipedia)

     I have decided that, just to keep life interesting, I want to be an Urban Beekeeper here in Pristina.  I have a large back porch on my apartment with an Eastern exposure and I believe that there will be more than enough flowering plants on Dragodan to support a bee hive.  The question was how can I make this happen? The answer follows:

     Saturday was a lovely, sunny, warm day, the nicest since I have been here. I got up, made breakfast and called my friend Esco. Esco is one of the drivers for ICITAP; he is also a carpenter and used to be in charge of security at the Police Academy. He is reputed to be great soccer player. He started and eventually coached the Kosovo Police team and ended up playing internationally, everyone seems to know him, which he attributes to his soccer fame. He also plays a mean game of chess and totally embarrassed my assistant by beating him in five moves or less on a couple of occasions (every time they played). He has shown me how to beat an opponent in three moves if the stars align just right. He turned fifty a week ago but he looks a lot younger which is unusual in Kosovo where everyone smokes and day-to-day life takes a toll.

     But I digress, my point is, Esco is a cool guy. After I found out he did carpentry work I asked him if I could pay him to build me a bee hive. I found some plans with metric dimensions on the internet but he seemed hesitant. He came in my office this week and said his father-in-law used to keep bees and had some hives and that he would sell me one. He suggested that he could pick me up on Saturday, we could go pick out a hive and then go to his house and clean it up and repaint it. So that is what we did. Esco came and got me about 11:00 and drove me to Vustrre which is the town Esco lives in, it is also the Police Training Center and is about a 30 minute drive north of Priština.

Modern 8-frame Langstroth hive

     We went to his father-in law’s house first and found three old Langstroth hives and a skep. I had never actually seen a skep before. For you non-beekeeper types a skep is the old-fashioned cone-shaped hive that looks like an upturned basket. It the kind you see on honey jars that no one really uses anymore. Anyway, it was cool to see but not practical, so we took the nicest of the Langstroth hives, they are square wooden hives with the removable frames used by modern beekeepers. These hives were different from the ones I have back home in that a hive body holds 15 frames (instead of the normal 10 or less common 8 frame) and they are much deeper than the standard US hive body. These things will be very heavy when they are full of bees and honey.

     After picking up the hive we went to Esco’s house he brought me in and I met his wife, five children and son-in-law. They all seemed very nice, and were very welcoming and made me chai and fed me cookies. Esco has four daughters and a son. He had a nice two-story house.

     After meeting the family we went outside and worked cleaning up and painting the bee hive. Esco, his son-in-law and I with occasional help from neighbors and a daughter or two all worked on the hive parts. After we cleaned and sanded them we went to town and bought paint and painted them. During the course of the day his son-in-law mentioned that he has an Uncle that lived nearby who was a beekeeper and had more than 100 hives. We decided that on the way back home we would stop by his place and see if I could buy a colony of bees for the my new hive.

     We headed back to Priština about 3:30 and stopped at the Uncle’s farm, he greeted us warmly but seemed to think it was very odd that I wanted to keep some bees in Pristina; he suggested that I keep my hive with his and that I could come work it whenever I wanted. That isn’t really what I wanted to do, but might actually make sense. However he was friendly and told me about his son who lives in Chicago. He wanted to know if I knew anything about beekeeping, I told him that I have been doing it for a couple of years and knew the basics but was still learning. He suggested that I leave the hive with him and come back next week and we could put foundation in the frames and move bees into my hive and go from there. That is what we agreed to do. So it looks like, weather permitting, one way or the other I will be in the beekeeping business in Kosovo.

     This is another example of how very decent the people here are. I know Esco, usually does carpentry work on the week-ends and I didn’t know his father-in-law or the Uncle from Adam. Esco spent the better part of the day helping me with the hive, translating for me, introducing me to everyone and making me feel welcome in his home, he wouldn’t even let me pay for the gas in his car much less compensate him for his time. I need to find some way to thank him for all his help and the day of work he gave up for me. The Uncle is willing to let me come to his farm whenever I want to work with my bees, he wants to help me learn how to keep bees the Kosovar way and is making me a more than fair deal on the sale of a colony. I have been very touched by the kindness of the people here.


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