Oswald Rossi knows agriculture from different angles. After completing training as an agricultural technician, the farmer's son worked in the Supervision Authority for Agriculture of the Province of Bolzano. Today he works at the Research Centre Laimburg and deals with apple storage and post-harvest biology.
Besides his job, he’s starting out professionally as an organic beekeeper. And here is a simplified outline of what makes delicious and nutritious, organic honey:
- Food reserves for the bees: the beekeeper leaves more honey in the hive as emergency rations for a period of bad weather
- Organic feed: the bees are only given organic food in winter, or in an emergency, e.g. dissolved organic sugar or a paste made from organic sugar
- No synthetic medicines: in case of illness, the bees are not treated with synthetic medicines
- Free combs: the beekeeper leaves part of the combs completely free so that the bees can build unhindered
- Middle walls from the bees' own wax: the beekeeper builds middle walls for part of the combs from the bees' own organic wax
- Wood: the colonies live in hives made of natural wooden frames
- Organic paints: the wooden frames are painted only with organic paints
- Self-sufficiency: the aim is to keep the colonies with as few extra costs as possible
- Traces: laboratory tests confirm the honey does not exceed any of the very low trace levels (e.g. pesticides) permitted in organic cultivation
Except for the residues, Oswald cover everything himself. If the laboratory test complies with the organic rules, the honey jars from the Oswald Rossi apiary bear the organic seal, otherwise they do not.
Bees are active from just 10 degrees. To give them as much flight time as possible, Oswald moves the bees within South Tyrol and Trentino. His hundred colonies of bees pollinate the apple trees in the South Tyrolean lowlands in spring and then search for apple and dandelion blossoms at over 1,000 metres above sea level.
A little later, he takes them to the nearby Valsugana to the acacia forests. The bees continue in the South Tyrolean forests with spruce, fir, lime and chestnut trees. Sometimes Oswald still takes the bees to the alpine pastures and the alpine roses. But one thing did not change since Oswald’s grandfather was the beekeeper: forest honey is everyone’s favourite.
"Organic farming is a step towards bee conservation."
To make sure the bees get home safely, it is not only the colour of beehive flight boards that is crucial - bees see white, yellow and blue well, red almost not at all - but also how the land is cultivated. Crop protection products with neonicotinoids severely weaken the colonies. "It doesn't help that the EU banned a number of products, then allowed new ones with the same active ingredient, but with a new name.”
Oswald took over an apple meadow from his father and expanded the farm with another meadow. He has converted the farm completely to organic, also for his bees: "Organic farming is bee-friendly. Studies by the University of Bologna show that organic pesticides do not harm bees in the long term."
Apple storage is his area of expertise, and at the Research Centre he understands the peculiarities of organic apple conservation: "The active ingredient 1-methylcyclopropene, or 1-MCP for short, blocks the apple's own ripening hormone ethylene and thus interrupts the natural ripening of the apple. Since post-harvest treatments are not permitted in organic farming, 1-MCP may not be used. Therefore, in addition to storage techniques, the shelf-life of the apple variety is crucial, especially for organic apples."
The Gala variety is ripening in his apple meadows and Oswald is currently looking for an apple orchard for another variety: "If I find the right meadow, I will plant Natyra. The aromatic variety tastes good to me." The scab-resistant variety needs fewer pesticide treatments, the pesticides do not harm the bees and the variety lasts in storage. Ideal for beekeeper Oswald, and storage technician Oswald. However, it is a great challenge for organic farmer Oswald, because Natyra is delightful on the palate but difficult to grow.