By Phung Huu Chinh, Nguyen Hung Minh, Pham Hong Thai and Nguyen Quang Tan.
The giant honeybee Apis dorsata is native to tropical and subtropical Asia. The bees build their nests from the branches of big trees and tall, projecting cliffs. Occasionally colonies build nests on high water towers or the roofs of buildings. The nest comprises a single comb in the open air.
Apis dorsata are defensive and migratory, and the domestication of this bee was thought impossible.
In some Melaleuca forests of southern Vietnam, people use a traditional method of collecting honey and wax from Apis dorsata colonies. This method of \"rafter beekeeping\" was first reported in 1902 by Fougeres1.
According to Vietnamese sociologists, in the early 19th century honey hunting or raftering was the most important occupation of the people who lived in the Melaleuca forest swamp. At that time people paid taxes to the government in exchange for living in the forest. Beeswax was used to pay tax and for making candles and was sold to visiting ships from Hainan, China\".
Between 1945 and 1975 the forests were devastated first by wars, and then by forest clearing for wood and agricultural purposes. As a consequence rafter beekeeping dramatically decreased in the area.
Today the technique is still used at the state farm of Song Trem in Uminh forest. South Vietnam. According to our survey there are about 96 beekeepers in the area. In 1991 they harvested 16,608 litres of honey and 747 kg of wax.
WHAT IS A RAFTER?
Simply, a rafter is the trunk of a tree, 2 m in length and 15 cm in diameter supported by two vertical poles. One vertical pole is about 2 m high and the second 1.2 m high. The rafter therefore slopes at an angle of about 15-35Â° to the horizontal. It appears like the branch of a tree and Apis dorsata can build its nest beneath it. It is named rafter because it looks like the rafter of a house.
HOW TO MAKE A RAFTER
A tree trunk of length 1.8-2.2 m and diameter 10-20 cm is split lengthways into two parts to make two rafters (Figure 2). A rectangular or triangular hole is made at one end of the rafter (when the rafter is erected, the hole is slotted over the top of the higher vertical pole (Figure 3)). A channel is often made along the flat side of the rafter to drain off rain water so that it does not seep into the comb. The bark is removed and some beekeepers cover the curved side with a thin layer of beeswax.
HOW TO ERECT A RAFTER
The beekeeper chooses a quiet open space in the Melaleuca forest, or makes one by cutting down some tall trees. The direction of the rafter is decided before the vertical poles are positioned (Figure 4). The rafter is supported by the higher pole with the hole in the rafter slotting over the end of the pole (Figure 3). The lower pole supports the rafter with its V-shaped top (Figure 1) or as shown in Figure 3. The curved side of the rafter must face downwards.
Grasses and small trees beneath the rafter are cleared. Finally the rafter is shaded using small branches and leaves. The rafter is now an ideal place for an Apis dorsata colony to build its nest.
HOW TO HARVEST HONEY AND WAX
A good beekeeper knows when the honey is ripe for harvest by observing Melaleuca in flower, or the water collecting activity of the worker bees. On average the first harvest can take place 20-30 days after the rafter is occupied. The second harvest can be carried out about 30 days later. It is possible to harvest a third time from these colonies.
The bees are chased away using a torch of dry leaves and Melaleuca leaves. This used to be the main cause of forest fires in the area and therefore since 1993 smokers have been used.
Honey is stored in the highest part of the comb and it is cut off without destroying the brood. Beekeepers usually cut a part of the brood from a big colony because they believe that if they do not the next harvest will be smaller. This does not seem logical - the more bees, the more honey produced for harvesting.
It is possible however, that when the brood is cut, queen cells are removed which prevents swarming.
Honey is squeezed, filtered and then sold in the local markets. Beeswax is harvested from the honeycombs. Very little wax is taken from old brood combs.
FLOWER SUPPLY AND HONEY HARVEST SEASONS
The Melaleuca forest in Vietnam is located in Asia\'s tropical monsoon area. The weather is generally hot and humid. There are two season in the year: the dry season from December to April and rainy season from May to November.
Melaleuca is the main forage plant in the forest, with other flowers in small quantities. Melaleuca blooms mostly from January to April and June to August. The bees come to the area in December and stay until May. The first honey harvest is between February and April. In May the colonies flyaway and return in June. The second honey harvest season is in July and August after which the bees depart. At other times of the year some Apis dorsata colonies can be found in the Melaleuca forests, but honey is stored only in small amounts.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION
In agreement with Crane et al 1992\'; Mulder 19924; and Mardan 19933; we would like to recommend this technique in other swamp forests of Asia in areas rich in flowers but poor in natural nesting sites for Apis dorsata.
We also request support to help us to continue research and production activities in the area.
1. Crane,E; Luyen,V v; Ta,C; Mulder,V (1992) Traditional management system for Apis dorsata in submerged forests in southern Vietnam and central Kalimantan. Bee World.
2. Dau,Nguyen Dinh (1992) Persona/communication.
3. Mardan,M (1993) Rafter beekeeping with the Asiatic giant honeybee (Apis dorsata) in Vietnam. Beenet Online Vol 1(1)
4. Mulder,V (1992) Honey and wax production in submerged Me/a/euca forests in Vietnam. BosNiEuSLETTER 26 vol 11(2)
5. Son Nam (1993 reprint) Oat Gia dinh xua (The ancient Southern part).
Ho Chi Minh City Publishing House.
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
[Bees for Development Journal #36]