How To: Beekeeping
Since ancient times bees have been providing honey and wax for human use. In Israel specifically, beekeeping is estimated to be a 3000 year old industry (Cramp, 2011). In African nations honeybees are revered and have been for hundreds of years (Illengel, 1998). Humans first hunted bees for their honey in 7000 BC. Early expeditions have recorded paintings of the practice of hunting bees on cave walls from Africa to Europe. Eventually, honey hunting evolved into beekeeping and studied ever since (Cramp, 2011).
According to Diana Sammataro, author of Peace Corps Manual "Lessons on Beekeeping" a beehive should meet the following requirements to be successful for beginners:
- easy to remove surplus honey
- easy for bees to store honey, especially after surplus has been collected
- hive should last many seasons
- hive should be roomy enough, or expandable to accommodate growing bee populations and food storage
- the entrance should be large enough to allow easy passage of bees not small enough for the bees but small enough for the bees to defend their hive against pests
- hive should be durable enough to protect bees against hot, cold, rainy or dry weather
- hive should be convenient and comfortable for the beekeeper to work
- hives should be within the financial means of the beekeeper to work
- one hive should be on a scale and have a glass side to gauge the progress of all the hives without opening them up.
(Peace Corps, 1981)
There are several different types of beehives and some are as follows: Langston, Dadant, WBC, Dartington, Polystyrene, and the Skep. Each hive with the exception of the skep and polystyrne hive is made up of frames and two types of boxes, supers and broods. Frames consists of beeswax foundation in hexagonal shapes to coax and guide the bees into making straight honeycombs. A super is the box that is "superimposed" on a brood box or another super. The brood box is deeper than the super and where the queen and the majority of the bees thrive. The supers contain the honeycomb frames the bees use for surplus storage. These are the frames that are harvested. Other components found in a beehive include the following: hive stand, bottom board, queen excluder, crown board, feeders, and hive straps (Cramp, 2011).
The purpose of the hive stand is to keep the hive from touching the ground and permit air flow beneath the hive. The hive rests on the bottom board of which the front is open for bees to enter and exit through. A queen excluder is located between the brood box and a super box. If there are two brood boxes the queen excluder is not necessary. The purpose of the excluder is to the keep the queen from laying eggs in any of the honeycombs intended for harvesting. The crown board is the cover to the brood box and serves many purposes:
- maintain constant temperature
- allow feeding of bees and
- prevent bees from attaching combs to the lid.
Feeders are frames that hold sugar as a food source for the bees and lastly hive straps hold the hive together (Cramp, 2011).
Thriving colonies are essential to successful beekeeping. There are three different classes of bees present in any given colony: the queen, workers, and drones. There is only one queen in a colony and as the only sexually mature bee the life of the colony. The queen can lay up to several thousand eggs in a day and only needs 16 days to reach maturity (Cramp 2011). Available resources influence the number of eggs a queen can lay. Queens can be identified by their long and slender abdomens (Peace Corps, 1982). They are usually encircled by smaller worker bees that tend to her every need (Cramp, 2011).
Worker bees are females that are not sexually mature and perform the following listed functions below:
- Produce food wax, and scent to instruct/coordinate colony response
- Gather and transport nectar and water
A worker bee's job is age specific. Upon the first two days of a worker bee's emergence from their cell their job is to clean and warm the brood nest. At three days old the job of the worker bee is to feed older larvae with honey. At six days of age glands located on top of their heads have reached maturity and therefore can begin to feed younger larvae with brood food or royal jelly (for rearing queens only). At 11 days worker bees can begin producing wax and constructing honey combs for the purpose of ripening nectar. At 19 days of age they undergo exercises wherein they learn to fly, defend the hive, and familiarize themselves with the lay of the land. At 22 days the job of the worker bee is to forage for nectar, pollen, and water (Peace Corps, 1982).
Drones are sexually mature males and unlike worker and queen bees they have large eyes, large abdomens and are covered with hair. They also take the longest to reach maturity at 24 days. Drones do not have stingers and lack the organs necessary to collect nectar, pollen, and water. The only job of the drone is to mate with queen bees (Peace Corps, 1982). Drones do this by taking mating flights in the morning and afternoon. After they mate they die. Drones that decide to remain part of the colony are permitted to do so as long as resources are sufficient but as winter approaches they are driven out by workers (Cramp, 2011).
The first step to constructing a bee hive is to first determine which type of beehive is desired and where it will be located. Access to an abundance of pollen, nectar, and fresh water resources are essential when selecting location of a beehive new or old. Other factors to consider include drainage, quantity of sunlight, sun angles, windbreaks, security, and accessibility by the beekeeper. Bees will fly as far as three and a quarter miles to obtain the resources they need in all directions from the hive. When choosing a location it is important to also take this into consideration (Conrad, 2007).
Sammatro provides the following check list in her Peace Corps Manual for site selection
- near fresh water not contaminated water
- easy for beekeeper to reach and work
- near food sources for bees need flowering plants for nectar (honey), bee glue, and pollen (protein)
- on the top of a hill or high ground so water and air will drain away from hives
- not on wet, swampy, lowland or in deep, humid woods: honey will not cure properly and bees could be subject to fungal diseases
- facing east, south-east to catch early warmth of sun: entrances should be pointed away from monsoon winds
- provide a wind-break to keep hives from being blown over in high winds and noontime shade during the dry hot seasons
- away from floods and open fires
- keep brush, vines, and weeds cleared away from hives; hives should be placed on a stand, (not directly on the ground) to keep out ants and other pests
- nearby the beekeeper's house to discourage mischief-makers
- away from areas heavily sprayed with insecticides
- away from people, animals, etc.
(Peace Corps, 1981)
Hives constructed from wood have advantages and disadvantages. Some advantages include ease of observation and use, oldest modern beehive, and standardized equipment while disadvantages include equipment and time to assemble. To construct a wooden beehive the following materials will be needed: hammer, nails, wood glue, clamps, and a kit. David Cramp, author of the complete step-by-step book of beekeeping gives the following thirty steps for constructing a beehive from a kit.
- Layout glue and hive floorboard
- Separate out the tongue-and-groove side rails for the floorboard
- With the floorboard flush with the ends of the rails, hammer nail toward each end of each side rail
- Check if floorboard reversible; it will have a deep side that makes a large summer entrance; flip board for winter.
- Nail and glue on the top and bottom cleats on each end to match height of side rails
- The four sides of a single shallow hive box are shown. Note the box joints
- Use a wooden stick and apply a dab of glue to all the box joints
- Make into a box and nail each bottom corner, using galvanized nails
- Ensure all is aligned before nailing, and that the assembly remains square
- Drive nails that are 3.8cm/ 1.5in long into all pre-drilled holes
- The completed hive body or box is roofless and floorless
- Find the grooved top bar frames - a top bar, two side bars and bottoms bars
- Apply a dab of glue to each end of the top and bottom bars
- After squaring up the frame, nail the top bar to each of the side bars
- Drive the nail in at an angle at each end, through the end bar into the top bar
- Fit all the frames that you have made into hive body.
- Press and snap the plastic foundation into place to fit into the frame
- Check the finished frame...with the plastic foundation in place.
- Place the frames and foundation into the box hive.
- Assemble the top and side rails, ready to make the inner cover
- Glue and insert the side rails into the end cleats.
- Slide the top on to the side rails, and fit the other cleat
- Drive in two nails to add strength to the corners; flip over and nail again
- Place the inner cover on top of the hive, with a slot for feeding or bee escape
- Gather the parts for the outer cover or lid, which slot together
- Identify the tongue-and-groove pieces of the outer cover.
- Find the end rails for the lid, which have grooves that the lid board will slot into to ensure they are flush and fitting
- Fit the tongue and groove pieces. Tap them into place until they fit snugly. Glue and nail the end rails to the lid board.
- Glue and nail the top cleats in place use enough nails to hold them firmly
- The life should be painted and covered in metal sheeting
Operation & Maintenance
To run a successful beekeeping operation other equipment to have on hand include the following: smoker, veiled hat, hives tool, gloves (Peace Crops, 1981 and ). Also a full body protective suit and boots would be worth investing in also.
Bees obtain their calories for optimal performance from pollen and honey they make themselves. Since beekeepers harvest this natural honey for profit, beekeepers can supplement their bee's diets with honey syrup. The honey syrup should be watered down slightly and boiled for twenty minutes at the least to ensure free of disease spores deadly to bees. Honey syrup is also sufficient following the same procedure and if neither of those are available white sugar (and white sugar only never raw or brown sugar) may be cooked down for feed. Bees can be fed via entrance feeders, top hive feeders, division board feeders, and feeder pails (Conrad, 2007).
Entrance feeders are located at the entrance of the hive and advantageous to the beekeeper in that they allow the beekeepers to easily check for when it is time to refill. They are disadvantageous in that they require frequent refills, are far from the bee's nest, and are only accessible by the bees when temperatures are above 50?F. Top hive feeders resemble super boxes and placed directly on top of the brood box. Comparatively they hold the greatest amount of food and require fewer refills by the beekeeper. A division board feeder is a frame next to the broods nest. It is advantageous to the bees as far as accessibility but possibly disadvantageous to the beekeeper who has to perform more work to check food levels and refill. Feeder pails come in gallon and half-gallon sizes with perforated lids which are placed inverted over the hole of the outer cover. It is protected from the elements by an empty super box. Feeder pails are advantageous to both bees and beekeeper with regards to accessibility but are disadvantageous to the bees in cooler or colder months. If not applied properly to create a vacuum the bees can be drenched in feed which is especially problematic in the colder months (Conrad, 2007).
Reversing is a technique to manage swarming and inspect the health of the colony Swarming is the indication of a thriving hide and therefore good however managing the swarm allows the beekeeper to manage how much honey and wax is yielded come harvesting. It is best to have the bees swarm before the colder month's so there will be enough honey in the hive to sustain them until warmer weather returns. Reversing is done by stacking the boxes the make up the hive in reverse order, with the bottom hive on top and the top hive on the bottom. While doing this the beekeeper inspects the colony and clean as needed (Conrad, 2007).
Beekeepers can evaluate a hives performance by observing the behavior of the colony. Colonies, swarm, supersede, and abscond. Swarming colonies tend to be those that have access to ample resources, thrive, and reach reproduction rates so significant that they naturally divide and produce new colonies (Peace Corps, 1982). This happens when a queen's chemical scent cannot be detected any more on the outermost edges of the hive (Cramp, 2011). This triggers workers to construct queen cells and raise queens. The first new queen to emerge annihilates those that have yet to be hatched or fight to death for leadership should another or others emerge at the same time. The new self-declared queen leaves to establish a new colony. If a colony is so large and she is able to take workers with her this is called an after swarm Supersedure happens when a queen needs to be replaced entirely because of death or inability to reproduce due to age and approaching death. The new queen leaves to mate but returns to run the colony. The old queen is permitted to remain until her death for she is not a threat to the new queen. The last is absconding which is hive abandonment. This will take place if there is too much disturbance by predators and/or beekeepers. It will also happen if resources are insufficient to support the hive and growth (Peace Corps, 1982). In summary, swarming hives are excellent and self-sustaining, superseding hives are good and stable, absconded hives poor and indicator of environmental issue of possible concern.
"Although beekeeping can only rarely become the sole source of income and livelihood for people in the Third World, its role as a source of supplementary earnings, food, and employment should not be underestimated" says Illgner, Nel, and Robertson authors of Beekeeping and Local Self-Reliance in Rural Southern Africa"(Illgner, 1998).
In their article they highlight the following impacts of beekeeping: rural diversification, female empowerment, risk avoidance, low cost high reward business, enhanced plant pollination, and culturally significant dietary supplement (Illgner, 1998).
Agriculture is an important arena in rural development and beekeeping is a well known and proven self-reliance practice and strategy (Illgner, 1998). In 1982 Tanzania had a total of 4 million traditional hives and 13,000 western hives (Nel, 2000). In 1984 Tanzania produced 1, 050 metric tons of wax, a product of beekeeping that can be stored indefinitely with many consumer product uses (Illgner, 1998). Beeswax is can be used to weatherproof leather and is an ingredient in topical ointments for burns and cold creams. Beeswax is also an ingredient in furniture, wood, and floor polish (Peace Corps, 1982).
GTZ: The Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) is an organization assisting in the modernization of beekeeping in Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. GTZ helped in the establishment of 100 bee clubs in Malawi alone which helped to increase honey production through providing members with advice, new techniques, and assistance with marketing (Nel, 2000).
BBA: The Bondolfi Beekeepers Association (BBA) is an organization in the Bondolfi region of Zimbabwe. It was established to organize beekeeping operations in the region and increase efficiency. This was accomplished through establishing a means to process honey and facilitate bulk sales. BBA began with 25 members and reached 70 in 1998. BBA promotes female in empowerment. Of its 70 members in 1998, 40 were women and one was elected secretary (Nel, 2000).
" The successful development of...beekeeping often requires an intimate understanding of the society within which it is to take place (and) of its systems and values" Swanson, 1976: 193 (Nel, 2000)
Beekeeping, it's a hobby, it's a business, it's a land management practice, it's a means of female empowerment, it's way of life. Suggestion for redesign would be to construct transparent hives if possible to better observe hive activity and understand the world of bees.
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