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Batch XXXVI. Schwarzwald, Sunday February 05, 2023 NO. 47
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The Master of Bees

Beekeeper Johannes Wirz

Over a third of the 47 ingredients in Monkey 47 come from the Black Forest and are not among the typical gin spices, including wild hibiscus, sloe, elderberry, dog rose, hedge rose, acacia, chamomile, and blackberry. But not only lovers of good gin like the taste of these botanicals – bees also make a beeline for them. They are welcome guests at these plants and work hard in the name of propagation.

Albert Einstein is believed to have said that if the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. Bees have been under threat for years. Entire colonies are being eradicated by Varroa mites, whose bites cause bees’ wings to become deformed. Chemical pesticides rob the working animals of their resistance to infection. Whereas the beekeeper association of the state of Baden counted more than 170,000 colonies in 1952, there were only around 60,000 left by 2012. It has long since become clear that we need a rethink, because much of our food production depends on these little creatures. No more bees, no more pollination, no more food – and no more Monkey 47. Johannes Wirz lives in the southern Black Forest, where he has most of his 12 colonies. For the trained molecular biologist, beekeeping began as a relaxing hobby. But he became increasingly fascinated by the animals, and thus began his search for a deeper understanding and, as a result, better care of his bees. The way in which Wirz handles and keeps his bees has since made him a popular speaker on the subject of how to practice “natural beekeeping.” This includes, for example, natural swarm propagation. Also, there is no mechanical separation of an intact bee colony and no insertion of an acquired queen. And only so much honey is removed from the creatures that they still have enough for themselves to survive. In industrial beekeeping, bees are often left entirely without honey, and in the winter, they get sugared water.

His appeal reached as far as America. And so, one day, an American camera crew who were filming the documentary “Queen of the Sun” appeared on his doorstep to ask this expert how to put an end to bee mortality.

On arriving at his beehives, Johannes Wirz first greets the colonies. Then, he gets the two most important items of equipment of a beekeeper – a smoker, the smoke of which makes the bees more docile, and a hive tool, which is used to separate the comb frames from one another. He hardly needs the smoke though. He says that if bees are treated gently, they themselves will be gentle, and he then removes a comb from the box. He goes on to explain that natural means allowing bees to develop their impulses. This includes, for example, building their combs. Whereas modern beekeeping mostly involves inserting central walls into the frames, which the bees then cover with their honeycomb pattern, Wirz’s bees build the entire comb themselves, just as they have done for millions of years. To a layperson, the hustle and bustle of the smaller worker bees and the larger drones seems to be the same all over, but Wirz can immediately tell that the queen must be sitting on this comb or the neighboring one. And there she is. The elongated, pointed abdomen of the queen comes into view. She can lay up to 2,000 eggs each day. Offspring for her colony, which will comprise up to 30,000 bees by the summer. In one year, a healthy colony breeds up to 200,000 of these fervent pollen and nectar collectors, which go about their work in a radius of up to six kilometers from their hive. This not only enables the production of wonderfully delicious honey, but also ensures that botanicals are replenished for Monkey 47.

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