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Pope's bees brave summer heat

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VATICAN CITY - The pope's bees had a bittersweet year producing a lower-than-expected yield due to intense summer heat.

The bees live on a 50-acre farm at the papal summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, a small town in the hills southeast of Rome.

Despite their hard work, the one-half million bees only managed to pull in 176 pounds of wildflower honey -- produced from nectar from surrounding gardens, fruit trees and other blossoming trees like chestnut. Temperatures and rainfall can affect both nectar production and restrict honeybees from foraging.

The honey crop was produced by eight beehives, which were donated to Pope Benedict XVI last year by members of Coldiretti, an Italian trade group that promotes agricultural education and lobbies to protect agricultural land and promote farm-friendly policies.

Italian farmers belonging to the organization also gave the pope his own vineyard of native red and white grape varieties, Coldiretti said in a press release Sept. 20. The donation was part of the group's "locavore" initiative to help produce a papal wine while producing zero carbon emissions next year.

The group planted 1,200 square yards of grape vines this year "in a striking corner" of the papal gardens "under a statue of Christ giving his blessing," it said.

They also donated the necessary equipment for processing the grapes and new oak and chestnut casks for the wine to age properly in the small papal wine cellar.

The vineyard was given to Pope Benedict as a way of commemorating his first words to pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square on the day of his election April 19, 2005, when he called himself "a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."

The papal farm is home to an olive grove, fruit trees and greenhouses used to raise flowers and plants which often are used to decorate the papal apartments and meeting rooms.

Each day, 25 cows produce more than 150 gallons of milk, and more than 200 eggs are collected from some 300 hens. In addition, about 60 chickens are raised for meat.

What the pope and his aides do not use is sold to Vatican employees and retirees at their discount supermarket.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970