A visit to Los Pepes Farm, a stingless bee farm in Indang, Cavite, is akin to a museum visit. Exhibited in this farm are several forms of beehives — some are commonplace, others are rooted in traditional practices, while a few are just wildly interesting.
Los Pepes Farm is no agricultural museum though, it’s not even an agripark. It’s just a small lot owned by Mac Bergonio who did not seem to find his beehives that special until other people pointed it out to him.
Mac is a former seaman who got into stingless beekeeping due to the influence of his father-in-law. He always wanted to become a seaman and had even hoped to become a captain. His overseas journey started after graduating BS Marine Transportation in 2005 but this part of his life had to meet an unfortunate end in 2014. He lost hearing in one of his ears which meant he failed the medical examination he needed to continue working. This was when his father-in-law introduced him to stingless beekeeping.
Mac would eventually grow to become passionate about beekeeping. “Nagustuhan ko yung pag-aalaga. Naging passion ko rin ang beekeeping (I started liking beekeeping and became passionate with it),” Mac said to Agriculture Online, recalling his early years in beekeeping.
His father-in-law originally just wanted someone to care for his stingless bees as he was focused on caring for native ducks. He taught Mac how to care for bees and all the necessary skills involved in the craft, such as how to harvest feral bee colonies and how to construct beehives.
With eight years of experience, Mac is now a person who other aspiring beekeepers could learn from. With his innovative beehive designs, one could discover a thing or two about the potential of beehives as a form of art.
In his farm is a beehive shaped like a ship, which Mac had made to remember his past as a seaman. Mac recalled that the ship-beehive used to have a Philippine flag and a figurehead. His nine years as a seaman easily manifests in his farm. He even wears his old uniform as a way to protect himself from bees.
Mac also has a beehive shaped like a minibus. “Dati kasi may ginagamit akong Volkswagen na sasakyan. Tapos diba may Volkswagen rin na Kombi yung tawag, yung parang bus (I used to owned a Volkswagen car. Remember that they also used to have a minibus called Kombi?),” Mac explained. A carpenter made the minibus-beehive using wood scraps back then when Mac’s house was being built.
But Mac talks about these unusual beehives with nonchalance. He doesn’t take them too seriously and actually constructs unusual beehives out of necessity.
“Pag nauubusan ako ng box, titignan ko anong mga basura dyan pwede ko paglagyan (When I run out of boxes to use for beehives, I look for trash to use),” Mac said.
Most of Mac’s beehives are made from upcycled material. An example is an old bucket of water that was no longer being used because it had hole. He stuffed a small feral colony inside the bucket and has since grown.
There is also a chair which he managed to transform into a beehive. The stool, which was originally owned by Mac’s father-in-law, also served as a coin box. The stool was given to Mac’s child who later outgrew the chair. Instead of just throwing away the old stool, Mac decided to make a beehive out of it.
Another remarkable beehive in the farm is an old electric post. Meralco removed this pole because it had become too dilapidated. Mac’s friend observed that bees had colonized the insides of the post so he took the pole and gave it to Mac.
An interesting story perhaps is how a child’s trolley bag came to be a beehive. Mac had another friend whose kaong palm tree (Arenga pinnata) fell down. Unfortunately for them, when the tree fell, so did a feral bee colony that nested in it. It became a nuisance for them as the bees were becoming aggressive, so they called Mac to remove the colony. On that day, Mac did not bring any box or sack to bring home the colony, but his friend did have an old trolley bag. He stuffed the colony inside the bag and returned to the farm where the school-bag-turned-bee-hive has been displayed ever since.
Asked how he came up with this unusual collection of beehives, Mac said “Naisip [ko] lang. Kasi kung iisipin mo, kahit saan naman talaga pwede. Wala naman silang pipiliin na bahay. (If you think about it, bees can live anywhere. They aren’t too selective with their beehives).”
Mac also uses beehives from traditional beekeeping practices like coconut husks and bamboo logs. The coconut husks allow him to easily harvest the honey and pollen as they are contained to one side of the husk while the other has the brood. The bamboo log also has a partition where the honey is separated from the brood. The thing with the bamboo log is that there are two openings on it — one for the section with the honey and the other for the brood. This means he can easily harvest the honey without disturbing the bees in the brood section.
Constructing beehives either through old material or natural casings allows Mac to care for more bees. He said he has around 400 colonies of two stingless bee species, Tetragonula biroi and Tetragonula sapien. He harvests them for honey and pollen, as well as propolis which he processes into lip balm, throat spray, massage oil, and ointment.
Now in their eighth year, Los Pepes Farm continues to offer various bee products such as raw honey, pollen granules, and the bee colonies themselves. The market has become more competitive ever since they started in 2014, and business has slowed down for them after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even so, Mac continues to care for his bees while providing them with unusual but creatively constructed beehives.
Photos by Jerome Sagcal