Many of the characteristics of a queen bee can also be attributed to Ernst Kocher: they both look after their respective bee colonies and ensure cohesion in the swarm. Although Ernst is not primarily responsible for the bee offspring in their colonies, he does everything to ensure that the young bees grow big and strong.
Ernst’s love of bees developed at an early age. His neighbours on the Pöttlerhof owned several bee colonies, which he passed every day on his way to school. He remembers that the animals had a certain fascination for him even back then. Quite understandable, since bees pollinate flowers and plants, thus ensuring the continuity of our ecosystem. Albert Einstein already recognised the importance of bees for humans in 1949.
“Once the bee disappears from the earth, man has only four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more people”.
This quote was written 6 years before Ernst was born, back then he could not guess how important bees really are, he loved the taste of honey and found them cute with their black-yellow colouring.
20 years later, awareness has changed. Together with his wife Maria, he laid the foundation for organic farming at the Steinergut Farm. Back then, at a time when organic farmers were still ridiculed and their pioneering work for organic food production was dismissed as “green craziness”.
In the meantime, Ernst’s son Thomas took over the farm in 2016 and continues to run it in the spirit of his parents; together with Ernst’s grandchildren, a total of 3 generations work on the Steinergut Farm. And this very successfully, besides the classic bee products such as honey and propolis drops, there are also various teas, syrups and meat from Dexter beef and game hens.
If you are interested in Ernst’s products, you can find him almost every Friday at the weekly market in Radstadt and every second Thursday at the Salzburg Schranne Market. You can also his products at farm shops in St. Martin, St. Johann. Werfenweng and Schwarzach and, of course, by appointment at his farm, the Steinergut.
On his farm, a short walk from the house, there is a small hut that can be recognised from a distance as a “bee house”. A cloth with clove oil calms the bees so that Ernst can safely take out the individual cassettes with the honeycombs. Some bees are cavorting on the combs, and in another cassette we can even recognise a queen (marked here with a white dot). What is striking about her is that she is clearly larger than the other bees.
In my subsequent conversation with Ernst, I notice how important food awareness is to him, especially for those produced by another living being. This awareness is noticeable in his handling of the bees or even the honey they produce, always paying attention to their health and proper hygiene when bottling the honey. Ernst is also happy to pass on this knowledge to other beekeepers; as a farm advisor for bee health, you can contact him if you are interested in beekeeping and want to get a colony yourself. Although working with bees involves a lot of responsibility, the result of the time and patience invested should make up for these efforts.
The varroa mite is a particular headache for beekeepers like Ernst Kocher, as it is one of the main causes of bee mortality in recent years. Bees are weakened by infestation with varroa mites, larvae lose weight and develop not as well as healthy animals. If a beekeeper discovers that one of his colonies is affected, the only way out is often to destroy the entire colony, including the hives they inhabit. Ernst uses his expertise to help other beekeepers recognise mite infestations and also works together with the responsible veterinary office in this capacity. This has prevented the disease from spreading more widely in recent years, even though many bee colonies have unfortunately fallen victim to the mite.
In conclusion, it can be said that Ernst is probably one of the most committed people in dealing with bees that I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. For good reason, he has been allowed to use the professional title “Master Beekeeper” since November 2020 after he successfully passed the master beekeeping examination. With his open ear for the concerns of other beekeepers, he is a great support in the local beekeeping community.
photo credits: Sarah Köberl