Çamlıhemşin Karakovan Balı
This black bee honey is produced in the Çamlıhemşin (Firtina Valley), province of Rize in the Black Sea region of Turkey. The bee variety found in the area is a sub-species of the Caucaisan bee. Beekeeping takes place at an altitude between 500-1000m. This tradition has been preserved for long times in the area. Caucaisan bees are very resistant to winter conditions and very strong. They are not affected by foggy and rainy weather. The area bees are not fed with sugar syrup, so their honey is pure and does not include any additives. Bees source pollen from different nearby plant varieties (linden tree, chestnut tree, red berry, wild forest fruits and indigenous flowers), which subsequently bloom every two months, giving the bees longer time to work. The bees are dormant during the winter. From mid-June to mid-July, the honey production is at the highest level, with about 80,000 to 100,000 active bees.
The honey harvest period is from mid-July to September, and afterwards the collected honey is sieved or sold with its wax. It has been said that the honey has a healing effect and antiseptic qualities.Thirty years ago, forest beekeeping took place in natural areas. Today, modern beekeeping requires hives to be placed in cities with mobile hives (a practice traditional beekeepers says has led to a loss in pure bee species through cross-breeding, and a more generic final honey).
But black bees hives cannot be mobile, and must be set in the natural areas all year long. Hives are checked at the beginning of summer, given smoke, dust is removed and closed. Then the honey is collected at the end of summer. Black bee hives in the Çamlıhemşin area are special; they are made out of linden tree and have an oval shape. The beehives are totally handmade, 50 – 100 cm wide and 40 cm tall with a shallow roof. The area has a unique natural value as one of the last protected natural areas in Turkey.
In 2000, the Çamlıhemşin black bees honey producer Veli Gülas was recognized for his efforts to preseve this tradition in the face of an epidemic bee disease. In response he moved his hives to the higher altitudes of the Kaçar mountains for survial. Today the total number of black bees beehives is 1100. A recently established agricultural development cooperative in Çamlıhemşin features 16 producers selling honey from 400 black bees beehives under the name of organic Çamlıhemşin honey. It is produced in very low quantities, approximately 600kg per year. Therefore, the price is high. It can be found in 2-3 speciality shops in Istanbul too.
Recently, black beehives have come under threat in Firtina Valley, with the threat of hydroelectric center constructions. Additionally, the area is getting more popular due to increased tourism from rafting, which may negatively influence the protected nature of Çamlıhemşin, bringing the local beekeeping and honey production to an end.