Barehanded beekeeper of HK

How sweet it is: Yip blowing bees off a honeycomb on a hillside and pouring.

How sweet it is: Yip blowing bees off a honeycomb on a hillside and pouring.

HONG KONG: High up in the hills above Hong Kong, Yip Ki-hok uses nothing but his bare hands to remove a honey-filled nest of swarming bees – a remarkable skill he learned after the hardship of China’s famine years.

While most new beekeepers buy insects from those with already established colonies, Yip prefers a more organic method, trekking into the hills and catching wild bees using skills he developed through trial and error from the age of seven.The 62-year-old effortlessly mov­es through bush and dense thickets, far from the official hiking trails, and pauses at a hole in the hillside he knows will contain a bee colony.

Lighting five incense sticks to placate the bees, he waits for the smoke to take effect and then reaches into the hole, removing chunks of the hive along with handfuls of bees.

Remarkably he is only stung twice. The trick, he explains, is to remove as much of the hive as possible without killing the queen.

“If you wear gloves, then you don’t know how much strength you’re using,” he said. “If you accidentally kill the queen, it’s very troublesome, it’ll be very hard to take the hive back.”

Freshly extracted honey from a spinner drum as his son Hugo filters it into a jug at their apiary in Hong Kong. — AFP

Moving slowly and carefully, he blows on the hive to herd the bees into a wire cage covered with a white drawstring bag.

He searches for the queen as stragglers buzz around him -- a crucial part of the operation as the other bees in the hive are fiercely attracted to her.

“Without the queen, they will get angry and go looking for her everywhere. If they can’t find her they will fly out of the cage. They’ll fly everywhere to find her and start stinging like crazy,” he said.

Although he was once stung more than 200 times when he lost the queen during an extraction, Yip says he has no need for gloves or other protective gear.

“Why would I need those things? I know their nature like I know my own hand. No matter how mean they are I still have a way to tame them,” he explained.

Back at his farm, Yip uses wire to attach the honeycomb to wooden frames, which are then slotted into wooden crates. Then he pulls out handfuls of bees from the drawstring bag and places them gently in their new home.

Yip generally collects honey three times a year from over 200 hives, extracting the golden liquid by spinning each frame in a metal drum. — AFP

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