Since coming to Turkey, karakovan hives have fascinated me. However, out in Kars, there have only been a few conventional karakovan hives to pique my imagination. This small handful of the old-school-hollowed-out-trunk-style karakovan hive is mostly for show and tell. Because there is neither a tree culture, nor a large bear-attacking-hive culture (and most hives in Kars come complete with a growling Anatolian Shepard or Kangal), there isn’t much use for the traditional karakovan. However, in response to the high demand for karakovan honey comb, many local beekeepers have found alternative ways to adapt a modern box to produce karakovan honey (they instead use rounded frames or mini cubed frame inserts). But this solution aesthetically and culturally doesn’t fully compare to the looming dark Macaheli karakovan hive cylindrical orbs that I have come to love.*
Karakovan hives or “traditional” hives are a mixed bag. Some beekeepers say that these kinds of hives are a waste of time and resources, opting instead for the “modern” top bar or Langstroth hives. Others, such as the loyal-honey-comb-eating Turk, argue that there is no other option (the alternative is a prepared wax fixed to the frames that the bees build on, which saves time and resources, but is a bad idea for eating).
A true karakovan hive yields very little honey (generally five to 10 kilos) and should be completely hands-off (no medicines, sugar…). While hands-off is a great approach, this style also makes monitoring for any kinds of diseases or problems difficult. However if out-of-mind out-of-sight is the strategy, there is no place better than the deep wild forests of Macahel for this kind of beekeeping.
The Macahel is full of such dense dark forests that you can never be sure what lies beyond the roadside. For this reason, every time I leave the town of Camili, I mentally prepare myself for just about anything. However even after dreaming of karakovan hives all summer, the culture of the karakovan harvest surpasses my expectations. Its such a quick combination of skill, agility, heights, smoke, and rope maneuvers that it feels almost like some secret circus society. And because of the thick foliage, unless you go with someone, the forest borders hide it all.
One fine day in August I was lucky to be able to join karakovan harvesting master Ardal as we scaled his family’s tree to harvest a delicious batch of illusive karakovan honey. From the forest, I watch beekeepers shoot up and down trees, duck in and out of the brush, munch on combs of honey, mistakenly eating deli bal, and pass out for a good nap! Sounds like just about the best kind of day there could be!
If you are interested in a more in-depth outline of the karakovan harvest, check out my previous post: http://inspiredbeeing.com/2011/08/09/i-throw-my-hives-up-in-the-air-sometimes-saying-eyyyvah-eyyyvah/
If you are in it for the photos, scroll down and enjoy!
* Dear Kars, don’t take my proclamation of love for Maceheli forests and their variation of karakovan hives as a personal affront to your tree-free variety. You know you have a special place in my heart. And while people sometimes put down your dramatic barren landscapes, little do they realize that you actually look like one never-ending yayla. Out there in the Black Sea and Artvin, people drive high into the mountains only to find a landscape like yours – full of flowers, open meadows for grazing livestock, and extreme weather conditions. Baby, you’re already there. This isn’t a question about which is better, both you and your Black Sea/Artvinian counterparts are captivating, mysterious, and riveting for my soul. I don’t want to give the false impression that you are insecure by writing this disclaimer, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t feel neglected because of my outpouring of posts on the Macahel. You know in the end, I always return back to your rolling dry hills and poetic sky. Macahel may be fertile, lush, humid, and UNESCO protected, but you my dear Kars are like Colorado, except with tulum cheese and hinkal. Karakovan in a hollowed ilhamur tree trunk or not, who can resist that?