Bee the next best beekeeper: Beekeeper in Lipa, Batangas shares his wealth of knowledge in beekeeping

Lee Gaitana of Pia’s Bee Farm is a busy beekeeping teacher, online and offline. (Lee Gaitana)

It’s easy to appreciate bees. Yes, they do have weapons at their bottom that will deliver a really painful sting when you annoy them, but if you can look past that, then you’d surely realize just how calm and focused these creatures are at their job.

Bees are our planet’s most important and active pollinators and they are vital to beautifying our surroundings. Not only do they keep nature alive and thriving, but bees also create delicious and useful products that we’ve come to appreciate.

There are some who take their appreciation a step further and ultimately start working with the bees. Beekeepers are people who create an environment that is safe and optimal for the bees to do their business, while also profiting from the products made from the bee colonies they care for. 

Gaitana’s personal hive design suited for monsoonal weather. (Lee Gaitana)

That’s the route 46-year-old Lee Gaitana took when he retired from his position as Master Sergeant of the Philippine Air Force. His experiences with bees from his childhood and genuine interest in them led him to establishing a bee farm for retirement.

Growing the bees-ness

Gaitana’s first encounter with bees happened when he was young. “My aunt had a colony of bees under her sink where she harvested honey by using a knife, cutting a portion from the comb,” he said. 

That simple encounter, along with many others, led Gaitana to choose apiculture after retirement. “Five years prior to my planned retirement, I started planning on how to establish a place for setting up a bee farm,” he said.

In 2015, Gaitana established Pia’s Bee Farm in Lipa, Batangas and it’s named after his daughter, Maria Pia. Gaitana’s bee farm houses three kinds of bees: Apis cerana, Apis mellifera, and native stingless bees. 

He first started with four colonies of Apis cerana and ten colonies of stingless bees, however, when he learned about the potential of stingless bees to produce cures for various ailments, Gaitana focused on this species.

From a mere ten, he now has 140 stingless bee colonies on his farm. He kept a minimum amount of Apis cerana and Apis mellifera colonies for the sake of beekeeping training.

From his colonies, Gaitana is able to harvest abundant amounts of honey, as well as create products such propolis for medicinal purposes and different beeswax based products. He is also able to earn from selling colonies when his farm has a surplus.

Bee-based products made at Pia’s Bee Farm. (Lee Gaitana)

Everyday, Gaitana’s routine mainly consists of inspection of the beehives, and only opening them when necessary. 

Being a beekeeper seemed simple enough, but Gaitana didn’t let Pia’s Bee Farm just stay a farm. He also had other plans in mind, and that’s developing his farm for tourism, mainly insect tourism. 

Throughout the years, Gaitana’s passion had led him to be able to build a restaurant and a gift shop right in the farm. “The place is equipped with a gift shop of a variety of products related to beekeeping, over-all wellness and bee based products,” he said. “We [also] offer a unique set of food that is seldom found in other food establishments.” 

Food served at the restaurant at Pia’s Bee Farm. (Lee Gaitana)

Gaitana hopes to attract tourists, enthusiasts, students, or anyone curious into his bee farm. Not only is it a source of income for him, but Gaitana is truly passionate in sharing apiculture with the public.

A bee-sy teacher

Tourism isn’t the only way Gaitana is spreading the word about bees, but the wealth of his knowledge and experiences has made him an established educator and trainer for beekeeping.

Gaitana conducts seminars and workshops for everyone interested in being a beekeeper. (Lee Gaitana)

Pia’s Bee Farm is an Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) accredited Learning Site for Agriculture for bee farming. The farm is open to people who hope to witness on-hand beekeeping whether for knowledge or training. 

“We offer trainings (sic) on beekeeping and bee-based product development,” said Gaitana. “Trainings are conducted either by face to face or online training.”

Gaitana’s path as an educator started in 2016, a year after he established the farm. It started when his municipality’s agricultural office was looking for a resource person to teach local farmers ways to generate income from other farm activities.

“I (was) an instructor before during my military service and technically trained to deliver instructions,” said Gaitana. “Transition from military technical instruction to [teaching] beekeeping is not that difficult.”

Since then, Gaitana has continued to be a speaker and teacher for those interested in beekeeping. His courses cover the proper farming for Apis cerana, Apis mellifera, and stingless bees, sustainable honey hunting, integrated pest management and bee based product development. 

As he said, he conducts both on-site training for those who can visit and online courses for those from distant places. For him there is no obstacle to education.

Lee Gaitana of Pia’s Bee Farm is a busy beekeeping teacher, online and offline. (Lee Gaitana)

He estimates that he has conducted over a hundred workshops and seminars for almost 500 people over the past eight years. 

He is proud to continuously provide knowledge through his seminars. Although his courses may have a fee, it often covers hands-on training and supporting materials for the session.“[Participants] benefit from minimal training fees so that even the humblest farmers can avail of quality training in order to achieve profitable beekeeping.”

Aside from conducting seminars, Gaitana is also a consultant for different locations who are interested in keeping their bees healthy and thriving. “I am currently the consultant of Balesin Island Club for their bee farming utilizing native bees,” he said. “It has been a big help for us in our  advocacy for promoting native bees as the sustainable alternative to beekeeping.”

Gaitana demonstrating how to transfer bees from wild nest to hive. (Lee Gaitana)

Gaitana’s busy-ness as an educator had caught the attention of several shows and establishments and he has been featured in Kara David’s PinaSarap, Chef Royol’s Farm to Table, and Robin Padilla’s Kaagapay sa Hanapbuhay

Gaitana’s latest recognition is that he is featured on the Department of Agriculture’s 2023 Calendar and Pia’s Bee Farm represent the month of June. 

Now a man for nature’s air force

Gaitana has come a long way from being an officer in the Philippine Air Force to being a valuable educator of beekeeping.

He is currently a part of the Asian Apicultural Organization, a cooperator of the University of the Philippines Los Banos Bee Program, and the Brite Center (Bee Program) of the Cavite State University. As a member of these organizations, he aims to promote sustainable and responsible beekeeping with emphasis on native pollinators. 

Bees that Gaitana found and will be sent to Cavite State University to be re-hived. (Lee Gaitana)

Gaitana truly enjoys what he does. “Beyond taking care of bees, it’s the people we meet along our journey from different walks of life and sharing the same passion is the most enjoyable of all,” he said.

Gaitana has always taught others that there is more to beekeeping than harvesting honey, and he leads by example.

Photos courtesy of Lee Gaitana (PIA’s Bee Farm)

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