Cool spring, sunny summer and warm autumn. The predisposition for growing apples is very good on the Åland Islands. Today over 70% of the apples produced in Finland come from Åland. Beekeeping goes hand in hand with apple-farming – it increases the harvest of apples and fosters nature’s diversity. The honey from Åland’s beekeepers also happens to be especially delicious.
When you near northern Finström on Åland’s main island, you can see something happen to the scenery. On both sides of the road towards Geta, rows of apple trees spread out into flowing fields. It’s an impressive sight all year round: During early summer the trees are white with blossoms, and later in the summer they are glistening with the red of the fruit, and during late autumn the trees are alive with vivid colours against the gray autumn skies.
Bees are imperative to the apple farms, and the cooperation between bees and farmers in Åland benefits both parties – as well as the environment.
SUITABLE CLIMATE FOR CULTIVATION
Åland’s climate offers late springs, meaning a smaller risk for frostbite during the blooming season, along with sunny summers and long, warm autumns. They together benefit the apple-farming that mainly takes place in Finström, Geta and Vårdö.
Jan Mattsson in Vestanträsk, Finström has grown up with apple-farming on the farm Grannas, which is a family-owned farm since the 18th century. It was Jan’s father that began growing apples in the early 60’s. They started out with approximately 700 trees per hectare. Today the methods are streamlined and they have nearly 3000 trees per hectare. The Grannas farm consists of 80 000 apple trees in a span of 33 hectares.
Making of the popular apple juice began back in 2007. There was a relatively large frostbite during the blooming season, which caused the apples to have some slight beauty flaws and the number of sellable apples was low. They began saving the imperfect apples that go under the name “industrial fruit”.
The juice consists of a tenth of industrial fruit of second class and the rest of the apples are bought from other farmers. The juice is packed in 3 litre Bag-in-
HARVESTING AND DIFFERENT SORTS
The season of harvest begins around the 20th of August and goes on for a couple of months. During this time the workforce at Grannas Apples increases to 35 people. The autumn fruit is directly sent to stores whilst the winter fruit will be stored. In the ten main sorts of apples is included the summer apples Juli Red and Transparent Blanche, the autumn apples Jaspi, Discovery and Summer Red as well as the winter sorts Lobo, Aroma, Santana, Gloster, Rubinola as well as Zari which is suitable for those who are allergic to apples. Inside the factory of Grannas Äppelthey scan and sort apples on a customized band. Then the apples are packed into boxes and bags.
FROM APPLE BLOSSOMS TO LIQUID GOLD
Apple growing is dependent on bees, and this is one of the reasons why beekeeping is an important part of the Åland landscape. One of the beekeepers is the Norrängens biprodukter in Jomala run by the couple Kenneth and Ros-Mari Ramsdal. The air around their yard is filled with a low buzzing – the sound of 25 strict and well-functioning bee-societies where every one of the approximately 70 000 honey bees per hive has a specific task to perform.
The foundation in the bee-society are the wax-cakes which consist of cells with hexagonal shapes, which give the biggest possible space in relation to the amount of building material. The cells are built in different sizes depending on the purpose of the use. Specific scents in every beehive and a queen keeps the society together and controls the work which goes on non-stop. Every habitant of the beehive is dependent on the others in the hive and would not survive on its own.
Kenneth Ramsdahl shows a meticulous schedule, day for day in the worker bee’s short but work-filled life. Cleaning cells. Feed the older larvae. Provide the younger larvae with royal jelly. Production of wax and building cells, guarding and fanning the beehive by the beehive entrance. And then it’s time for servicing the fields, collecting pollen, nectar, propolis and water. After five to six weeks the worker bee dies, exhausted but having served the purpose in its life.
The climate and constant wind in Åland causes the amount of honey per hive to be slightly lower than in other places. But the diversity of herbs and flowers in the archipelago nature gives the honey a very good taste on the other hand. The Åland honey is appreciated for its fine quality and aroma, and is used for example as a seasoning in the local Stallhagen-brewery’s own Hongungsöl.
There are many things in a bee-society that is difficult to comprehend. The bees have an excellent sense of location and direction to especially nice flower meadows. The precise geometric ability that is required when building the cells in a wax-cake is built in a very precise five degree lean to make the honey stay inside. Only a third of the honey that bees produce is harvested by beekeepers, the rest is consumed by the bees themselves.
When a larger part of the cells are covered with wax, it’s time for harvest. The honey runs thick and shimmers beautifully from the honey sling. It acts as a disinfectant, and is brimming with vitamins and enzymes as well as lactic acid which is great for the tummy. Out of the nectar of flowers is created nature’s own gold – and the alchemist is the honeybee.
Page updated 30.4.2021