An Urban Experiment - Honey Bees @ Kokkoya Farm
By Kokkoya's Beekeeper Loren
After being a bit of a bee fanatic for the last 5 years of my life, I decided to go against my better judgment and look into keeping bees in Yangon. Flash forwards several months of research and we were delivered possibly one of the most unusual deliveries we’ve ever received; a hive full of bees!
Having been close friends of Kokkoya and knowing the benefits of keeping bees to farming it seemed like an obvious symbiotic relationship. The bees would hopefully improve the farm’s yields, I would finally get to look after a hive, while also acting as a test case for urban bee keeping in Yangon. Plan Bee connected us to the Department of Apiculture, who helped with sourcing some bees from Shan state and getting our Langstroth hive set up.
Our bees are the Apis Mellifera (A.K.A the European honey bee) first introduced to Myanmar in the 1980’s. Oddly enough their temperament is very different to the bees of the same species which we’ve worked with in Europe – they are patient, friendly and always bee-hive with little tendency to sting. We generally don’t wear any protective gear during inspections - neither gloves nor veils – and un-bee-lievably have had only had 3 stings between 4 people to date!
After we got the bees, word spread quickly that there were bee parents in town (primarily because, like all proud parents, we drone on about it to literally every one we meet!). It turned out there were a lot more honeybees already in Yangon than we’d expected. There’s at least two native honey bee species that we’ve come across and I’m sure there’s many more solitary bees here too. Just like us, bees like to live in safe dry spaces sheltered from weather, so it’s no surprise that they often settle in buildings in the urban environment. We’ve heard that bees settling on your house is a sign of good luck in Myanmar culture and we wholeheartedly agree.
We’ve been called out a few times to inspect a few of these golden good luck charms. The most dramatic was removing a wild colony of the native Apis Cerana from the roof of Parasol restaurant. A mid-sized dark coloured bee that forms multiple long combs much like the European bee. Trying to catch a Queen in a dark back room in Yangon’s hot season, wearing make-shift bee proof suits is no easy task. Each piece of comb must be carefully cut away collecting its bees and hunting for an elusive queen who doesn’t want to be seen, the comb is wired into the frames of their new home and any fallen flightless young bees are delicately collected. Despite the challenges, it was definitely worth it to ensure that this wild colony could be removed without being destroyed.
Apis Florea colony on a Yangon window
Very hot and very makeshift bee suits!
The native Apis Cerana honey bee in the roof of Parasol restaurant
Another dramatic moment in our story of beekeeping in Yangon was when the hive was attacked by hornets. Unlike the honey bee, these pollinators are also carnivorous predators; once they discover a colony of bees they will return time after time, carrying bees off to eat. Despite hornets being at least 3 times larger, honey bees do have some defenses against this foe. Using their unparalleled team working abilities they block the entrance to the hive and swarm the hornets, using their body temperature to cook any they can capture. Our bees gave the hornets a good run for the honey – but the most sustainable way to deal with the attack was just to move the bees to a new location for a few weeks. On the face of it, hornets are a bee-keepers nightmare, but it’s important to remember that they’re essential pollinators too.
If you would like to help our bees and all of Yangon’s other pollinators thrive, there’s lots of easy plants you can grow on balconies and in gardens:
· Sweet chilli pepper
· Thai basil
· Passion Flower
· Banana Trees
And if you’re very lucky you might even get a colony of Apis Florea (a tiny stingless honeybee) living on the side of your apartment.
Loren & Christian, Kokkoya's Resident Bee-Parents