Local Honey: Don’t Bee Afraid
By Catherine Ling - Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The next time you see a swarm of bees or beehive abuzz in a tree or roof near your home, don’t go ballistic. Think about their role in nature, the environment and well, think honey.
Singapore honey will have its own taste depending on the nectar gathered from local blossoms. It will be a unique and precious honey that you can add to your morning Greek yoghurt, drizzle over French toast, make fabulous glazes with for char siew and BBQs, or even add to prata (banana honey prata can be a divine treat!).
If you’re looking to cut the amount of sugar for making cakes and cookies, honey is a useful natural alternative; it’s sweeter, so you’ll need less, and far more nutritious. Honey is also a neat trick for ensuring moist banana bread (in fact, most quick breads), and you’ll find the bread lasts longer too, because honey is a natural preservative. If you’re brave, you can even make mead! It’s like honey-flavoured wine. Last but not least, honey has been for ages an anti-bacterial superfood. It also is a cancer cell inhibitor, and helps prevent memory loss and dementia.
But Singapore honey has a long way to go. We need more bees, and most of them are being killed on sight, largely out of fear.
“Bees are greatly misunderstood. They only sting people when we disturb them. People have this the wrong way around. We have over 90 species of bees here and only about five species actually sting. Bees are not pests or carriers of disease either. Without them, our trees and flowers would not be pollinated,” says Carl Baptista, 39, one of Pollen Nation’s co-founders. He started the not-for-profit volunteer group with Elric Tan, 31, with the aim of preserving local, native, pollinating insects for a more diverse ecosystem in Singapore. They now have 14 volunteers.
Rehousing native bees instead of exterminating them also helps our tropical native flowering plants flourish. Bees that can be domesticated like honey bees are relocated to urban apiaries at the farms in Kranji and northwest Singapore. They are re-hived in wooden hive boxes and those with thriving colonies can be adopted by private or corporate sponsors. Solitary or stinging bees will be placed in forested areas far away from the public.
“We hope to produce our very own Singapore honey one day. Right now the hives give about 25-30kg of honey a year. We will be sharing honey with food artisans on shared revenue model, and we have some chefs on board already,” says Carl. He hopes this will help get the message on successful urban co-existance with bees out to a wider audience.
Worldwide, the population of bees and wild pollinators is falling, and this spells disaster as three-quarters of our global food crops need pollination. Scientists have been scrambling to uncover what has led to the Colony Collapse Disorders in the past decade. Much of it seems related to pesticides, and even fungicides that were thought to be safe for insects.
Bee losses are so bad now that it takes 60% of all bees in the US to pollinate just one crop – almonds. Farms in China have taken to employing humans to hand-pollinate their orchards, a ridiculously painstaking and costly chore. It’s ironic that we are exterminating bees here in an almost mindless fashion. While we don’t have large crops, regular trees and plants still require pollination.
Pollen Nation has done about 30 Beevacuations since February this year. The Beevacuation services cost S$100-300 depending on bee species. This funds the transport and equipment, as well as public education talks. The social enterprise is also in schools coaching students about pollination using honey bees. To engage the kids, the talks include honey tasting and bee-keeper dressup. There are even field trips to the “Bee Sanctuary” at Bollywood Veggies which has welcomed Pollen Nation to set up hives at its farm.
“We are building a 7000 sq feet bee paradise in Kranji where we will do our honey extractions from honeycomb as a demonstration for education, etc. Also we are building an edible landscape for bees – ‘BeeScape’ – for people to come and understand what plants bees love. We want people to see this in in the flesh and interact with the beehives we have on site.
“Its time for us to relook at the way we as Singaporeans see our sustainable urban environment. We need to find a way to co-exist with bees. Then only can we truly say we live in a sustainable tropical urban environment,” says Carl.
As we do so, we can also be proud of a sweet reward by way of local honey.
Pollen Nation (24-hour hotline: 9009-4578, they are a non-profit company), and they will gladly come by and do a Beevacuation – rehoming the bees and hive without harming them.