Sustaining pollinators: lessons learned from a first season of beekeeping
In northern Thailand, widespread mono-cropping has led to environmental changes which have affected the natural habitat of bees, resulting in diminishing numbers and reduced honey production.
As ECHO Asia already has a variety of different flower species, trialing honey production seemed like a logical next step. In order to learn more about the challenges of keeping bees, three beehives were purchased from a local farmer in northern Thailand who provides hives to the area.
At the beginning of the trial two challenges were addressed that are common to nearly all apiculture projects: attracting bees and discouraging damaging pests.
In order to protect the hives from predators they were installed on brick foundations, though bamboo, wood, or other locally available materials would work as well. Each hive has a brick cover, and aluminum plating or roofing tiles could be used to further prevent water ingress. Lime is applied around hive bases to repel unwelcome visitors.
Bees were attracted by applying wax to the inside of each hive as well as to entrance holes, which are also painted with a lime powder solution to help bees find their way home. Any cracks in the wooden housing can be filled with clay, or a mix of clay and rice husk to prevent ants removing the wax, as without wax the bees won’t return. Once the hive is set up (after about two weeks), hives were checked for habitation, and if required, more wax was added to attract bees.
To create an ideal environment, companion planting was employed. Companion planting is the close planting of different plants that enhance each other's growth in several different ways: it helps to repel bad insects, attracts good insects to aid plant pollination, and promotes the health of the existing crop.
Activity around the hive signifies honey production, bees feed on the nearby flowers, helping pollination and providing food for their families in the hives. Increased availability of companion plants yields greater bee population, honey production, and biodiversity.
This season, nearly two liters of honey was harvested from one hive, which contained five honeycombs. Harvest is safely completed by smoking out the bees, which then return after hives have been replenished with wax. In this trial only one hive produced honey, indicating a need to try further methods to attract more bees next season.