Today let’s travel all the way to the Yucatan Peninsula where we will find a hard-working family of beekeepers. What are some of the beekeeping facts that are unique to this area of the world? What unique kinds of honey will we find here? Let’s let this beekeeper tell us.
What is Your Name and Where are You Located?
My name is Mario, and I live with my family on the Yucatan Peninsula, 200 miles west of Cancún. The name of our city is Mérida.
Panza de Abeja (Bee Belly Honey Co) was born three years ago near a town called Izamal. The textile-based economy here leaves the fields almost virgin to any form of agriculture and provides a vast wildflower foraging area for the bees.
Mario explains: “ “Yucatán Peninsula Surface is a big calcareous slate where no large extensions could be suitable for agriculture. That is not too good, but on the other hand, not having large agriculture extensions also brings no pesticides, chemicals, or fertilizers; as a result, the wildflower fauna remains virgin. Imagine the purity of the honey”.
Wild tropical flowers barely known such as balché, tahonal, Tzi zil che, and Haa biin, among other seasonal flowers, provide nectar for the bees to produce beautiful and delicious honey of different colors, flavors, and density; varying from the light amber to the mahogany red.
How Did You Become Interested In Beekeeping?
When I was just a boy, I remember playing at my grandparents’ house. I found a strange wood box, and as curious little boys often do, I opened it. Contained in that box were gloves, a mask, a big knife, and other great toys for an 8-year-old boy.
I dressed up in this strange costume and questioned my grandpa about this interesting find. He told me it was a beekeeper’s outfit. He explained to me that back in the late 1930’s there was a significant shortage of sugar in the area, and it had to be imported from Cuba. This shortage made sugar very expensive, so he decided to buy some bee colonies so that he could obtain honey to use as a sweetener. He started beekeeping in his backyard with the help of my uncles and father.
He told me that everybody used to help and with almost no protection to handle the bees either. The family used honey as a sweetener, and they had enough to sell to neighbors who also adopted honey as a sugar substitute during that time. They also used it medicinally.
At that time, the beekeeping suit held my attention more than his story, but the curiosity stayed with me for some years until I had the opportunity to start beekeeping.
As it turned out, I was looking for an activity that my family could enjoy together. Then one day we were invited to a ranch where I met a worker who spoke with me about beekeeping. He kindly offered me five bee colonies. I jumped at the opportunity and also purchased a piece of land that luckily has a small underground river that would provide humidity and water all year long for the bee colonies.
Panza de Abeja is a family-based business (my wife Lilly, my daughter Sarah, my son Mario Jr, and me). We started our business first as just a hobby because we love honey (I mean my big fat Mexican family is a honey fan), but eventually it grew enough to sell it first to friends, and then to organic and natural product stores.
Nowadays we have two locations for our bee hives where we can extract 3 to 4 times a year depending on the rain season. We have top quality raw honey that we sell to small distributors in Cancun, Mexico City, and Monterrey.
I hope that next year I can expand the beekeeping to benefit small communities by providing work for up to 6 locations. Our aim is to obtain honey from the nectar of the beach coconut and from the tropical rain forest where the flowers provide different colorations and flavors to honey. I recently gave some bee hives to a friend so the bees could gather nectar from his habanero pepper plants, so soon we will have habanero pepper honey. Wouldn’t it be a novelty?
Sadly, Mexico is a country with a high tendency for obesity and diabetes, so switching to honey as a natural replacement for sugar would be a huge benefit. In fact, I am working on designing a social entrepreneurship project to promote honey as the main alternative to sugar as a sweetener.
What Fascinates You About the Bees?
As a business and coaching consultant, I am always amazed at the perfect organization within the beehive. The bees have the perfect system for optimizing resources, leadership, defined positions, everything perfect – just perfect – without the need of any external help, such as business consultants or coaches.
They have the perfect system, and we dare call them insects.
Tell Us About Beekeeping in Your Area of the World that Our Readers May Find Interesting?
Melipona Beecheii has been the honey bee of the Maya for millennia.
Smaller in size than the European honey bee, the Melipona Beecheii also cannot sting, and this type of bee doesn’t use as its hive a traditional wood box. Instead, they grow their hive in “Jobones,” a yard long piece of log sealed with clay. This primitive home makes it a delightful species to keep at home.
Traditionally, Mayan families would tie their hives to the sides of their homes. In fact, in a handful of communities scattered across the Yucatan and in other parts of Mexico, primarily Yucatan, you can find this practice still alive.
The Mayan bees are famous for their gentle nature, and their colonies are much smaller than regular honeybees, with less production of honey, too. In fact, a hive of Melipona Beecheii will produce only 2-3 quarts of honey per year. In contrast, regular honeybees produce about 50 quarts of honey per year.
In a world obsessed with volume, that puts the Melipona Beecheii at a severe disadvantage. But once you taste the honey, you will realize that Melipona honey is indeed the nectar of the gods.
Melipona honey has been used in traditional Mayan medicine for thousands of years. It is a fantastic topical antibiotic and helps reduce scarring. One of its main uses is to treat cataracts, and it is a wonderful antibiotic if you are coming down with a cold.
Thanks Mario for such an awesome interview. I learned quite a bit about how honey is produced in Mexico, and I discovered a lot about the Mayan Melipona bees. It’s nice to gain insight into the different facets of beekeeping and honey in another location in the world.
For more information about Mario and his beekeeping or to learn more about his special Panza de Abeja honey, visit his Facebook page.