Native Honey Bee Culture and Production

The native honey bee or the Asian honey bee (Apis cerana) are good pollinators of crops. They also produce honey, pollen and wax, all of which could be either directly used by farmers or sold in the market.

Compared with the exotic European honey bee (Apis mellifers), our native honey bees are more resistant to pest and diseases Also, colonies of native bees are available everywhere and so it is easy to start with one or two colonies of this kind of bees. Being tropical, our native bees are smaller and could produce 2 to 6 kg of honey per year while the European bees could yield 50 kg of honey per year. Native honey bees also have greater tendency to abscond or leave suddenly, deserting their hive.

Since 1948, there have been attempts to rear the European honey bees due to several reasons; i.e. gentleness, high honey yield, lesser tendency to abscond, etc. But two major problems have limited the culture of this species. These are: (1) lack of queens and (2) susceptibility to mites.

Because of biological and economic considerations, native honey bees are more suitable to rear by small farmers. Less capital is needed in raising these honeybees. If farmers have enough resources and skills, they may try rearing the European honey bees.

Suitable areas for rearing native honey bees

Colonies of native bees could easily be established in areas where there are plenty of flowering plants throughout the year. Bees in these areas will practically yield more honey.

Having diversified farms, Cavite and Batangas provide good foraging grounds for bee colonies. In Quezon where coconut palms flower throughout the year, bee colonies under coconut plantations would just be alright. Mindanao is another good area to raise honey bees.

One practical method of assessing the suitability of an area for beekeeping is counting the number of wild bee colonies. If the density of bee colonies is high, it means that the area is suitable for bee culture.

Materials needed in transferring wild colonies of bees

  1.  Wooden hive
  2.  Frames with wires
  3.  Nylon plastic
  4.  Knife
  5.  Bee veil
  6.  Bee brush
  7.  Smoker
  8.  Ax
  9.  Bolo
  10.  Plastic sprayer
  11.  Queen cage
  12.  Bee escape

How to transfer honey bees:

Transferring wild colonies of bees to a wooden hive. Be sure that all materials are available.

Bolo or ax may be needed in exposing the colony of native honey bees. Determine the number of combs in the hive. Spray worker bees with small amount of water to prevent bees from flying. A little amount of smoke is needed to drive worker bees away from the first comb. By means of a sharp stainless knife, cut the base of the first comb. Oftentimes, this comb does not contain brood (immature bees) or honey. Using water and smoke, do the same to the other combs.

Fix the comb with capped brood (pupal stage) on the center of the wired frame. To do this, cut evenly the base of the comb. Place the comb below the wired frame and cut through the middle section of the comb by using the wire as guide. Now, could push half of the comb through the wires. Tie the comb to the top bar by means of a plastic straw. Bees will begin to cluster outside the combs because of the disturbance. Occasionally, examine this cluster to see if the queen is with them. One or two combs with capped brood is enough for the new hive depending on the total population of the feral or wild colony. Be sure that the comb attached to the frame would be totally covered by bees after the operation.

Now, look for the queen. Among the bees in the colony, she has the longest abdomen. If you find her, grasp her wings gently with you two fingers. Do not hold her on the abdomen. Put her on the cage together with five newly emerged worker bees. After covering the cage, tie it below the top bar adjacent to the comb. With the queen and two combs on the box, you are now ready to transfer all bees to the box. Give the queen a handful of bees. Some of these bees will guide the remaining bees to the new hive. Apply some smoke to the cluster of bees remaining in the old hive to facilitate the process of bee transfer. After all bees have transferred, bring the box to the desired location.

Transferring a swarm to the box

Bees on swarm are gentle because they have no honey and brood to protect. Wear a bee veil. One could not determine if bees are aggressive or not. Look for the queen and put her on a cage. Place the queen cage on the center of the box. Be sure that one or two frames have wax strip. You may release the queen after four days.

Swarm on leaves or small branches can be shaken into a box containing frames with wax strips.

Transferring honey bees from concrete walls

Some bee colonies may be found in structures which could, not be moved or destroyed for some reasons. In this situation, bees could be forced to transfer to a box by means of a bee escape.

Be sure that there is only one small hole in the feral colony. By means of a sealant, attach the bee escape to the wall to cover the entrance. Bees could get out but they could not get in. Place the box with frames near the entrance. One frame in the box should contain a piece of old comb to attract flying bees.

The queen may transfer to the new hive on or before the fifth day. She does not need to be confined in the cage.

Management of newly transferred colonies

  • 1. Newly transferred colonies are always under stress because of disturbance. We could describe the colony condition as abnormal.
  • 2. Place all boxes on wooden benches 18 inches or more from the ground. Shaded or partially shaded areas provide good location for bee colonies. Apply grease on the legs of benches to prevent ants from attacking or robbing bee colonies.
  • 3. Immediately give sugar syrup (60:40 sugar-water ratio) to the colonies. This will enhance building of new combs.
  • 4. Limit the entrance hole to prevent robbing or drifting of worker bees.
  • 5. Release the queen after four days. By this time, new combs have already been built.
  • 6. Examine all colonies for larvae of wax moth. This is the most common pest of brood. Newly attacked combs usually have small holes on their midrib. They may also contain tunnels of larvae. If any of these symptoms appear, remove all combs after putting the queen in a cage. Give the colony new frames with wax strips and continue feeding. Place the infested combs on a freezer to kill all eggs and larvae of the pest. After 72 hours, these combs could be given back to the bees.
  • 7. Absconding (or desertion of the hive by bees) is usually caused by wax moth infestation of the brood. Absconding is a natural behavior of native honey bees. It is actually a defensive strategy of the bees. Be sure that swarm traps are always in their proper places. Once the colony becomes strong, they could guard the brood against wax moth.
  • 8. At least three combs should have cells with sealed honey. The presence of sealed honey increases the morale of the colony.


Swarming is normal among native honey bees. It is one way of increasing their colonies. Since you could not stop this annual activity of the bees, be sure that your swarm traps are hung on branches of nearby trees. Melted bees wax should be applied on these wooden traps to attract swarming bees.

Provide one or two combs of capped brood to the new hive. Shake the bees into the new hive. This could be done with a jerk to cause the bees to slide from the swarm trap.

Construction of Bee Hives

There are many kinds of bee hives. Traditional hives in the Philippines are usually made of hollow trunks of trees or palms. Ends of these hollow materials are usually plugged with stones or wood. The movable-frame hives are recommended for easier manipulation of combs. Oftentimes, combs have to be inspected to determine the condition of the hive.

Thickness of the wood or bamboo may vary but the internal dimensions must be followed strictly. The most important dimension is the distance between side bars or top bars since the bees always maintain a natural distance between combs. This is called bee space. Width of side bars should be 27 mm.

How to Melt Bees Wax

Wax should be extracted from old and new combs. A cheap solar wax melter could be assembled for this. Wax strips instead of wax foundation.

A locally assembled wax container is submerged in hot (but not boiling) water. Dip a marine plywood twice on the metal containing the melted wax. Be sure to moisten the plywood with soap solution before dipping. Peel off the wax after five seconds. Cut wax sheets into strips for future use. Place the wax strip on the center of the top bar. Use melted wax to glue the wax strip on the bar. Embed wires with melted wax. Bees will position the midrib of their combs on wax-coated wires.

Do’s and Dont’s When Examining a Hive

  1. Always use a hand sprayer to calm the bees. Never use smoke as advised in temperate countries. Use of smoke is appropriate in dealing with European honey bees.
  2. Do not stand in front of the hive. You may be blocking the pathway of bees.
  3. Always wear bee veil. Bees tend to sting near the eyes. If you are stung, apply weak acid after removing the sting from your skin.
  4. Place uncapped brood near the center and capped brood towards the sides.
  5. Cut old and brittle portions of the comb. Queens love to lay eggs on new combs.
  6. Always examine for the presence of wax moth larvae, especially during the rainy season.
  7. Remove combs not covered by bees. Store them in airtight containers containing moth balls.

Splitting The Colony

Strong colonies will divide naturally through swarming. You may divide a strong colony by placing the queen and four or five frames of bees in another box. Shake some bees into the second box. Transfer the second box to another location; the farther, the better. Older bees will return to the first box.

Without a queen, bees in the first box will build several queen cells. On the ninth day, destroy small queen cells and leave the biggest one. A young mated queen may start laying eggs at three to four weeks after splitting the colony.

How to Harvest Honey

1. Use of honey extractor

  • This is an expensive device for beginners. But if your group could not put up one extractor, harvesting of honey would be more efficient. Honey extracted through this method is clean. Also, combs could be returned to the hives after processing.

2. Squeezing of honey combs

  • By means of a hot knife, cut honey combs into small pieces. Combs with brood are tied to the top bar and returned to the hive. Combs with honey are squeezed by means of a clean muslin cloth. A metal press could also be of help.

3. Cutting of honey combs

  • Combs of honey could be cut nicely and wrapped in clean plastic bags. Comb honey could also be stored in dean bottles.

4. Presentation of your product

  • Be sure to invest on good labels and clean bottles.

For more information, contact:

  • International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), Silang 4118, Cavite, Philippines
  • Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Visayas Ave., Diliman Quezon City
  • Ford Foundation (FF), 6th Floor, Doarcisa Bldg. Paseo de Roxas, Makati City

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