By JAMES TABABA
John Patrick Maliwat is a bee farmer from Nagcarlan, Laguna. He was a tricycle driver for four years before he established his bee farm.
In 2019, Maliwat was looking for additional income to support his family, especially because his father had kidney problems and needed routine dialysis.
His friend suggested bee farming, saying that there are job opportunities abroad for beekeeping. Some of their friends are already beekeepers In New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Maliwat spent five days on intensive bee training at Golden Queen Bee Training Center in Rizal, Laguna. He spends his savings on that training.
He learned much about beekeeping in training but still wants to gain more hands-on experience, so he attended a six-day seminar at the Honey Bee Center in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. Aside from the paid training, Honey Bee Center lets their trainees volunteer in the center to familiarize themselves even more with the how-tos of beekeeping. Maliwat volunteered for a year while establishing his bee farm. This is when he sharpens his skills in beekeeping.
He also attended the annual Beekeepers’ Network Philippines Foundation, Inc. (BEENET) conference to widen his connections. Beekeepers’ Network Philippines Foundation, Inc. is a national organization composed of beekeepers, hobbyists, and researchers in the Philippines.
Maliwat's eagerness to learn is driven by his plan to pursue being a beekeeper abroad. But then the pandemic came, and his goal of going abroad started to wane.
“Maybe I should start here first. Since I have been reselling honey products before starting to produce my own,” he realized.
Maliwat started from a single bee colony (complete beehive) and now has ten colonies of European honeybees and about 300 colonies of stingless bees in seven different locations in Nagcarlan. He is now a full-time bee farmer and a consultant tp other bee farms. He also sells bee colonies and their by-products.
European honeybee and stingless bee
Maliwat currently rears two species of bees. First is the imported European Honeybees (Apis melifera). It is known to have the best production of honey in terms of volume. It is one of the most commonly kept species of bee worldwide.
The second species is the local native stingless bee (Meliponinae), locally called lukot. It is a smaller species but more adapted to the Philippine climate than the European honeybees. Even if it produces less honey because of its size, according to Maliwat, it is more sought after for its healthier honey.
READ: Apiculture and meliponiculture: is there a BEE-fference?
“First, before you start beekeeping, you need training. Because beekeeping is not like taking care of pets. You need skills and knowledge about taking care of the bees. There are technicalities involved,” Maliwat explained.
He added that aside from having the training, it is also essential to consider the location where the colonies of bees will be placed. Bees will need sufficient food from the flowers of fruit-bearing trees and wildflowers.
Maliwat said coconut trees are the most important fruit-bearing tree in his location. A single coconut tree can support four bee colonies.
Colony population should be meticulously controlled. Even if it is physically possible to have many colonies in one location, they will only compete for the available food. The other colonies might eventually die. Maliwat recommends that a single site should only have, at most, ten colonies.
READ: Beehouse designs inspired by traditional Philippine architecture
Beekeeping tools are also important. A bee suit is necessary, especially for beginners, to avoid being stung and bitten by the bees. Hive tools and smokers are essential in beehive inspections, harvesting, and colony splitting.
According to Maliwat, European honeybee hives should be inspected once a week. Since European honeybees are an imported species, they need additional help to acclimatize to local conditions. Supplementary feeding might be necessary during the rainy season.
European honeybees are also susceptible to parasitic mites that attack the colony. Mites are carriers of bee diseases and feed on the young bee larva, causing them to develop abnormally. Having a mite infestation among bee colonies will impair their honey production. Left untreated, mites may cause bee colonies to die.
Stingless bees are easier to take care of. They need to be inspected less than their European honeybee counterparts. Stingless bees’ hives do not require artificial hive frames. Because of this, they are cheaper and more affordable to culture.
READ: Why Philippine beekeepers want to nurture stingless bees
There are several bee by-products that Maliwat derives from bee farming – honey, bee pollen, and propolis.
Honey is the main by-product of bees. For the European honeybees, honey is scraped from the frames and then placed in the honey extractor. On the other hand, there are no frames for the stingless bees, so the honey is extracted by turning the hive upside down and pressing gently.
Aside from the honey harvested from his farm, Maliwat also sells honey from local honey hunters. Honey hunters collect honey from wild giant honeybees (Apis breviligula) and Asian honeybees (Apis Cerana). This is his way of helping the local bee hunters in Nagcarlan.
Honey from the European honeybee and wild honeybees is sold for 350-400 pesos, while stingless bees cost 500-600 pesos.
READ: BEEware of fake honey: Honey fraud in the Philippines
Bee pollen is the collected and stored pollen from the flowers. It is the main food of bees inside the hive. According to Maliwat, it is a dietary supplement considered a natural energy booster that old athletes usually take.
Propolis is derived from plant sap. It is high in antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Propolis is a sticky substance used by bees to seal the hive and protect it from the outside elements. It is also called bee glue. It can also be used as an ingredient for cosmetic products like soap.
Bee pollen and propolis are sold for 1,500-2,500 per kilo.
Colony and starter kits are also available on Maliwat’s farm for people planning to start their own bee farm. Maliwat is selling a European honeybee starter pack consisting of 5 hive frames for 10,000 pesos. For stingless bees, a colony costs 2,500-3,500 pesos.
Aside from the bee by-products, he also offers consultancy to others starting their bee farm. Training can be scheduled by request.
Maliwat’s products are only available through direct purchases online. Honey production is a slow process. Honey and other by-products are harvested once a year. Because of this, Maliwat plans its retail marketing carefully so he can still offer products for the whole year.
The unpredictable climate makes planning more difficult for Maliwat. The extended rainy season will result in lower honey production. There are times when they do not harvest honey because the bees did have enough time to gather pollen because of the bad weather.
Giving value to customers
Maliwat also established a local bee farming association in Nagacarlan. He aims to help people who also want to earn in bee farming. His goal is to support the local bee industry of Nagcarlan and be recognized for bee farming.
“In terms of business, we should not focus only on sales. It is important to give value . The more value is given, the more profit will come,” Maliwat said. He shares free tips and basic knowledge with people. This is how he receives referrals which increase his sales.
Maliwat plans to develop more bee products, especially for health-conscious consumers who seek the health benefits of honeybee products. Because of the pandemic, more people are now interested in healthier food options.
Maliwat quoted Albert Einstein, saying, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the Earth, Man would only have for years left to live.” Bees are an important part of the ecosystem as they are responsible for pollinating plants. “‘Not only that bee farming helps nature, but it also provides income.”
For those who want to start beekeeping, Maliwat advises, “Patience is needed. Make beekeeping a passion first. Love the bees, love the work, then the income will follow.”
Photos courtesy of John Patrick Maliwat