Photos and story by Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Scientists believe that bees can thrive in almost any circumstance, whether it’s in heavily forested and tropical areas or domesticated or natural environments. Still, it is necessary for bees to live in a clean and stress-free habitat; making the city hardly an ideal spot for them to live.

Alexis Dela Cuesta, a certified public accountant by profession, dared to defy this common belief by starting two colonies on his home’s rooftop in Santa Ana, Manila.

“I started beekeeping January of 2019. I bought two colonies just to see where it goes and to avoid taking up too much space,” he said.

Alexis Dela Cuesta started beekeeping as a hobby.

Prior to his purchase, Dela Cuesta asked permission from his neighbors if they wouldn’t mind if he started beekeeping. After getting their approval, he positioned the colonies on the roof of his house to give the bees a space to roam and open them up to new areas for foraging.

Luckily, their location in the city is close to many green areas such as parks and plants grown by other residents.

“When I started beekeeping, it was more of a hobby rather than a business venture. I just check on them once a week to make sure that they still have water and that there are no predators such as spiders or cockroaches present near their hives. I use disinfectants to keep that from happening,” Dela Cuesta said.

The breed that he works with is the Western honeybee (Apis mellifera), the most widely distributed and domesticated bee species in the world. A single colony can produce about 30kgs of honey per year.

“Western honey bees can forage up to three kilometers away from their hive but can actually go farther than that,” Dela Cuesta added.

By May to June, Dela Cuesta managed to harvest 57.8kgs of pure and raw honey from the colonies that he tended to.

Notable flavors in the honey acquired includes hints of mango, narra, and tamarind, which Dela Cuesta said can be found nearby.

A ‘ba-bee’ is born

Dela Cuesta’s interest in beekeeping started with the birth of his daughter: Nea Deborah.

Before she was born, Dela Cuesta and his wife, Sheila, were expecting a baby boy to become the newest member of their family. They even planned that his name would be Nehemiah, after the Biblical prophet, which would earn him the nickname “Neo.”

However, after his wife’s check-up, they discovered that they were having a baby girl instead.

A bee-autiful family picture of Alexis, Sheila, and Nea Dela Cuesta. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Dela Cuesta)

The Dela Cuestas then had to shift their initial plans laid out for a son to accommodate a daughter. From Neo, they decided their child’s name to be “Nea,” which means lustrous.

“We looked for another name to add so it won’t just be ‘Nea.’ We turned to the Bible, like we did when we first came up with Neo, and chose the name of another prophet: Deborah,” Dela Cuesta said.

Come their daughter’s first birthday, the couple wanted to hold a grandiose party with a unique theme to celebrate their child’s natal day. They researched what possible motif they could follow.

“My wife looked up the name ‘Deborah’ on the internet and found out that it was a Hebrew word that means ‘bee’. We didn’t waste a minute on planning out the party. We made it as bee-inspired as possible,” Dela Cuesta said.

After holding a successful birthday party for their daughter, Dela Cuesta’s interest in bees did not wane. Rather, he became so interested in them that he attended a seminar in Lipa, Batangas about urban beekeeping.

“The lecturer told us that we can keep colonies in the city and it piqued my interest so I tried it for myself,” Dela Cuesta said.

He then bought two colonies and their houses from The Beehive Farm and Kitchen where he attended the said seminar.

Two bee colonies sit atop Dela Cuesta’s roof.

The Beehive provided two separate queens for the two colonies because of the territorial tendencies among bees. The queens are marked with color-coded tracking numbers to ensure that if any problems arise, the sellers will be able to replace the queens or mitigate any damage.

Adding more value to their honey 

With 57.8kgs of honey in their hands, the couple began to market their pure and raw honey by the jar. They sold it to neighbors, family members, and eventually to other customers who enjoyed its sweet taste.

The Dela Cuestas named their business “HoNea,” which is a play between honey and their daughter’s name.

“Many of our clients were people who wanted to cut back on their sugar intake. They found our honey as an appetizing and healthy alternative to make things a little sweeter,” Dela Cuesta said.

The Dela Cuestas are also fond of using the harvested products from the colonies because of its many benefits.

With 57.8kgs of honey on their hands, the couple decided to market it as 100% pure raw honey. (ADC)

Sheila has created a home remedy for coughs and colds that also works as a natural vitamin supplement by adding garlic cloves into a jar of honey.

“Whenever I feel like I’m coming down with something, I ingest a teaspoon of the mixture to keep myself from getting sick,” she said.

The mixture can also be diluted as a tea. Take one teaspoon of it, with or without a garlic clove, then mix it with warm water to create a soothing drink.

Even their daughter participates in consuming the honey-based products that the Dela Cuestas created.

According to Sheila, Nea’s pediatrician approved of the honey-garlic mixture that she made and no longer requires their daughter to take any other vitamin C supplement.

Other than honey, the couple also has beeswax to work with. Sheila, who is an avid fan of handicrafts, decided to spend some time learning how to create other beeswax and honey-based products.

She started watching videos on how to create soap and other toiletries like shampoos and lotions.

“Honey has antimicrobial properties that can remove any unwanted bacteria from the skin. Another benefit in using raw honey is that it’s a good source of antioxidants,” she said.

Aside from honey and beeswax, Sheila also uses organic ingredients such as goat’s milk, coffee, chamomile, and other products which she sources locally.

One of her creations is a lotion made of beeswax, honey, shea butter, and cocoa butter. It leaves a thin layer on the skin when applied that leaves it soft and moisturized.

By this time, the couple hopes to launch their products and encourage more people to switch to using organic ingredients that can greatly benefit their well-being.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s November 2019 issue.