Beekeeping Series, Part 3: The Milea Bee Farm’s Way of Propagating Native Honey Bees

Discarded wooden pails or buckets can be used as top bar hives for Apis mellifera or Italian honey bees.

Read Part 2 here.

Most of us still consider bees to be wild, even when they are hived or kept in boxes. According to Rico Omoyon, owner of the Milea Bee Farm in Balagtasin II, San Jose, Batangas, Italian honey bees (Apis mellifera), native honey bees (Apis cerana, locally known as ‘ligwan’ or ‘laywan’), native stingless bees (Tetragonula spp., locally known as ‘lukot’, ‘lukotan’, ‘kiwot’, ‘kiyot’, and ‘lib-ug’) are the propagated species in his farm, which also has several managed colonies of the Asian giant honey bee (Apis dorsata, locally known as ‘pukyutan’ or ‘putyukan’) in various locations.

Omoyon propagates the Italian honey bees the same way others do it here and abroad, using the Langstroth hive. In the country, Omoyon is devising different but natural methods for propagation using top bar hives, which are made from wooden materials.

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These native honey bees (locally known as laywan or ligwan) have built a nest in a used Styrofoam ice chest. The outermost combs that are filled with honey can be harvested, but we must leave a portion for the bees’ consumption.

He said would-be beekeepers who are searching the Internet for tips will find much information and many videos on how to get started, particularly from beekeepers themselves. They just need to make adjustments due to the Philippines being a tropical country.

“Therefore, what we would like to share in this article are the ways on how we propagate native honey producing bees,” Omoyon said. Apis cerana remains abundant in the country, and one’s location might already be hosting a colony. “If you wish to have these native bees but would prefer a ‘no touch’ approach in getting your pollinators, you may opt to install a bait hive,” he explained.

Omoyon said that native honey bees have their own swarming season. The colony will usually divide through swarming; this is when one can see ‘clumps’ of bees in the branches of trees. When this occurs, the scout bees will be searching for new suitable nesting areas, and this is the time where the bait hive may come in handy. In the provinces, when left to their own devices, native honey bees have been observed to nest even inside cabinets, unused containers, or at the bottom of the sink.

Using a bee veil is a must when handling honeybees. Mosquito net is a
good material for making bee veils.

A clay pot with an opening of about one foot in diameter placed upside down will be a good bait hive, but it must be kept dry and placed in a shaded area. It must also be positioned in an area where it cannot be penetrated by water.

Omoyon said swarming usually happens during the colder months or if the colony is disturbed. Prospective beekeepers should grab the opportunity by providing a suitable hive where the bees can start a new colony.

“If you have it, you may opt to transfer the colony to a box made of wood or concrete, making it longlasting,” he pointed out. However, he added, if you wish to leave the colony as it is, you can still harvest honey by taking the outermost honeycombs— the left and right portions—which contain honey, and leave the rest so that the bees are able to naturally rebuild again.

It is highly recommended that native honey bee hives be placed under a
shaded area. These hives are made of concrete, which is good for longterm
use, and provide protection against termites.

Harvesting from a natural colony is done during mid-summer to allow the bees to recover and store honey prior to the rainy season. “For your own safety, always use a bee veil when handling honey bees. You may sew your own modified bee veil using mosquito nets,” Omoyon advised.

Should you wish to rescue or relocate native honey bees, he strongly recommends that a would be beekeeper should first attend a beekeeping workshop (which is often offered in their respective areas). “It has been our quest to protect the feral colonies, and of course, the would-be beekeepers in the country,” he said. Omoyon and his wife Edilee usually travel to the various towns and provinces to share their knowledge about beekeeping whenever they are invited by local government units or interested groups. He said their advocacy is in collaboration with the Spread Organic Agriculture in the Philippines group or SOAP.

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Discarded wooden pails or buckets can be used as top bar hives for Apis mellifera or Italian honey bees.

Those interested to know more about beekeeping may visit the website of the Milea Bee Farm or the SOAP Facebook page for event schedules. Omoyon has noticed that beekeeping hobbyists, enthusiasts, aspiring beekeepers, and even tourists have started visiting the Milea Bee Farm in Batangas. This is a welcome development which indicates the increasing number of persons who are becoming aware of the importance of these pollinators.

The thrust to take advantage of this development gained the support of the village officials of Barangay Balagtasin II. The Municipal Agriculture  Office of San Jose, Batangas, under Reynaldo F. Farquerabao, even dubbed the barangay an Eco-Tourism Zone. This, they believe, is an opportunity that should be considered by the local residents as an income generator, one where they can provide their services or sell their products Milea Bee Farm visitors.

In Part 4, we discuss the products and byproducts which can be made out of honeycombs.

For more information, visit Milea Bee Farm.

This appeared without a byline in Agriculture Monthly’s September 2015 issue.

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