Bees: how and why would you want to keep them?
Beekeeping (or apiculture) is the humans’ maintenance of bee colonies, commonly in artificial hives.
Why are Bees so important, and why would you want to keep them?
All types of Bees are crucial to life on this planet, and they are essential because they pollinate and our food sources amongst that pollination.
Insects moving pollen from one plant to another is called pollination and is crucial for the effective fertilizing of plants to produce fruit, vegetables, seeds, etc.
The extinction of bees would see the delicate balance of the ecosystem destroyed, and it would severely affect the world’s food supplies.
The Beekeepers Association of Zimbabwe estimates more than 50,000 bee farms within the region, and the number keeps growing. Beekeeping has become profitable with increasing consumer demand for honey as well as beeswax.
The majority of beekeepers in Zimbabwe practice traditional Beekeeping through the use of bark or log and other related types of beehives. This natural way of keeping hives has been practised for centuries and has been passed down from one generation to the other.
The success of Beekeeping depends highly on the type of bee hives used, the management of the colonies, and the presence of forage for pollination. This can happen in the absence of threats to the honey bee colonies and their habitat.
Colonies on average have anywhere between 30,000 to 50,000 bees, and within the colony, the Queen Bee reigns supreme, laying upward of 1500 eggs daily. Worker bees ensure the hive runs smoothly while drones, which are the male bees, mate with Queens occupying other colonies.
The new Beekeeping technologies aim to curb the threats to the bees and Beekeeping through more research and development.
Other constrains that also affect Beekeeping in Zimbabwe include pesticide poisoning, lack of skilled manpower and training institutions, low level of technology used, honeybee pests, marketing problems as well as lack of a well-defined policy in apiculture.
Understanding the dos and don’ts of Beekeeping and the Bees biology is vital for anyone wanting to set up their hives. It would help if you learned as much as possible about hive management.
A valuable way to learn is to meet local beekeepers. It is always a good idea to talk to an expert or two before raising your bees. Take the time to learn how to keep your bees healthy and learn about any problems other beekeepers in your area may face.
Beekeeping Clubs can keep you updated with the latest research. The club can assist in connecting you with experienced beekeepers who will help you become the best beekeeper and give you advice on how to breed bees in your area.
Beekeeping Equipment Requirements
- Woodenware: This includes the hive bottom, body and top cover making up the beehive itself. It is recommended to start out with two hives to make comparisons as you go and discover what works and what doesn’t.
- PPE: A protective veil and gloves are vital. You don’t want to get stung and panic. Adequate clothing such as a bee suit, helmet with a veil and specific shoes for Beekeeping is essential if you want to avoid being stung.
- Smoker: A smoker helps to calm and distract the bees while you’re working within the hive.
- Hive tool: This tool looks very similar to a paint scraper and is necessary as it allows you to easily access the hive and move frames around.
- Queen Catcher: A queen catcher is a handy tool to have when you want to keep the queen separated for a while.
- Bees and Queen: You may be lucky enough to catch a swarm, but if not, do some research into purchasing from someone local.
What’s the time commitment?
The time commitment will vary again, depending on the number of hives you have. Each hive takes approximately 1 hour per week, so starting out 1-4 hives is ideal. Like most things in life, you get out of Beekeeping what you put into it.
Spring is more time-intensive as this is an excellent season for Bees, and Summer sees things slow down a little.
Where should I set up my hives?
Facing the opening of the hives in a way that allows the Bees direct sunlight in the morning, which actives the working day, and then as the sun gets lower in the sky in the afternoon, it allows the hive to cool down with no direct sunlight beaming through the door.
Ensure that the area is low to no activity but is also easily accessible when you need to carry out general care and maintenance.
When should I start Beekeeping?
Starting Beekeeping will depend on the climate and geography of where you live.
Once you are armed with the knowledge of what you need to maintain a thriving hive, you can order the bees and equipment and commence in the best season.
Feeding your colony a combination of sugar and water for 3-4 months after the installation of your hive assists the workers in building and drawing out wax comb so that they can lay their eggs and then, of course, maintain a productive operation.
Once your colony is growing and doing well, you will be able to harvest the honey in the following months.
Local knowledge and know-how
You should check for unwanted guests in your colony regularly.
Pests and predators cause great damage to honey bee colonies within a short space of time. The following are the problem pests and predators in Zimbabwe;
- Beetles (Coleoptera)
- Wax moth (Galleria mellonela)
- Bee-eater Birds
- Honey Badger
All of these pose a threat to the colonies as they cause a reduction in honey yields and, in some cases, abandonment.
Again, taking some classes, working with other local Beekeepers or joining a local Beekeeping Club will provide you with endless knowledge on how to carry out this type of care for your hives.
A healthy, well-managed colony will produce honey and wax that you can use or sell later. Bees need access to a mixture of trees, shrubs, groundcover, edibles, perennials and annuals from spring to fall to keep the hive buzzing. Remember, diversity is critical. Inside the hive, thousands of worker bees, drones and the queen bee work together to create the ideal conditions for honey production.
The development and success of the beekeeping industry lie on the beekeepers potential to guard against deforestation and veld fires as significant threats. The adoption of modern technologies will assist the beekeepers; to a greater extent.