Fausto feligioni: the keeper and the bees

Story by Katie Bliven

Fausto Feligioni carefully removes a bee from his hair and continues checking the hives.  After 35 years as a beekeeper, he’s acquired a tolerance to stings.

Fausto lives in Acqualagna, Italy, five kilometers from his hometown of Cagli.  Acqualagna is known for truffles, but Fausto’s passion is bees.  “It’s a family tradition,” he says.  His grandfather started the business in 1930.  When Fausto’s grandfather passed away in 1976, the business transferred to Fausto’s father and brother.  Fausto’s mother Ida took responsibility for the beekeeping.  Working alongside his mother, Fausto learned to care for the bees and ultimately took over the business. 

The most important thing to know about bees is they cannot be trained.  Fausto warns that bees “can’t be taken for granted.  You have to be ready for the unpredictable.” 

Fausto is fascinated by the bees’ social structure.  After observing their behavior for years, he says he still doesn’t understand them.  The life expectancy of an active bee is 45 days.  Watching the bees adapt to their social structure within that short time is what Fausto loves.    As a new queen emerges, she breaks away and forms a new colony because each colony can have only one queen and a hive can have only one colony.  This has happened more frequently during the last two years, but Fausto doesn’t know why.  “It’s part of the unpredictable nature of the bees,” he says.

For the last 10 years, Fausto has taught elementary and middle school children about the bees.  The students cannot travel to the aviary, so he brings it to them.  He had an expensive glass hive constructed to allow him to show and explain the colony’s social structure and allow the kids to observe the interaction among the bees.  This year, Fausto began teaching adults about beekeeping. 

Fausto has seven aviaries with 10 to 15 hives each, and the hives contain up to 60,000 bees.  The supplies he needs to take care of the bees and harvest the honey are available in Pesaro, a coastal town an hour away.  Each hive consists of a wooden box with 10 handmade wood frames inside, and the frames have hexagonal honeycomb centers made of beeswax.  The honeycomb frames give the bees direction on where to place the honey and make it easier to harvest.  

The bees are a Ligustica variety native to Italy.  According to Fausto, Italian bees make the best honey, and he says they are frequently exported to other countries.  Prime honey harvesting season is from May to August when the flowers are in full bloom.  During this time, the bees can fill a hive in 10 days. 

The various flowers available to the bees determine the taste and density of the honey, Fausto says.  He uses instruments to analyze the floral content of the honey.  Acacia flowers make the best honey, and they fetch a higher price than the blend.  Unless he is certain that the honey is Acacia, he must label it as Millefiori or “thousand flowers” -- a blend.  Fausto says sunflowers used to provide the best honey until the Italian government decided to increase sunflower production.  Agronomists genetically modified the sunflowers to increase the quantity, and as a result the quality of the sunflower honey deteriorated.  The bees no longer prefer the sunflower, he says.
Fausto doesn’t visit the bees everyday – he prefers to let them work.  To check on the health of the bees and extract honey, Fausto uses a smoker that burns hemp.  The smoke stuns and subdues the bees so that they don’t attack him.  He takes honey from a portion of the hive and leaves the rest for the bees.  A productive hive generates 60 kilos of honey during the season, which Fausto bottles in a lab in Cagli on Via Porta Vittoria. The best complement to his honey is fresh yogurt or cheese, he says.

Fausto has two sons.  The oldest has no interest in the bees, but he says he hopes that his younger son will want to learn beekeeping.  He is not concerned about the bees just yet; he has at least another 30 to 40 years ahead of him. 
“Beekeepers often live to be 100,” he says “because they love what they do.” 


Fausto checks the hive and is pleased with the productivity.

Fausto Feligioni checks a hive and is pleased with the productivity.

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