My cousin suggested that while we were on the island of Bohol (which I talked about earlier here, here and here), we should visit Bohol Bee Farm, a small agricultural project that combines beekeeping with sustainable farming, ecotourism and support for a local crafts industry.
Since bees and pollination go together, many apiaries tend to either place themselves close to a farm that grows plants or operate as part of one. At Bohol Bee Farm, they grow a number of flowers that bees prefer to pollinate, but they also grow herbs and lettuce.
Romel, our tour guide, gave us samples of the herbs they grew and challenged my nephews to identify them. Among the herbs they grow are cilantro, mint, basil and lemongrass.
They also grow arugula, romaine and other varieties of lettuce here. I was a bit surprised by this, as leafy green salads aren’t traditional in this part of Asia. Romel said that they’ve been catching on in recent years and that we should try their house specialty salad at the restaurant, which is made with the lettuce and other fruits and vegetables grown on the farm.
You can’t visit a bee farm without actually getting up close and personal with some bees, so here I am doing just that. Note that I’m not wearing a beekeeping hat or any protective gear.
The bees were pretty mellow, concentrating more on their work rather than us. If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you, Romel assured us, especially since these were European bees, which have a reputation for being less agressive than their Africanized counterparts.
There’s a lot of hype about Africanized bees that comes from disaster movies like The Swarm, the way they’re often referred to a “Killer Bees” and the familiar tropes of good peaceful Europeans versus bad violent Africans as well and the discomfort some people have with interracial dating and marriage. The term “Africanized bee” has little meaning today because there’s no generally-accepted genetic definition for what one is and because they’re hard to identify — you can only tell the difference through statistical analysis on micro-measurements of their wings (Africanized bees have slightly shorter wings) on a reasonably large sample.
They practice organic farming at Bohol Bee Farm, so they produce their fertilizer through the use of animal manure, composting and vermiculture.
In addition to agriculutre, Bohol Bee Farm has a number of arts and crafts projects where they produce goods made from local materials such as raffia palm, coconut and seashells.
They’ve also opened up a hotel on the property. The farm is pretty close to the ocean and some good places to go diving (the water’s quite clear and warm, and a “shorty” wetsuit is all you need), so they’re taking advantage of it.
As with the arts and crafts, they’ve taken great pains to built the hotel out of locally-available material wherever possible. It’s not just green, it’s also a good way to stretch their limited budget.
Pictured above is the side wall of the hotel. From a distance, it looks like stones set in mortar. But take a closer look:
They’re actually coconut husks!
I have no idea how long they last, but it’s a pretty interesting way to set up a facade for a building. It looks much better than simply having a pre-stressed concrete wall.
Looking out from the hotel grounds, you can see the Bohol Sea.
It provides a great view for the restaurant.
The menu offerings looked pretty good, so we decided to have lunch there.
In the farm’s spirit of “we make as much our stuff as we can”, even the menu was produced by the craftspeople on site.
The salad was one of the standout parts of the meal. It was made with greens, fruits, edible flowers (flowers pollinated by bees are generally edible) and goat cheese, all of which were made on the farm, and served with a honey mustard dressing made with the farm’s honey. It was excellent, and we all had seconds.
The other standout dish was their homemade squash bread, a sweet, hearty loaf served with three kinds of spreads: a mango spread, a pesto spread and a honey spread, made with their own honey.
Before I left, I picked up a few items in the gift shop. One of them was bahalina, a wine or arrack made from coconuts. On my home island of Luzon (where Manila is), there’s a similar drink called lambanog. Bohol Bee Farm’s bahalina is reddish in colour thanks to the inclusion of mangrove bark and has a fair bit of honey in it, making it rather mead-like. I brought a bottle back with me to share with Anitra, and it goes really well with Chinese food.
If you’re going to Bohol to enjoy their beaches and diving, make sure to add Bohol Bee Farm to your itinerary. It’s an interesting place to visit, a great place to take the kids (they’ll even learn a thing or two), they’ve got a great restaurant with a nice view, and their shop has a lot of crafts and food that make excellent souvenirs or gifts.