Growing up in the province, I am no stranger to cattle farms, vegetable farms, poultry farms, fruit orchards, ornamental plant and tree farms, as well as fish and prawn farms but I have never been to an apiary except last weekend.
Upon learning that one of my high school batchmates from the Visayas was now operating a bee farm for the past three years in Batangas, I immediately tracked him down to schedule a visit. Milea Orchard & Bee Farm in Brgy. Balagtasin, San Jose, Batangas is a two hour drive from Manila. From the main road, you have to take a five minute moderate hike through natural terrain before reaching the gates of the one hectare property.
Rico Pietro and Edilee Rosales Omoyon have lined the entrance with ornamental flowering plants that include daisies, sunflowers and vines. Endemic fruit trees such as coconuts, banana plants, aratiles (muntingia calabura, with small cherry-like fruits), as well as lanzones (lansium domesticum), pineapple plants, dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus), santol (Sandoricum koetjape), and papaya also dot the property.
A native hut made of bamboo and nipa shingles covered with a fine mesh net to keep out the bees is built on an elevated portion of the property just off the main entrance. Their caretaker resides on the second floor as Mr. and Mrs. Omoyon live in Makati with their children on weekdays.
The apiary makes use of recycled materials such discarded rubber tires that were converted into steps for the hilly portions of the property. Discarded plastic containers are converted into planters for seedlings. Vermiculture is in one section of the property utilizing rabbit excrement. Discarded ground coffee beans are collected from cafes and used as organic fertilizer in the farm.
This rainy season, a Mandala herbal garden will be built at the back portion of the property featuring oregano, marjoram, rosemary, chives, basil, and parsley.
An audible hum is apparent as four species of bees are visibly buzzing around from flower to flower collecting nectar. They currently have colonies of European Honey Bees (Apis mellifera), Native Honey Bees (Apis cerana), Native Stingless Bees (Trigona spp.) and they help manage colonies of Asian Giant Honey Bees (Apis dorsata) that prefer to stay in the wild.
According to Rico, building a hive for our native bee colonies need not be expensive as they have used everything from coconut shells, bamboo culms, to discarded wooden guitar cases, and damaged round wooden vats which have been discarded by spas and saunas. The key is to provide roofing materials that will keep the water out of the hives during the rainy season. Now, farmers or individuals have no reason why they could not culture pollinators for their plants.
He and his wife were already producing organic personal care and cosmetic products several years ago and were sourcing for local suppliers of beeswax, a key ingredient. Due to the dismal production of local suppliers, he and his wife decided to put their Batangas property to good use by setting up their very own bee farm. Continuous research and networking with the Department of Agriculture, with other local suppliers and training abroad have made him knowledgeable on bee farming.
According to him, bees are a natural part of the ecosystem whose role as pollinators help increase the number of fruits thus multiplying the number of planting materials. Ancient practices of smoking the hive to extract honey kills the bees and has caused irreparable damage to the ecosystem. The presence of bees in an area is a good sign that the property has a thriving ecosystem. “If we can train local folks on the proper way to extract honey without killing the bees, then we will have an adequate supply of honey and bee-related products the whole year round. With proper monitoring, we might even be able to export these abroad in due time.”
Aside from honey and beeswax, Milea Orchard & Bee Farm also produces bee pollens which are considered highly nutritious food supplements, honey cider vinegar and bee sting, a fermented drink which has alcoholic content and a shelf life of one year with a taste better than or comparable to the Japanese sake rice wine. The farm also provides colonies and beekeeping supplies for those interested in setting up their own apiaries. They currently offer NatSoda (Natural Soda) made from fresh fruits fermented in honey mixed with Kefir Water with five variants to choose from: Pineapple, Pomelo, Lipote, Yacon, Coffee and Butterfly Pea.
Milea Orchard and Bee Farm conducts beekeeping seminars. For more information, kindly check out www.mileabeefarm.com for upcoming schedule of activities.