Apiculture is basically the rearing of bees for products like honey, wax and propolis. Some African communities keep bees with the sole purpose of providing security to their homesteads and farms.
Bee keeping was initially perceived as a traditional enterprise commonest among the hunter/gatherer communities of Kenya. The animals were considered wild where they scavenged for their own feed away from their shelter (open space on tree branches, in underground holes/caves atc).
Bee colonies on tree branches
With current innovations in agricultural sector, bee keeping is becoming a large scale venture and it has proved to have a much significant role in addressing the issue of food security and income sustainability. For instance, research has proved that bees play a very crucial role in pollination of the crops and this is important for agricultural crop yields.
The invention efforts have been geared towards changing the perception that bees are wild insects and cannot be farmed just like any other conventional animal.
Starting bee keeping
Just as many other enterprises, it is important to do valuation for the suitability/viability of the enterprise before investing your cash time and effort.
Among the important factors to consider are together with:
This is the question of the ecological conditions of the place. Bees will prefer some places for the others. The factors of great concern are temperatures, humidity and rainfall which will determine the availability of important resources like water and feed. The simplest method to populate the hives is by the use of the catcher boxes which are put in the path of the swaming bees to attract them. Some honey combs can be put into this boxes to lure the bees into the catcher box.
One has to determine if he/she has the required amount to start bee keeping. This is in terms of the cash for the purchase of the equipment like bee hives, catcher boxes, artificial feeds, labour, power honey comb spinners, smokers and all related cost. We always recommend that the farmer should consider starting small and make use of locally available material. This will minimize on the cost and ensure good returns to a growing farmer.
Siting the apiary is very important to a bee keeper to minimize the conflict between these animals and the famer/public/other animals. Below is an outline of the important considerations when siting an apiary:
- The apiary should be away from noisy places like near a working machine. Noise excites bees and motivates them to sting
- Site the apiary at the place far from homestead and the animal yards/grazing areas. Site the bee hives closer to watering and foraging points. This will minimize the distance travelled to look for feed and water and the same is converted to productivity
- Avoid situating hives closer to the busy roads/paths. Bees are easily disturbed my strong wind and air current. Avoid siting the hives directly facing the wind direction.
- Site the hives at a point that makes supervision easy for the farmer/manager.
- Make provisions to minimize the chances of predation to the bees. Most bee farmers are using the wire mesh to enclose the area so as to keep away birds and animals that prey on bees. You can as well use scare crows to keep in check the predators
Market for the final products
Every farmer wants to get the profit at the end of his/her labour. This is only attainable if the market for the final products is very much known and well organized. Considerations has to be made on how easy it will be to transport the inputs to the farm and the produce to the market. The farmer has to understand what are the legal policies affecting the market for the products. How is the product affected by the forces of demand and supply in the final market? This determines the amount of the profit one can realize from it all.
Social and Cultural consideration
It is important to understand the cultural believes of the people you target as the final market. For instance say a farmer wants to keep bees for honey among the people who believe honey is a product from insects and they are not interested to feed on such, it won’t work for this farmer to achieve the goals.
Bee is a social insect and will prefer living in a family like structure we are calling a colony. Each single bee colony can be made up of up to 3000-9000 bees or even more depending on the availability of the water and feed material around. The largest proportion of this is the worker bees (about 90% of the colony).
TYPES OF BEES
This category constitute the largest population of a hive or bee colony. The percentage of worker bee in a hive is about 99% of total bee. Morphologically, they have smaller body size with a length of about 11-15 mm. Generally their body color is black-brown with a black spot in the abdomen. As their name suggests, they are responsible for all the works in the colony. Their main task is to make the hive and guard it. They collect nectar and pollen from flower by visiting numerous flowers.
During gathering of these essential material (nectar and pollen) they take time to digest them into honey. They have honey chambers and baskets. The latter is part of their alimentary system. The worker bee is also responsible for feeding the brood, ventilate the hive and guard the colony.
Their mouth parts are specialized to collection of the raw material for honey making. In particular is their maxilla and the labia that are highly pronounced. Worker bees have very hairy body parts, especially the limbs. This facilitate picking of the nectar and pollen as they visit different flowers. In addition, they possess an antenna comb in their leg, eye brash, pollen brush, pollen basket for storing pollen, pollen racker inside pollen basket and a pollen comb. The wings of worker bee are very strong, suited for flying long distances in search of feed and water. They ventilate the hive by flapping their wings. Their abdomen is longer and divided into 5 parts.
It is important to have an understanding of the biological parts of a bee. Below is an outline
There is a wax gland in the ventral area of last four part of abdomen that synthesize the wax. The wax gland of worker bee starts working at their 12-18 days of age
All worker bees are females whose reproductive organs are not well developed. The last part of abdomen turn to sting which is an important organ defense mechanism. The worker bees die should they lose the sting. In general the life span for worker bee is 6 weeks to six months. So the queen has to keep reproducing others to maintain the colony.
These are the male bees in the colony and constitute a smaller proportion than the worker bees. Morphologically, they are medium sized, bigger than the worker bees but smaller than the queen. They lengths about 15-17 mm. They have big compound eyes and sharp mandible. Their sole worker is to mate the queen bee, nothing more. In total, there are about 500-1,000 drone bees in a single colony.
Just as other bees in the colony, they depend on the worker bees for feed provision.
One interesting thing with this group of bees is that after successful mating with the queen, the male in question normally dies. There is a stiff competition amongst the males to mate the queen. Mating is normally done up in the air before the queen and unsuccessful males return to the hive/colony.
The queen bee
This is the mother of the colony. Every colony just has a single queen and she is in control of all the activities of a bee colony. The abdomen of queen bee is wide and bulging but the wings are comparatively small in size. They are bigger in size than worker bee. Their only major activity is to lay eggs and ensure maintenance of the colony population. She remains in breeding up to 3-7 years in her whole life.
Interestingly, the queen needs to be mated just once in the whole lifetime and will store the sperms enough to always lay eggs (both fertilized and unfertilized). Also, she is very selective and will only mate with a selected strong male bee (drone)
After two days of mating she starts laying eggs.
On an average a queen bee can lay 2000-3000 eggs daily. They lay both fertile and infertile eggs. The next queen of the colony and worker bees born from the fertilized eggs. And the infertile eggs produces drone bees. Worker bees take care and serve food to the queen.
If the queen realizes the presence of another queen in the colony, she kills her by biting her with her string. But anyhow if the new queen survive then she make a new colony with few drones and worker bees. However, it is not always that the existing queen will win the fight. Should the upcoming queen win/survives, she will make her new colony.
Generally queen bee stays in a big chamber of the colony which is located at the lower part of the beehive.
The mandibles of queen bee’s mouth is very sharp. The ejected pheromones from queen bees jaw amalgamate all the bee of a hive or colony and control them. In a word, queen bee is the source of all power and activities of a bee colony or hive.
Bee are perceived by many as wild insects and require little attention paid to them as far as feeding management is concerned. This is made possible by their strong instinct to travel long distances looking for forage and water. However, this does not mean that the farmer should completely shun away from feeding bees. There still exists a need to supplement the bees especially during drought season when water and feed resources are limiting factors.
The farmer/handler should be advised that it is important to ensure proper feeding of the bees for best performance. Ensue that within the reach of bees are trees/crops/plants/flowers that provide sufficient nectar and pollen for foraging of the bees.
During seasons of water and feed shortages, the farmer can make artificial feeding to supplement that little that they can obtain from the fields. Sugar syrups is prepared by mixing one part of sugar to one part of water. This is put in a container and placed at a strategic point like outside the hive where the bees can obtain their diet. To avoid drowning of the bees in this solution, small pieces of sticks are normally put to float in the solution to act as the landing platform for the bees.
Quality sufficient and clean water should be made available to the bees. Waterers and feeders should be clean to avoid contamination that will otherwise cause digestion disturbances like dysentery and many other related problems. It is important to mention here that it is advisable to the small scale farmers to use improvised material like cans and old tyres.
There have been different varieties of such plants that proved to supply the bees with their foraging needs:
BEE TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
The commonest types of hives in Kenya are the traditional log hive, the Kenya top-bar hive (KTBH) and the Langtroth hive.
Bee gear/suit – Made up of boots, jacket, cloves and veil. Their use is to protect the honey harvester or bee handler from bee stings.
Smoker – Used to subdue the bees in two ways:
Impares visibility such they bees cannot have clear vision to attack the harvester
Makes bees to feed on the honey in readiness for fire outbreak. When they are on a full stomach, bees become less active and the stinging instinct is suppressed.
Honey strainers and sieves – Bee brash and/or comb Used to brush off bees from combs during harvesting. Some farmers/handlers use a comb like-structure.
The hive tool – Very important piece of metal that is normally used to inspect the combs. Remember that bees are territorial insects and will glue the parts of the hive together making inspection almost impossible.