Tran Manh Cuong, honey bee keeper extraordinaire, is considered the "queen bee" of the Hoa Thuong commune at the moment, largely for the enormous scale of his operations and the impressive knowledge he has of his buzzing tenants.
Villagers in Hoa Thuong of Thai Nguyen Province are quick to praise Cuong’s six years of dedicated work, especially since his efforts have reaped more than VND 20 million per year.
Cuong is now the proud owner of a two-storey house, located in the centre of a two hectares of luscious fruit trees and surrounded by his 60 lucrative bee hives.
In fact, Cuong’s cultivated land is home to 60 longan and 70 litchi trees and on top of the profits he earned from honey, he also secured VND25 million from selling six tonnes of longan and three tonnes of litchis.
Each year Cuong harvests 4-6 tonnes of honey at VND30,000 per kg, earning him a sweet VND18 million per year. Add that to the VND8 million he earns from selling bees to neighbouring bee keepers, and you have one profitable little honey pot.
Cuong is ambitious, and plans to develop honey-bee keeping in the Nui Coc region where eucalyptus trees are in abundance and where it’s expected that honey output could feasibly reach 15kg a hive.
Apparently honey bee keeping is no simple feat. It requires the keepers to have an intimate understanding of how bees live and reproduce.According to Cuong, keepers have to understand how bees breed in order to harvest the best honey.
"Essentially, bees produce honey for reproduction," the master bee keeper smiles.
"I can sum up bee breeding in these words: industrious, careful, patient, brave tidy and clean."
Every September and October, in order to develop a healthy honey bee hive, Cuong prepares healthy parent bees with carefully mixed formula for feeding.
According to this experienced bee-master, the right formula can boost the reproduction of bees and provide them with the strength to prosper during the winter.
Cuong is all too ready to share his expertise with the rest of the commune’s keepers, guiding them in choosing parent bees and increasing their rate of reproduction.
"Keepers can use perfume, smoke of incense, or even honey to lure bees back to the hive when they would normally leave." Cuong simply explains.
From printer to bees
Back in 1972, Cuong retired from his position at the Province’s Viet Bac Printing House to return to his home village.
His family was the poorest in the Viet Cuong Village with only a small block of land that the local authorities granted.
Farming the impoverished soil, he and his wife couldn’t even provide enough income to educate their three children.
In 1985, they planted fruit trees in the family’s garden and things began to improve a little, allowing them at least to send their children to school.
The turning point came to Cuong’s family in 1998, when he started breeding honey-bees. He had realised that there were advantages to breeding something new in the district and room to capitalise on the niche market.
"Bee keeping needs a limited initial investment, the food source is freely available and the production area is small," the 55-year-old "Queen Bee" said. "It also suits a weary old man like me".
Beside learning the latest technology from experienced bee-keepers in the district, Cuong watched television programmes on bee-keeping and read every book he could get his hands on.
However, as Cuong is well aware, "the most valuable knowledge I gain is from experience".
VNS - (24/08/2004)