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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

A young Negrense beekeeper

THERE are about 20 beekeepers in Negros Occidental, but here is one beekeeper that caught my eye. Archie Acuna was the only beekeeper in the 2012 Negros Organic Farmers Festival who packaged his product in rectangular plastic containers with slices of the honeycomb while others sold their honey in recycled rum bottles.

“The honey sells faster when I include the honeycomb,” Archie explains this visual effect. The inedible but commercially useful beeswax does add a charming touch to the packaging.

Archie’s apiary is in Hacienda Salamanca in La Carlota City located in the southern part of Negros Occidental. The apiary is set in the farm of Archie’s friend, AJ Ledesma, where there is an abundance of coffee and acacia blooms that provide pollen for the bees.

Our 31-year-old local apiarist started cultivating honeybees (apis mellifera) two years ago as a hobby. What were once two starter colonies is now Archie’s Apiary, a 25-hive farm of which each hive yields 5 liters or an average of one-and-a-half gallons of the viscous deep amber honey every harvest time.

There’s always a harvest going on from a hive every week. Archie’s bees are certainly busy.

The farm offers enough resources from which the bees gather their food. Bees travel within a 5-kilometer radius for their sustenance. Our hardworking friends enjoy a natural organic diet that way.

Summertime is when the supply of honey builds up fast because this season provides a profusion of blossoms for the bees to forage for nectar and pollen. During the rainy season, production is low from less flowers in the environment. It is during this time that Archie refrains from harvesting from the hives and prefers to leave the honey for the bees to live off during the lean months. What’s more, he never feeds sugar water to the insects, a common method that other bee cultivators use to pump up production.

If someone should ask Archie for a piece of advice when starting a honeybee farm, he will say that one has to first get rid of the fear of bees.

The apis mellifera is of European stock which has proven to be more docile than the native breed (apis cerana). The latter is more difficult to handle when a beekeeper harvests honey from its hive.

When armed with the proper harvesting technique, honey can be extracted without much trouble. Archie smokes his bees to calm them down and lessen stinging incidents. He does this by putting dried coconut husks or dried leaves in a smoker, lights the husks or leaves, takes out each frame, and sprays the smoke on the frame.

Archie is aware of the perils bees face. Every ten days, he checks the hives for mites, invaders (which are predominantly wasps who eat bee larvae) and extra queen cells that develop into queen bees. One colony needs only one queen, so, an extra queen will only either divide the colony, or will result in a bee fight between the royal ladies.

Sales have been good so far that Archie’s Apiary sells all of its stock after each harvest. He also supplies Fresh Start, a shop-cum-snack bar in Bacolod City that sells organic farm produce. The business’s other product is the bee propolis and honey spray that is meant to cure burns, inflammation, allergies, bad breath and sore throat when sprayed onto the affected area. This is one handy remedy that is all-natural and organic.

What tip does Archie give me when buying good genuine honey?
Honey, when chilled in the refrigerator, should not turn cloudy. If it does, it is not the real thing. If the sweet stuff seems not to be right, it can mean that the honey was unripe i.e. harvested from uncapped honeycombs. (A bee covers the hexagonal wax cells with wax when the honey is ready to eat.)

Honey is the only food that keeps indefinitely so it’s not supposed to go bad.

In case you are wondering if you can keep bees in your backyard, Archie shows how he can maintain a few hives in his Sta. Clara Subdivision residence in Bacolod City. His bees dart in and out of his neighbors’ gardens in search of nectar. They even cross the highway to get to another gated village which is within the 5-kilometer radius. Flowers are usually plentiful in that village’s gardens.

Aside from a ready source of food, he makes sure that they also have a sufficient supply of drinking water. Our young beekeeper is still in search for people with flower gardens to ensure a continuous source of bee food, as long as the flowers aren’t sprayed with pesticides.

We have a lot to thank bees for. These diligent members of the insect world are essential to the propagation of flora, hence, relevant to the world’s food security.

More important than all the honey that they produce is their invaluable task of carrying pollen from flower to flower. A majority of all fruits, vegetables, and forage legumes, are insect pollinated. It’s no wonder that our young beekeeper has “pollen” in love with them.
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