There is something very magical about this old Asian man who has developed a totally organic relationship with his bees. He lets nothing come between his fuzzy friends and himself, not even a pair of gloves.
High in the hills behind Hong Kong, 62-year old Yip Ki-Hok harvests honey… with his bare hands.
He learned this remarkable skill during Mao’s famine years in China when millions of people starved while others did what they must to survive. He worked as a teacher and made a little extra on the side by trading honey for food coupons.
When Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms that allowed people to go into business in the late 1970s, Yip became a full-time beekeeper.
In 1983 he followed his wife’s family when they moved to Hong Kong, where he had to start over and build his hives from scraps of discarded wood. It only took Yip one year to have 150 thriving hives.
Yip does not buy bees from people with established colonies, he likes to get his bees the organic way, by tracking and catching wild bees in the hills with skills he learned since he was 7-years old. He has become an expert in knowing where he will find a bee colony, as he deviates from the known paths and takes his own instinctual journey through the brush.
He stands in front of the hole he has found, lights 5 sticks of incense, and blows it into the cavern, waiting for the bees to calm down so he can reach in, break off chunks of the hive and hands full of mesmerized bees.
He has learned that the trick to a successful bee catching operation is to make sure he gets the queen, so he must take quite a bit of the hive. If he doesn’t have the queen, the bees will not settle down. They will get angry and sting like crazy as they search constantly for her. When this happened to him in the early days of his bee collecting, he was stung over 200 times. This is why he won’t wear gloves, so he doesn’t accidentally use too much pressure and squeeze the queen to death.
He only got two stings as he blew smoke at the hive to tame the bees, herding them into a wire cage inside a white drawstring bag.
Back at his farm, Yip attaches their honeycomb to wooden frames with wire and then puts them into wooden crates. This is their new home. He reaches bare handed into the white bag and pulls out handfuls of bees, placing them gently with their honeycomb in this new residence.
Yip has over 200 hives and collects honey 3 times annually by spinning each frame in a metal drum. Yip is now one of Hong Kong’s largest local honey producers.
Ongoing survival is a major theme for Yip and his bees, as they face enormous challenges, much like in other areas of the world. A changing climate fuels huge storms, and new urban developments are sprawling ever further in an already over-populated city, along with climate change.
Hong Kong’s bee population is struggling to survive after Typhoon Mangkhut. The wild bee’s food sources were ravaged, and thousands of trees and flowers were flattened.
The bee colonies Yip visits this year are nowhere near as strong as they were the year before. He plans to keep trekking into the wilds as long as he can, and hopes Hong Kong will be spared from more mega-storms that endanger his fuzzy friends.
To read the full story of Yip and his bees and see some photos, visit this website.