By Maria Victoria Conde
If you had the land, would you plant it with sili (chili)? Patricia Bravante, a 30-year-old farmer in Majayjay, Laguna, has more than one reasons to do that.
“Sili serves as food for lukot, our local term for native stingless bees,” she said.
Their family’s farm, called Sayonora, grows fruit-bearing crops. So they also culture lukot bees for pollination.
Eventually, they planted sili because they had noticed the bees would visit sili flowers every morning for food, Bravante said.
“It’s a win-win situation because the bees have food and the sili flowers get pollinated,” she added.
Market Value of Sili
In August last year, siling labuyo (bird’s eye chili) – which the farm is also growing – soared to a peak price of P1000 per kilo in some wet markets in Metro Manila. These include Malabon and Balintawak which source their vegetables in Benguet, one of the affected provinces of the monsoon rain at thetime. That pushed the inflation to an overall rate of 6.4 percent – the highest in Southeast Asia for the year 2018.
At Sayonora Farm, they sell sili at P300 per kilo. This may vary depending on some factors, such as transportation cost and market price.
Bravante said she had sold chili to wholesale buyers that came to Majayjay and sometimes in Manila.
A Budding Farmer
For Bravante, growing sili started out as a hobby.
“It was just really a hobby, where I was happy to provide bee pasture,” she said.
A bee pasture is one of the first steps in beekeeping, which is the other main goal of Sayonora Farm. To do this, farmers have to grow plants that serve as food to the bees.
Of all the plants she has grown in the farm for bee pasture, it’s the sili that caught her attention.
Now at least 3,000 square meters of the 5-hectare farm are planted with sili.
“For the first batch, we had grown 500 sili plants and had a 10-kilo harvest,” she said.
“There was one time when we harvested 20 kilos in one week,” she added.
When asked how much she earned from those harvests, she said it wasn’t her main concern at the time.
“I was happy to be able to provide food for the bees. The sili we sold was a bonus,” she said.
But she would very much recommend growing sili with lukot bees, and she was aiming to plant more parts of their farm with sili come summertime.
Growing Sili with Lukot Bees
At the farm the sili crops grow near the bees’ pollination hives.
According to Bravante, they do that to avoid transferring the stands holding the pollination boxes.
“Usually, we planted the sili crops near the bees. We have stands that can hold four boxes and just adjust them if needed,” she said.
“We also intercropped with papaya and eggplant and would ensure crop rotation to keep the soil healthy,” she added.
The family’s ultimate goal for Sayonora Farm is to develop it into a bee farm, with many fruit-bearing trees and crops like sili, as a dedication for their mother who had passed away due to cancer.
The farm has 700 colonies with multiple fruit-bearing plants and vegetables, many of which serve as food sources for the bees.
It had harvested once and again would once a year during summer, although now their priority is to strengthen the colonies first. (This means delaying harvest until the box is full to ensure that the bees have food.)
As they do that, they get to learn how to do things right – from mistakes, right mentors (UPLB Bee Program) and the lukot bees themselves.
As Patricia said, “if you really want it, you’ll find a way.”
It pays to be patient and observant too because the bees will show you what to do.
From there you can take your learning into a whole new farming idea, like growing sili with lukot bees.
Brgy. Suba, Majayjay Laguna