What happens when yours truly visits a stingless bee farm? She of course stares at the bees long enough to annoy her friends and showers the beekeeper with endless questions about these beautiful creatures!
Here are some of the insights shared with me by Jacky, the farm’s beekeeper and manager.
K: WHAT HAS INSPIRED YOU TO START BEEKEEPING?
J: Bees help to pollinate the plants in our orchard. Having bees for pollination also makes the Durians fruit earlier, because the smaller, stingless bees can reach smaller flowers.
K: WHAT TYPE OF BEES DO YOU KEEP?
J: In Malaysia, there are ~40 species of stingless bees. I keep 5 types of stingless bees in my orchard: Lepidotrigona Terminata, Thoracica, Itama, Testaceitarsis and Laeviceps.
K: HOW DID YOU LEARN TO KEEP BEES?
J: At first, I learned about stingless bees from a bee farm owner. Then, I attended a day course at a local university here in Malaysia. By attending that course, I was able to build up a network of stingless bee hobbyists where we can all learn from each other. Finally, I also joined discussion groups on the topic of stingless bees so as to learn more, while doing a lot of hands-on work with my own colonies.
K: IS BEEKEEPING POPULAR IN MALAYSIA?
J: Yes, it is quite popular in Malaysia. One of the Facebook groups I have joined, has more than 30,000 members, mostly Malaysians! I guess since stingless bees are fairly tame and easy to maintain, keeping them suits those looking to become hobbyists.
K: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART IN KEEPING BEES IN MALAYSIA?
J: The most difficult part could be finding a suitable environment for them. Since they can only fly as far as 1-2km, they are pretty immobile and so will require a space with chemical -free, bee-friendly plants with suitable non-seasonal fruit trees that are abundant with pollen and nectar. To add to the complexity, the bees need plenty of suitable resin resource to build their hive, which is mostly propolis-based.
The hive is built in an organic manner as opposed to the regular hexagonal pattern. These are brood pockets while honey will be stored in bigger “jars” next to these.
K: HOW MUCH HONEY DO STINGLESS BEES YIELD?
J: Depending on the species and resources available, a stingless bee colony can produce anywhere between 2-100kg of honey a month. Similarly, a colony might even have “negative” production if the weather is bad (Raining season, haze etc).
K: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FLAVOUR OF THE HONEY YOU PRODUCE?
J: Due to the high water content in the honey (29-42% water content), the flavour is mostly alcoholic, sourly sweet, with a slight vinegar and enzyme taste, and of course it is very watery.
K: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE STARTING OFF IN BEEKEEPING IN ASIA?
J: The most important thing is to get to know the stingless bees first. Do not think you can simply start, especially in an unsuitable location that will end up killing them. Besides, keeping stingless bees should be for the love of them and not for profit, since they produce so little honey, do not expect to become rich from keeping them.
K: DO YOU PRODUCE OTHER HIVE PRODUCTS?
J: Yes, we also produce propolis products such as propolis balm, soap, green propolis essence (taken as medicinal drops) and pollen.
I had, naturally, tried the honey for myself and indeed the definition of honey may have to be revisited if it will ever to include that produced by stingless bees. As I reluctantly left the farm, I looked forward to visiting again here and many others in Malaysia – this was after all, my first visit to a Southeast Asian farm ever, certainly not my last 😉
If you have any burning questions just drop them in the comments and I will either share my (limited) knowledge or get Jacky’s advice to support!
Katkout x 🐝