Beekeeping, or apiculture (Latin: apis ‘bee’), has been practiced in Egypt for over 4,000 years. And collecting honey from wild bees goes back even further. The 8,000-year-old cave painting from a cave near Valencia, Spain, shows a person, hanging from three strands of rope, surrounded by bees, collecting honey.
The aim of keeping bees is to collect honey, wax, pollen, royal jelly and propolis. But a final and highly important service of beekeeping is pollination of crops. The action radius of bees is max 2 km and typically hives are close to orchards or fields of wild flowers. To pollinate distant fields, bee colonies are moved to these fields. Farmers will pay for the hives to be moved, as without pollination there will be no crop to harvest. Bees are perfect pollinators. While gathering nectar from flowers and blossoms their bodies get covered in pollen, which are subsequently transferred to the female reproductive organs of seed plants, thereby enabling fertilization and reproduction. Pollination is thus turned into a perfect win-win symbiosis as the bees are paid in nectar for the service provided.
In this respect, it is important to understand that one third of our food comes from plants that have been pollinated by bees. Without the bees, that portion would not be produced.
The best known product of bees is, of course, honey.
As Winnie the Pooh so succinctly said: “The only reason for being a bee, that I know of, is making honey… and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it.”
Well, not only Winnie likes his honey. Not only is it a sweetener, but a healthy sweetener, and much better for you than refined sugar. When table sugar is extracted from sugar cane (or sugar beets), the proteins, nitrogen elements, and enzymes found in the natural sugar cane/beet are destroyed. Pure honey, on the other hand, is only strained. It is a natural product loaded with antioxidant and antimicrobial properties.
Honey is a rich source of valuable antioxidants – at least 16 have been found in honey – which expedite healing of damaged tissues, and also help skin to appear younger and more radiant. Honey also has powerful antibacterial properties and wound-healing capabilities. The reason that honey helps to kill bacteria and heal wounds is related to an enzyme that produces hydrogen peroxide.
A colony is composed of three types of bees: the queen, the largest bee in the hive, female workers (30,000 to 50,000), and male drones (less than 100 to several thousand, depending on seasonal conditions). The queen is raised from normal unisex larvae by feeding her more royal jelly than the others. She emerges from her cell after 15 days and remains in the hive for another three to seven days, after which she sets out on up to 12 mating flights. Drones follow her, and far away from the hive and high up in the air – probably to sort the weak drones from the strong ones – she mates with a number of them. When she returns to the hive, her pouch filled with sperm, she is ready to lay eggs, up to 3,000 a day.
The queen is the mother of all bees in the colony. She exudes pheromones that prevent the other females from developing ovaries. The productive life of a queen is no longer than three years, after which the female workers, or the beekeepers, dispose of her.
Wax, pollen, royal jelly and propolis are all valuable commercial commodities that are harvested by beekeepers. Wax has been used for centuries to make candles. Pollen is the male seed of a flower or blossom that is collected by the bees, and when combined with their digestive enzymes becomes a mixture of sticky pollen granules. Bee pollen is used to boost the immune system, to treat allergies, and prevent the onset of asthma. Royal jelly is a milky, nutrient-rich substance fed to bee larvae. Its medical use is mainly for the treatment of diabetes. Propolis, or bee glue, is made up of a combination of plant resins, beeswax, balm, pollen and hive debris. It is used (by the bees) to attach the combs to the tops and sides of frames, to fill in cracks in the hive and embalm intruders. Its medicinal use has for thousands of years been for the treatment of wounds.
The Cibubur site Madu Pramuka (Scouts’ Honey in English) is a mere 30-40 minutes’ drive from Jakarta, and is the perfect place to learn about bees and beekeeping, and to buy pure, unadulterated, undiluted honey of various crop seasons. Madu karet (honey from rubber trees), from rambutan trees, multiflora fields, coffee and super honey – containing pollen – and many more are for sale in the on-site shop, together with royal jelly, propolis, pollen and wax. Prices range from Rp.60,000 to Rp.120,000 for bottles of 350ml.
The quality and purity of the honey is guaranteed, and is distinguishable when consumed. The taste of the Cibubur products starkly contrasts with the honeys for sale in Jakarta’s groceries or supermarkets, which are not pure, although the label so claims.
The Cibubur site is for demonstration and education purposes only. The production of honey and other products takes place in Central Java where some 1,000 hives are moved around according to the season of the various crops.
The hives are kept away from farming activities – rice, soy beans, maize, and the like – as the spraying of these crops means a certain death for bees. Therefore, crops pollinated by bees are insecticide-free and thus well on their way to being classified organic.
The courses in Cibubur are introductory in nature, but Madu Pramuka also provides practical on-the-job training for beekeepers.
The horticultural areas of Puncak and Lembang, north of Bandung, are not included in the bee-pollination circuit, as the areas are too cold for the bees, with one exception; the large strawberry fields on the way to Puncak. Although still too cold, the bees are provided for pollination on a single-use basis. The grower buys a mini-colony or two and returns the empty hive boxes to Cibubur.
Finally, Madu Pramuka also offers apitherapy, or bee sting therapy. The therapy allegedly unleashes the body’s own healing powers by strengthening the immune system. The exact place where the sting is administered follows, for each specific ailment, the energy lines of acupuncture. It is said to be very effective in the treatment of rheumatism. But Cibubur treats many other ailments, too. Treatments, costing Rp.75,000 are repeated every one to two weeks until improvements are achieved.
- Honeybees perform a dance when returning to their hive to tell the other bees of their colony where the nectar and pollen can be found – they dance a map, so to speak.
- A few kilometres south of Jakarta, in Cibubur, a beekeeping activity has been set up, and visitors are welcome at the eco-friendly site – and of course, truly organic honey can be purchased.
+62 021 844 5104
From Jakarta, take toll road exit Cibubur and after 100 metres turn left into the Madu Pramuka site.