Apiculture (or as it is more commonly known—beekeeping) is the care and management of bee colonies in man-made hives. Bees may be kept for any number of reasons such as the pollination of nearby crops and fruit trees but the most common one is the production of honey and other products such as beeswax, propolis and royal jelly. Honey itself is a very valuable substance which is in high demand in both the informal and formal markets of Zimbabwe. There is also a massive demand for the substance across the world for use in industries such as food processing and pharmaceuticals.
An overview of beekeeping
Beekeepers keep bee colonies in artificial hives to collect their honey. The location where these bees are kept is called an apiary or a “bee yard”. Artificial beehives are designed not only to make it easy for beekeepers to periodically extract the honey without destroying their colony but to also protect the bees from the elements, diseases, pests and predators.
Bee colonies cannot actually be domesticated—the insect will only stay in the provided hives as long as the conditions in these continue to suit them. If this changes they will continue their trek onto other habitats. They will also continue to eagerly try to sting anything which they perceive to be a threat including the beekeeper.
What is needed
To avoid wasting time experimenting, any prospective beekeeper needs to acquire as much knowledge as possible around the practice. Beekeeping manuals targeted at sub-Saharan Africa or even Zimbabwe itself can be found online. These are preferable because they tend to reference tools, materials and resources which are easily available even in rural areas.
If you don’t particularly enjoy reading, you can also try to find if there are any organisations, groups or co-operatives near you which offer beekeeping training. Much like other agricultural practices, you can expedite the creation of your beekeeping operation if you stick to knowledge sources which are specific to your climate, country or region.
Two of the most crucial pieces of equipment that beekeepers need are the ones used for their own protection against the insects—namely the protective suits and smokers. Protection suits prevent bees and their very painful stings from gaining contact to human skin. These suits can either be bought or crafted from any suitably impervious material such as thick cloth or even sacks. These suits must be washed regularly since any remaining “smell” of bee stings on the material signals other bees to attack.
The other line of protection against bee stings is the device called a smoker. A smoker’s function is to subdue bees by producing smoke from the partial burning of fuel (this is exactly how all types of smoke are produced). This smoke has a calming effect on the bees and this has the added advantage of reducing the number that accidentally gets killed when the honeycombs are being extracted since calmer bees can be lightly brushed off the combs. Smokers can also be bought or handmade. It is important to remember that the purpose of a smoker is not to kill the bees—in fact, keeping the bees as healthy for as long as possible is one of the most crucial duties of a beekeeper.
The most commonly used bee hive design in Africa is the top bar kind. The advantages of top bar hives include their being lightweight, easy to harvest honey from and harvesting from them is also less stressful to the bees. You can design and build your own hive with guidance from any one of the numerous beekeeping manuals which you may be using or—more advisably—just buy complete ones.
If nature were left to take its course, many brand new beehives would probably remain empty for a very long time—possibly forever. To increase the chances of bees entering the hive it must:
- Be placed at a good site.
- Be waxed (smeared with bee wax).
- Clean and pest-free.
Alternatively, the bees can be obtained for placement into the hive by:
- Catching a wild swarm.
- Dividing an existing colony (if you are already a beekeeper)
- Buying the bees.
An apiary is a site (usually outdoors) where small groups of beehives are kept. A good apiary must be located away from people and noise. It must also be near somewhere where the bees can find water, flowers and trees that produce flowers. The apiary must also be shaded against strong sunlight and protected from strong winds.
A honey bee colony can be decimated by diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses and poisons. Parasites—usually other insects—can also cause massive losses. Despite their ferocious stings, bees also have predators such as skunks and some types of birds.
The United States of America is by far the world’s largest importer of honey followed by German and Japan. Other potentially lucrative export markets for the substance are the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Belgium. If you wish to export your product to other countries, you must abide by and follow the relevant regulations of those countries. For instance, to export to the USA, facilities which produce, store or otherwise handle the honey and its related products must be registered with that country’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To export to countries in the European Union, it is necessary to comply with regulations such as those which cover issues of hygiene, pesticide residues, and antibiotic residues in the honey.