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.



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.

13 thoughts on “Kapenta Honey Harvest, May/June 2015, Sumbawanga, Tanzania

  1. Thanks, Ted.
    We have been involved with a small project in South Sudan.
    War has disrupted it for the time being, but we hope to get back there.
    Good to hear about your simple methodology! You seemed to cover all the relevant points in a few words
    Judith Leonard.

    1. Dear Judith, Thanks so much for your encouraging comments! We love beekeeping in Africa and training African beekeepers. We see it as a tremendous way for local people to invest little, receive much and impact the environment in a positive way! I am sorry for the unrest in South Sudan. I understand that Honey is very important there. It seems if I recall correctly that it is a gift frequently given; as well as often enjoyed with guests when they visit. May God bless your work there and give you the ability to return soon!!! Sincerely, Ted Rabenold

    1. Allen, it has been a blessing to work in SW Tanzania. The bees are strong there even with the deforestation going on. Not sure where you are located but welcome you to come visit us in Sumbawanga district sometime. Stay tuned as I will be sending an article soon about the training program we just ran at our apiaries in the Rukwa valley. Sincerely, Ted Rabenold

  2. Hi Ted, Great work indeed!!
    We have our bee farm in Mukono, Uganda but the colonization is very slow, what advise can you give us?
    Currently we have 100KTB, 30 Lungtros and 10 Local hives but few have colonized.

    If more information is needed, please do feel free to contact me

    Shadrak Kyobe
    Project Coordinator
    Empower And Care Organization (EACO) Uganda
    Mukono District Kayunga Road Ggulu A Kitete Village
    Tel: +256 774 310 393

  3. Hi Shadrak, yes, the problem with slow colonization of hives can be solved using “catcher boxes”. A catcher box is a very small inexpensive 5 bar top bar hive using bars the same size as your full size hives. These need to be spread throughout the forest. Swarms will not all find your apiary as they swarm both here and there looking for a suitable location to occupy. Once they find your dispersed catcher boxes all you need to do is to bring them to your apiary and transfer the bees into your full size hives. If you place the catcher boxes near gardens of your friends they can tell you when swarms have occupied and you can just come and pick them up. Have some sol tape to close the entryway and you can easily transport the bees in well made catcher boxes. It is best to do the transfer of bees in the evening. The bees will readily take to your new hives as the queen and new comb in the catcher box is transferred with the new swarm.

    Also, the higher you can hang your baited hive/catcher box the faster it will get occupied during swarm season. Just try to get hives or catcher boxes 10-20 feet high and bees will find them faster than if they are located in a chest height apiary. Good luck Ndugu. Sincerely, Ted Rabenold

    1. May be to add on to that, the problem of slow colonization as raised by shadrak can be due to the co web invasion in the bee hive. The co web tend to cause hindrances and prevent bees from occupying the hives. I too experienced the same problem some times back. Therefore always ensure to check on to the hives after every week if its free from co web. Otherwise I wish you the best.
      (Lira Uganda)

  4. I hereby want to highly recommend Ted’s website which is loaded with useful information about beekeeping in Tanzania and Africa. It has not only very well detailed design plans for top bar hives, but it also describes many innovative ways one can practice in the beekeeping husbandry. For example; monitoring the honey flow by putting one of your hives hang from a cheap weigh-scale.
    Ted shows that beekeeping can benefit from innovation and I surely learned a lot by going through his website.
    Here is the address: http://www.africanbeekeeping.com/
    Hongera sana!

    1. Job, Thanks for recommending Ted’s site. Ted has a practical and innovative approach to beekeeping and there are great resources there for beekeepers. Ted also offers practical training and beekeepers and NGO staff would benefit greatly.

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