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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Beekeeping and Honey Production - the Health & Sweet Rewards

It is funny, but in Nigeria if you announce yourself as one who keeps bees you are bound to get a strange look most of the time. Yes, the reality is that most Nigerians are yet to understand that beekeeping and honey production is just like any other occupation or business. This notion is worsened by the fact that some people have come to attach mysteries to bees – trust the overly religious Nigerian. But at the same time they’d love to have (original) honey for consumption.

A bee going for nectar

But it is also heart-warming to know that most of the ‘myths’ are fast eroding because many are beginning to realise the great and many healing potentials that this wonderful natural food (of the bees) possesses. The fact is that honey has been ‘cultivated’ and harvested for consumption by people like you and me who have learnt the art and science of beekeeping for centuries in many parts of the world.

A BBC report of July 2006 corroborates this popular claim; it states that doctors at the Christie Hospital in Didsbury, Manchester are planning to use honey for faster recovery of cancer patients after surgery. Such research will provide scientific evidence for the so-called “beliefs” held by honey lovers all over the world, and will help in propagating the benefits of honey to many more people. This alone is a good reason for anyone to embark on beekeeping and ‘growing’ of honey.

Understanding Honeybees
When thinking about beekeeping two things will naturally tend to pose as obstacles – ignorance and of course fear. Honeybees generally live in communities of say between 60,000 to 100,000 bees. And what do they do? Bees are always busy taking care of the hive, feeding and cleaning the queen. The majority of the bees in the community are unfertile female bees called workers.

Bees collect nectar, pollen, and water; the nectar will later be transformed into honey which is rich in carbohydrates while pollen is used as is for protein-rich ‘bread for the bees’. It regulates the temperature of the hive – keeping it cool or warm as may be the case; it also serves as food for the developing larvae while producing the beeswax which they use to build all the cells of the hive. At the height of the season, a worker will live only six weeks before she dies from exhaustion having collected enough nectar to make about half teaspoon full of honey.

Bees on a honeycomb

Usually a hive will contain just a few hundred males called drone(s); these are stingless male bees whose sole function is to mate with the queen. They don’t do any work but just fly around and seek the rare opportunity to mate with the queen when she embarks on her nuptial flight. When she is up to a week old she goes high up in the sky for this royal function.

At this point it becomes survival of the fittest as only the strongest males get to mate with the queen as the drones rely on the strength of their distinctive large eyes and huge wings to establish this union. When this happens the queen is able to retain the drone’s sperm alive within her for years! Meanwhile, immediately after this rare union with the queen, the drones meet their ‘blissful’ end as they fall down to their death while the rest unsuccessful suitors in this same season are forcefully evicted from the hive by the workers.

Bees are kept in boxes in which frames are constructed; here the bees make their honey. You can construct your frames with wax coated on both sides patterned after honeybee cells. The season of ‘beeing’ is actually when the trees and flowers in your environment begin to bloom. A bee colony can have up to about 60,000 bees, but with only one queen bee!

Dealing with bees requires you have a bee suit – an overall that covers your entire body, with a hat over your head within a veil. You will also need to wear leather hand gloves; sometimes you get mistakenly stung but over time you will certainly develop immunity. But also be prepared with a bee sting kit in case you have bee venom allergy.

On opening the hive you will need to heavily smoke it with burning twine which is able to produce a lot of smoke to avoid the bees stinging. You will use a hive tool to open up the seal made between the frames and the box. In your hive should be a queen and a developing brood. You should feed your hungry bees with syrup dripped into the hive through small holes. You need to order for a queen bee (from a supplier of bee equipment) as soon as the frames become empty or you might not get honey to harvest when the time comes.

Constructed beehives

Remember to always keep a record of what you are doing, and what is going on with each box including what is needed. According to a seasoned beekeeper in Nigeria, Ismail Abdul Azeez, what a prospective bee ‘farmer’ needs is just a small space. After finding this, the next step is to create hives; as many as 30 hives can be kept in an area as small as 25 x 50ft. You can start with N150,000 after land acquisition that is.

 “The average honey production from a hive is about 20 litres. On N2,000 per litre, the farmer can make a fortune” Azeez says. He also makes us understand that beekeeping can be integrated into small farms, including those that produce fruits and vegetables needing pollination. When you arrange hives together you should put newspapers between the cages; they will eat through the newspaper and by that time, they will know each other well enough not to kill each other.

Bees work only inside the hive during the first 20 days of their life after which they begin to forage and produce only about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey during the 6 weeks they live. But we have to produce many more new bees to replace them. In a day a bee will make like 10 round trips from the hive - travelling not more than about half a mile visiting flowers. When a colony swarms about half of the hive leaves taking the old queen bee with them – usually when the hive becomes too crowded, and in one season if you are careful enough, 9 hives can become about 56 hives.

At the bottom of the frames is where queen cells are formed; a new hive or swarm needs a new queen bee royal jelly produced by the bees; this is fed to the queen cells which turns a regular bee into a queen.  Bees usually will need a place to store their honey, so you put 'supers' (boxes) on top of the original, and keep stacking the supers on top as long as the bees keep making the honey.

To begin honey processing, remove a bee frame when the 'super' is three quarter full of capped honey cells. As you remove frames from your hive you should also remove the bees clinging to them. Use a bee repellant when removing a whole 'super'. Remember to cover up the honey filled 'supers’ to prevent bees from other hives from coming over and stealing the honey because they are easily attracted by its sweet smell.

Making the honey house
The honey house has large glass windows and a concrete floor. Along the walls the 'supers' are stacked in the honey house; you then take honey from the frames and put it into glass jars.

Extracting honey
Cut off the caps of the cells by means of an electrically charged knife. The frame is propped over a de-capping tank. The wax caps fall down into the tank along with some honey.

Honey from the comb

However, to extract your honey the old fashioned (manual) way, you just need to: first load the entire honeycomb into a colander or sieve; put the colander over a stainless steel bowl. Then smoosh up the entire comb with a wooden spoon to release the honey from the cells; put the bowl over a pot of warm water to speed up the process knowing that honey moves faster and more freely when it’s warm. Then you should let it sit overnight. In the morning you should see mainly chunks of wax, and mostly honey in the bowl. Pour the honey through a strainer to sift out more wax and funky bits of debris.

'Liquid gold' at last

I will add - that in mastering the art and science of ‘bee farming’ and honey making however, you will still need to enroll for some sort of training in addition to what you have read. 

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