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Beekeeping and tourism on Samui

J Nakamura, S Wongsiri, M Sasaki. 

SAMUI ISLAND is Thai island off the coast of the Malay Peninsula. The central hill (600 m) is covered by jungle and in the lowlands there are coconut plantations and orchards. People on Samui used to live by fishing and cultivation, but recently the island has been spotlighted as resort for tourists.

Beekeeping with Apis cerana has been practised for 100 years and there are still many traditional beekeepers. One beekeeper puts on show of traditional beekeeping to attract tourists.

Traditional beekeeping on Samui is different from that in Northern Thailand, as log hives are placed horizontally rather than vertically as in the North. This might be a Chinese influence. Chinese refugees, escaping from China and aiming for Indochina or Malaysia when the Ching Dynasty was ruined may have landed on the island and taught native people to keep honey bee colonies in horizontal log hives.

Hives

Two types are in use; the coconut log hive, and the box hive. A few frame hives were introduced experimentally but have not been used by beekeepers.

Log hives are usually 25-30 cm in diameter, and 100-120 cm long. Box hives are usually 23 cm high, and vary in width from 26 to 34 cm and in length from 46 to 50 cm. All of these hives are placed on stands 40-120 cm high as protection from ants.

Beekeepers gather many hives around their houses, often 150 or so. In August 1990, out of 160 hives in sampled apiary, only 57 (35.6%) were occupied by colonies. 

Harvesting

Beekeepers use smoke to drive away bees before harvesting honey. A long, sword-like knife is used to cut out all except two or three combs. Some combs containing brood are eaten as well as the honeycombs with wax.

Honey can be harvested four or five times a year between April and August Annual honey production is 5-10 kg per colony. From March to May, rambutan, durian, mango and other fruit trees give large amount of nectar, but coconut nectar which is available all year mixes with these nectars and makes the honey poor in quality with its dark colour, strong coconut smell, and high water content (25-30%)

In spite of such poor quality, the price of honey on the island is high compared to other areas in the country and costs 250-300 baht ($10-12) per kilogram.

Some cash crops such as cashew nut, coffee, and rubber trees are also well-known nectar plants, and maize and mimosa are good pollen sources.

Migration

Honey bees on Samui Island migrate seasonally between apiary and hill areas. Most apiaries are located in the plain area close to coconut plantations or houses. In October when the monsoon starts there are no resources for bees. At this time colonies abscond from hives and move to the hill area where resources are stil] available. In

February when the nectar flow of some orchard trees begins, the colonies migrate back to the plain area. Traditional beekeepers, therefore, site their hives at the foot of the hill or the jungle edge to trap swarms and after combs are built, they move those hives to their apiaries Colonies grow vigorously after February and reach honey production peak in April and May. Swarming occurs in May and some beekeepers multiply their colonies in this period. 

Enemies

Weaver ants, Cecophylla smaragdina and hornets Vespa spp are economically important enemies in traditional beekeeping. Wax moths, both Galleria mellonella and Achroia sp, are harmful. These all cause colonies to abscond.

Varroa jacobsoni is found in the colonies but as with Apis cerana elsewhere, there is no noteworthy damage to bees.

Problems

One problem is that beekeepers keep too many hives in each apiary causing competition for forage during the dearth period. Absconding is also caused by wax moth: boxes are poorly constructed and allow wax moth to spread rapidly between hives. If colonies abscond beekeepers do not pay attention to the remnant combs, from which wax moths are spread over the apiary.

Future prospects

As a tourist attraction traditional beekeeping is finding way to survive the tide of tourism-related development. Beekeeping resources are decreasing because orchards and coconut plantations are being cleared for development Beekeepers are getting older and the land for apiaries is being sold for development.

A hundred year old tradition of beekeeping on Samui Island is now declining as the boom of the honey bees fades behind the boom of tourism.

Translated revision from original Japanese article Honeybee Science (1991) 12, 27-30