By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Recent years have seen numerous reports on dwindling bee populations due to climate change and urbanization. Bees pollinate at least 85 percent of crops and research suggests that the extinction of these inse

cts could result in an environmental collapse.

In order to address the issue, several people have gone into apiculture, or beekeeping, not only to benefit from bee-made products, but also to increase the number of these natural pollinators to keep a balanced ecosystem.

However, setting up an apiary is not a simple task. According to Juan Carlos Gutierrez, a beekeeper from Antipolo, Rizal, there are various factors to consider before one could start beekeeping.

Know what you’re working with

Bees, as Gutierrez describes them, are eusocial insects because they work alongside their fellow bees in order to maintain the productivity and security of their colony.

Western honeybees (Apis mellifera) at the entrance of their hive.

“Aspiring beekeepers should start with getting to know what bees are. They should be aware of how each one of them functions, how to care for them, and how to eventually increase their population,” Gutierrez said.

He suggests learning about bees as much as possible through the internet, textbooks, or by attending seminars on beekeeping, just like Gutierrez did.

“I only started beekeeping a year ago. I have always been interested to start but like most things, you need to be knowledgeable on what you’re getting yourself into. So, I attended a local seminar and learned from a seasoned beekeeper,” he said.

One way of learning from other beekeepers, he added, is by joining groups on social media that share the same interest.

Gutierrez currently manages his own apiary consisting of eight colonies of Western honeybees (Apis mellifera) in the backyard of his subdivision in Antipolo, Rizal.

Location, location, location

Prior to acquiring a colony of bees, the beekeeper must consider the possible location of the hive.

“Bees should be situated in an area where plants are available nearby so they won’t have a hard time foraging,” Gutierrez said.

A rule of thumb among beekeepers is to locate their hives within two miles of the foraging area. However, there are some instances where bees go much further than the given distance.

Bees should be given a foraging area within a distance of two miles.

For those living in the city, it is necessary to make sure that there are plants available within the given range.

Other than putting the hive near a foraging area, beekeepers must also consider environmental factors such as heat, rain, and wind.

“To protect the hive from natural risks, beekeepers need to make sure that the hive is not placed in an area where direct wind can hit it so as not to disrupt the bees’ foraging route,” Gutierrez said.

He added that the hive must be kept in a shaded area, away from direct exposure to sunlight to prevent the bees from being stressed due to heat.

“An indicator that your hive receives too much sunlight is when you notice bees flocking to only one entrance and beating their wings, as if they’re fanning out the hive, to regulate the heat,” Gutierrez said.

He advised that the ideal spot should leave the hive partially shaded while allowing it to catch the rays from the early morning sun and not later.

In the meantime, during the rainy season, the hive must be kept dry because rainwater can damage it and even kill bees.

Bees aren’t keen on foraging during the rainy season, though some of them still venture out during light rain, because heavy showers can injure a bee and possibly drown a colony if a large amount of water gets inside the hive.

One way to prevent this from happening is by putting a roof over the hive or situating it on an area that doesn’t get wet.

The location of the hive is important because it should be permanent. Bees like stability!

Acquiring a ‘nuc’

After the prior conditions have been met, the next step for an aspiring beekeeper is to acquire a nuc, which is the starter box for beginner beekeepers.

‘Nuc,’ or nucleus colony, is a small honey bee colony created from a larger one. It contains the queen, along with several worker bees. It is a smaller version of a beehive designed to contain several important frames.

“Most seasoned beekeepers offer to sell nucs. The price depends on how many frames a beekeeper would like to begin with,” Gutierrez said.

Two frame nucs can cost around P4,000 while three frames cost P6,000. Four frame nucs, however, can fetch a price of P8,000 to P9,000.

Aside from the frame where the queen is found, other necessary frames include the brooding frame and food frame, with each playing a specific role in the maintenance of the colony.

For example, the brooding frame is where bee eggs, larvae, and pupae develop. Some of the cells in this frame also have pollen, nectar, or honey, which are used to feed the developing larvae.

In the meantime, the food frame, as it name implies, stores honey, pollen, and nectar, which bees also feed from.

Grow the colony

Once the bees have managed to settle in their new location and are starting to increase their population, the next thing a beekeeper should do is to help the colony grow.

Bees usually live up to 122 to 152 days, or around four to five months, which prompts the need for the queen bee to produce more eggs to keep the colony productive and functional.

“The queen should be encouraged to lay eggs. One way to do this is by making sure the colony is healthy and well-fed,” Gutierrez said.

Presently, Gutierrez manages eight colonies in his backyard apiary.

Although bees usually eat their honey, there are times when honey flow is low. To remedy this, Gutierrez suggested feeding the bees with sugar water, which is made with two parts sugar and one part water.

“Be careful not to feed them too much sugar water, though. Too much sugar in their system will show in the honey they produce because it will taste more like and consist mostly of sugar rather than the natural materials they foraged from,” the beekeeper said.

Gutierrez also said to use only refined sugar in making sugar water for bees because it is concentrated and easier to digest. However, feeding sugar water to bees should only be done scarcely as a feeding supplement and not in the long-run because it can directly affect the honey that bees produce.

To make sure that the colony is safe and healthy, Gutierrez suggests checking on the hive at least once or twice a week. This way, it helps beekeepers identify any possible risks that could take place and mitigate its effects.

Aside from being a beekeeper, Gutierrez works as an educator in their family-owned school where he teaches grade school students. Through his beekeeping efforts, he hopes to teach his students the importance of bees in the ecosystem and other lessons on the preservation of nature and the environment. (Photos courtesy of Juan Carlos Gutierrez)

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s February 2020 issue.