The magical world of bees
by Steven Tagle, Content Creator, New Agriculture for a New Generation

Meet Ioannis

Ioannis Theodorou, 28, lives in a western suburb of Larissa and owns two bee hives. He is a beneficiary of the apiculture training seminars implemented by the Agricultural University of Athens (AUA) as part of the “New Agriculture for a New Generation” (NANG) program. He has two younger brothers, and his father works for TrainOSE. His grandfather cultivated olives in the village of Pyrgetos near Mount Olympus, and he too prefers to live outside the city where he can have direct contact with nature. “I don’t like the gray of the city with its apartment buildings like cages,” he said. “A man who’s closer to nature is more of a man.”

Ioannis graduated from the Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Thessaly in 2015 with a degree in Business Administration. While in school, he developed an interest in beekeeping and making homemade honey products. He did some research online but ultimately decided to wait because he didn’t know anyone who could advise him and he needed capital to get started. “It seemed like a mountain to me, very difficult,” he said. So he did an internship at an accountant’s office and got a job as an accountant’s assistant so he could save up enough money to make his dream a reality.

He joined the Apiculture Club of Larissa and participated in a conference they organized at the Chamber of Commerce in April 2018. There he met Mr. Spyros, a beekeeper from Ambelonas who offered to teach him the trade. Ioannis visited his hives after work and on weekends all through the spring and summer. He learned that spring was the best time to buy bees so that they would have enough time to build their hives before winter. Mr. Spyros gave Ioannis two of his own bee colonies to put in the beehives that Ioannis had prepared and painted white with yellow trim. Ioannis kept the hives next to Mr. Spyros’s hives and learned how to tell what the bees needed by opening the hive and how to deal with issues like swarming, when a queen bee leaves the hive with a group of workers to start a new colony. With Mr. Spyros’s guidance, Ioannis harvested three kilos of wildflower honey from his hives in September. “I’d started from scratch, and after all the time and effort I put in, I felt a great joy and happiness,” Ioannis said. “It wasn’t a lot of honey, but the quality was good. I liked the taste a lot.”

Participating in the Apiculture Program

Ioannis spent a total of 300 euros on his first two hives. He has since moved the hives closer to his home in Larissa to reduce his expenses since he isn’t making a profit yet. He visits his hives once a week in the winter and every day in the summer. He’s been reading books on apiculture and following new developments in the field online. He plans to add two more hives at the beginning of May, but he’s awaiting further instruction from the seminar. “I bought stackable hives, and they are in my warehouse ready to go,” he said. “I’m starting slow because I don’t want to make mistakes—I want to make sure I have more than enough knowledge.”

Ioannis learned about the training seminars through the Beekeeping Club and thought it would be a great opportunity. “I feel really lucky,” he said. “Professor Harizanis knows so much about apiculture, and he’s even written a textbook about it! I’m learning all about the magical world of bees, like how they give off a chemical signal to enter into the hive, and what you should do in order to avoid stressing the bees. Pairing theory and practical training together is really important.” Ioannis loves quotations, and he recited one often attributed to Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, man would only have four years left to live.”

When he feels that he has learned enough, Ioannis wants to add more hives, then get a beekeeping vehicle so that he can transport them to his ancestral village in Pyrgetos. That area has some of the rarest and most unusual plants in the world. He wants to try putting some hives in the olive grove or among almond trees. He wants to experiment with making honey from lots of different crops: chestnuts, lavender, Greek mountain tea, oregano. In Pyrgetos, his family owns a stone house in the village that was built in 1927. Ioannis went there in the summer as a kid. It was built in the traditional style of Epirus, and his family has maintained the architectural elements. He wants to turn the house into a multipurpose venue with a beekeeping shop to sell his products, a place for apicultural and agricultural exhibits, an office, and an events space. Eventually, he hopes to own 200 hives.

“I want this to become my full-time job,” he said. “And I’d like to cooperate with other beekeepers in the program. I think that we all have the same goal in mind, and as the program continues, I hope we’ll keep developing our relationships and getting closer.” To close the interview, Ioannis shared one of his favorite quotes from Demosthenes, an ancient Greek politician and rhetorician from Athens: “Small opportunities often become the beginning of big and successful businesses.”