Puerto Vallarta, Mexico - The honey bee is so small it hardly seems important. However, without the pollination work of these little creatures, our food supply would be hugely affected. I recently stopped to visit MJ and Gabriella who run their small organic honey business out of their family farm just outside of Puerto Vallarta. Before Covid, they also conducted interactive educational classes on their property for school children.
We sat under a huge guamuchil tree while they told me how they got into this business. MJ is a veterinarian who, during her training, fell in love with bees! After graduation in 2014 she returned to Vallarta to start their business.
They told me there are over 2000 species of bees throughout Mexico with 43 species in Jalisco. The two most prevalent are Nannotirgona perilampoide and Scaptotrigona helwegueri. These are referred to as natural bees and they do not sting!
The honey bee we know as Apis mellifera were brought to Mexico from Europe in the 16th century by the conquistador Hernán Cortez. The Mayan people along the eastern seaboard were masters at using the natural bees, mostly found in trees, for hundreds of years before this. Honey was considered a sacred food, used medicinally and for celebrations among the royalty. The Aztec, and later the Huicholes in western Mexico, mainly used the beeswax for gluing beads to the hand carved animal forms popular today in tourist centers. We have several Huichol shops here in Puerto Vallarta.
MJ and Gabriella have about a dozen hives on their farm and many others in San Pancho, Mezcales, and at the Vallarta Botanical Garden. Each of these areas produce different flavored honey.
These two beekeepers are also called to make bee rescues from people who want the bees removed from their homes. These 5 or more rescues per week are done at night when the bees are quiet in their hives. A bucket with holes and honey inside is placed near the bees. Then a light is shined on the hive which "wakes the bees up" so they come out and, being hungry, make a "bee line" for the bucket. The comb is cut down and placed in a wooden frame which fits into a hive box. The stimulated bees are poured back into the new hive and transported back to the farm.
As for the future, Imperial Bee plans to turn their farm into a bee sanctuary with more wild flower gardens, fruit trees, palms and other plants, along with chickens and a cow for natural manure and a larger pond as a secondary water source.
This will take money and volunteers. They hope to use this sanctuary as an educational center and breeding laboratory to help others understand the important work that bees do for humankind, and that beekeepers, of which there are over 300 in Jalisco alone, are doing to preserve the health and habitats of our bees.
Sadly, natural habitats are declining due to urban growth and deforestation. Periodic colony collapse resulting in the death of thousands of bees is thought to be caused by a combination of unregulated agrochemical use, loss of habitats, and unknown pathogens. More needs to be done to halt this devastating phenomenon. Beekeepers like MJ and Gabriella are passionate about protecting the bee, its health, its habitat, and its virility. Please support this important work.
If you love honey, beware of imitations in unlabeled plastic made with corn syrup! Buy their delicious organic honey (my favorite is their ginger honey) available at farmers markets and La Semilla Health Food Store in Vallarta. They also deliver during this pandemic time. Contact them through Facebook or via WhatsApp (+52 322 147 4565) for orders.
Sandra Cesca has lived in Puerto Vallarta for 12 years. She is a cultural tour guide with her own small business: Puerto Vallarta Walking Tours. She is also a freelance writer and cultural photographer whose work can be found on Your Cultural Insider and Sandra Cesca Photography. Contact her: sun4sandra(at)gmail.com.
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