Category Archives: Bee Husbandry in Africa

Kapenta Honey Harvest, May/June 2015, Sumbawanga, Tanzania

By Ted Rabenold
Beautiful comb taken from a top bar hive. Hives like this situated over “clay based” soils were extremely strong this year. Areas with clay based soils have the advantage over sandy soils in that small and large hive beetles do not breed in them. Hives that are unmolested by beetles grow strong fast!
Beautiful comb taken from a top bar hive.

I had an excellent time working with the Tree of Life beekeeping team harvesting honey the end of May and beginning of June 2015. We harvested from 56 beehives and during that time noticed that the strongest hives came from areas with clay soil and not sandy soils.  In clay soils our hives were 70 percent effective in producing large quantities of honey as opposed to only 35-40 percent effective in sandy areas!

We have noticed that both small and large hive beetles attack hives located in sandy areas. This happens during the rainy season, and we believe this is due to their breeding in sandy soils. In our valley this seems to make a difference in the strength of the colony. We were also amazed to see that large hive beetles were able to get under 7-8 mm entrance excluders. (It is assumed by many that 10 mm excluders are sufficient to control large hive beetles.) One of our affected colonies had over 100 large hive beetles in it which eventually led to the bees absconding.

Wax moths were present in the colonies; yet strong colonies kept them very much  “in check” and were not adversely affected. The only way to prevent this is to be careful with the space tolerances in the construction of your beehives.  Any space in the hive that is smaller than 4.5 mm was invaded by wax moths. Moths lay their eggs in these small spaces but the bees are too big to enter them and clean them out.

Hive destroyed by wax moth and small hive beetles. Notice wax moth larvae crawling on the bottom of the hive. The best way to control pests like these is with well constructed hives adhering to the rules of “bee space”; and large strong colonies, which will control these pests by removing them from the hive. This hive needs to be cleaned re-baited and hung just before swarm season. This will help improve the odds of getting a primary swarm into your re-baited hive.
Hive destroyed by wax moth and small hive beetles.

Although the flower bloom was good it was not excellent like it was back in 2013. The primary flower contributing to the harvest was Lucas Nyassae. It seems that this plant has taken advantage of the slash and burn farming going on in Africa to sprout excessively and thrive in the recently deforested land. It takes about three years for this plant to occupy cleared farmland in our valley after virgin forest is cleared. It may be the ONLY good thing that comes of the rampant destruction of the forest in the Rukwa Valley. This plant makes excellent honey (which has a water white to light amber color depending on what other plants are contributing to the honey crop).

Leucas Nyassae primary bee fodder in the months of May-June SW Tanzania
Leucas Nyassae primary bee fodder in the months of May-June SW Tanzania

A young man named James monitored our beehives this past year. Since he has been to Manyoni area of Tanzania he has seen that beekeeping can help make an impact on a farmers’ income. Many in Manyoni live by beekeeping alone. Lucas Nyassae is also prevalent there together with many different varieties of bee fodder.  The leaders of Tree of Life paid James the equivalent of $300for doing weekly-visual inspections of our hives over this past year. Any hives not occupied were taken down and re-baited.

Many new hives were hung in the forest  TWO WEEKS BEFORE SWARM SEASON. This is important, as the beekeeper will get primary swarms in his or her hives, which will build rapidly and produce lots of honey and wax. If the hives are hung at a time when small swarms are flying they will enter and reside there. The queen pheromone given off by the small swarm prevents others from entering and taking up residence. Timing is crucial for beekeepers in getting large fast building swarms. The hives should be hung a month to two weeks before the swarm season. Swarm season usually peaks during the time the most flowers in the forest are opening up at once.  Every area has a time like this. When is yours?  Ask the old men, they will know. Get your hives out then!

A few bee lice were seen and a few Varroa but not many. A couple of our colonies were filled with what looked like dead bees but upon closer examination were actually dead hornet-wasps.  There were literally thousands in some of the colonies. The bees went on unaffected by the many dead hornet-wasps under them. It was disconcerting seeing the dead, as I was initially afraid thinking they were bees that had died of some disease. Thank God the bees are still strong in Africa!

In terms of the harvest we got 1,158 lbs of honeycomb, which pressed down to 820 lbs of raw liquid honey. It was sold retail for approximately $4 a pound; packaged well and labeled attractively. Tree of Life has no lack of buyers and since good looking and good tasting, clean honey is in short supply in Tanzania it sold right away.

Simple processing is key to helping beekeeping take root in rural Africa. Washing hands and the use of latex gloves produces a safe, clean, raw product that can be used in any home. After using their hands to crush and extract honey from comb the beekeeper can move up to a hydraulic press. Incremental change is key to changing the face of beekeeping in Africa.
Simple processing is key to helping beekeeping take root in rural Africa.
Honey that has been “rough filtered” once and left to stand in a settling tank. Any “natural refuse” in honey is lighter than the honey and will float to the surface. A settling tank with a food grade gate valve will make honey processing easy!
Honey that has been “rough filtered” once and left to stand in a settling tank. Any “natural refuse” in honey is lighter than the honey and will float to the surface. A settling tank with a food grade gate valve will make honey processing easy!
If you are working with small scale beekeepers, help them find a logo for their product. Well packaged honey will attract buyers from all over. Make them pay you for the logo and containers from their honey sales, so that your project is “sustainable”.
If you are working with small scale beekeepers, help them find a logo for their product. Well packaged honey will attract buyers from all over.

This year was the first year we packaged raw, cut comb in clamshell clear plastic packages. In most of Africa it is seen as a special show of hospitality to serve guests honey from the comb.

Best wishes to all the African beekeepers working to impact their economy and local environment!

Sincerely, Ted Rabenold

Development Director and Beekeeper Trainer for Tree of Life Ltd. (Tanzania)

Ted, working with local beekeepers from Tree of Life. Good amounts of honey was found in the hives this year! Although 2013 was exceptional; this year was a good year for honey in SW Tanzania.
Ted, working with local beekeepers in SW Tanzania.

totalafricanbeekeeping@gmail.com

africanbeekeeping.com

Editor:  Thanks to Ted for sharing his very practical experience of beekeeping in South West Tanzania.  If you would like to read more about Ted’s beekeeping work please click on the links above.

Would you spend one-month’s salary on a beehive?

First published by Beekeepers Quarterly March 2010

At times I think Africa has become a laboratory for development workers experimenting with the lives of poor people.  It’s hard not to be cynical when tackling seemingly intractable problems.  I worked with development and conservation projects in East Africa for more than 25 years.  All around me people were trying to “solve Africa’s problems” with big programmes, little projects, technology transfer, enterprise development, capacity building and so on.  A few were successful; a lot have been failures.

Abandoned Langstroth Hives
Sopel bee group in Turkwel, Kenya. The group complained that they had a honey marketing problem, but a field visit showed that few hives in the apiary were actually in production.

Recently I started beekeeping again, in England – and have had time to reflect.  I know Africa is still unique.  I think this is its strength.

We lived on the Kapiti Plains in Maasailand south of Nairobi.  In the far distance, on a clear day, we could see Kilimanjaro; and to the northwest were the Ngong Hills.  We were in the middle of nowhere with lots cattle; and zebra, ostrich and gazelle, sometimes giraffe and occasionally lion.  We heard hyenas at night and saw aardvarks on our way home after dark.  Until we planted and protected seedlings in the compound the only trees on our parched 100acres were metre-high whistling thorns and a few Balanites.

Just as the wildebeest migrated out of the national park when the rains started, we had colonies of bees move into the walls of our house weeks before the rains came.  The swarms came from the Ngong Hills, as the whistling thorn began to flower.

In some seasons there were lots of swarms.  I bought a couple of top bar hives, a few Langstroths and a log hive.  I moved bees from Nairobi to the farm and back again, and I learned a little about beekeeping in Africa.

I also spent time with friends like Tom Carroll who taught beekeeping at a college in the Rift Valley, and began to understand some of the nuances of beekeeping in this part of the world.  I worked with Kenyan beekeepers, talked to researchers like Professor Kigatiira and explored ideas with Suresh Raina’s team at ICIPE.  Later I became involved with some beekeeping projects, and designed a few myself – ultimately developing some strong opinions of the do’s and don’ts in beekeeping development.

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