Pollen, wax, royal jelly, propolis, honey… On the occasion of World Bee Day (on May the 20th), we celebrate these little queens admired even in our remote islands.
It was the missionaries who introduced the first colonies of bees at the end of the 19th century to produce beeswax. There are more than 20,000 species of bees in the world. In the Islands of Tahiti, the bee used in beekeeping is called Apis mellifera. This type of bee comes from crosses between bees imported from Australia, New Zealand or even Chile. These fascinating insects use various ways to communicate: sound, smell as well as dance.
Each colony of bees collects different pollens. The origin of the honey is thus indicated according to the flowers visited by the bees.
In our islands, the beekeeping sector was formed in the 1970s. To date, it produces around 200 tons of honey per year. There are 250 beekeepers, 10,000 hives declared in 2018 and 60,000 bees per hive. For several years, the Apis Porinetia association (https://www.apis-porinetia.com/) has been raising awareness among beekeepers. Indeed, the importance of bees in our ecosystems is paramount. These pollinate 80% of flowering plants; an essential step for the reproduction of plants and therefore for the production of fruits and vegetables.
In Tahiti, Raiarii Crawford offers training for those who want to become a beekeeper.
Each colony is hierarchized into 3 castes:
Leading, we find the queen. Its role is to ensure the colony’s cohesion but also to lay eggs because it is the mother of all the colony’s bees. She lays about 2000 eggs per day and it is best to renew her every 2 years in order to maintain a good rate of laying. Note that the queen lays 2 types of eggs: fertilized eggs, giving birth to workers, or queens and unfertilized eggs, giving birth to males.
Then we have the workers. They are between 20,000 and 60,000 per hive/colony. A worker’s mission varies according to its age: first it’s is a cleaner, then a nanny, then a storekeeper and finally a forager until the end of her life.
Finally, we have the males or drones whose one and only role is to mate with the queen and who die after mating.
The queen feeds only on royal jelly. Workers and males feed mainly on honey and pollen. Honey brings them sugars (energy) and flower pollen brings proteins and lipids.
The larvae are fed royal jelly and then honey and pollen. Unlike queen larvae which are fed exclusively on royal jelly throughout the larval stage. Finally, bees also need water.
Emmanuel, more commonly known as Manu, is our agency manager. Attached to nature and interested in social insects, he started beekeeping in 2018. Before that, of course, he took a beekeeping training, every Saturday morning for a month with the Rima Here association. Following this training, he contacted a beekeeper to buy his first two hives with two young colonies of bees. He installed them in his garden behind his house because the vegetation there is lush. Today, Manu has three hives and wishes to acquire a fourth this year.
He visits his hives once or twice a month depending on the season to check that the queen is laying eggs properly and that the colony has enough reserves. He harvests his honey twice a year, which takes him an afternoon. Thanks to the varied vegetation of Polynesia, bees produce quality honey. And, depending on the surrounding species, each honey is therefore different. For example, where he lives, there are a lot of Falcata, a large, invasive but very honey-rich tree. His honey is therefore quite clear with a fairly sweet taste. On the other hand, in the Tuamotu atolls, we find a very different honey. Dark and with a powerful taste, it is produced from the many coconut trees present on these islands.
French Polynesia offers a very rich and suitable environment for bees and is one of the last places preserved from the diseases that decimate colonies. However, our islands are not immune to American foulbrood, a capped brood disease that complicates the work of beekeepers. Many pests and diseases are responsible for the destruction of bees in many countries. All these diseases are not visible. They can hide on bees, in hives, in wax or even in honey. In addition, they threaten bees and therefore directly our local products. As a result, since 2013, importing beekeeping equipment, wax, bees, honey and other related products is forbidden in order to protect Polynesian bees from diseases.
At the hotel school in Tahiti, on the occasion of World Bee Day, a contest for the best honey in Polynesia is organized. This competition brings together beekeepers from different islands and archipelagos of Polynesia. The 4th Apis Porinetia 2021 honey competition was won by Merirangi - Louise Frogier. The different honeys produced in Polynesia are very varied in color, aroma and taste. This high-quality natural product is not on the international market and is not yet exported. If you have the opportunity, we invite you to come and taste our delicious local honey…