The Sunday Mail
By Tanaka D Mudarikwa
BEEKEEPING can be a fascinating and profitable side hustle or full-time occupation. Almost anyone can keep bees as long as they have the expertise.
Human beings and bees can live in harmony, but bees can be vicious if disturbed. Bees normally only sting to defend themselves or their colony. If precautions are taken, stinging is not a major problem.
The long relationship between humans and bees started with honey hunting. To reduce the hardship and unpredictability of harvesting from wild colonies, people devised ways to increase their control over bees through the ownership and management of colonies kept in hives.
Currently, there are various beekeeping systems used, ranging from traditional methods to modern systems.
Beekeeping implies the manipulation of a bee colony based on the understanding of the insects. This gives great ease of management and harvesting for higher yields and better-quality honey.
Beekeeping, therefore, can be lucrative.
The bee colony consists of three kinds of adult bees: the queen, drones and workers. Bees are highly evolved insects that engage in a variety of complex tasks, and they live together in a large well-organised family.
Communication, complex nest construction, environmental control, defence and division of labour are just some of the behaviours that bees have developed to exist successfully in colonies.
Strength of swarms
Each worker has a definite task to perform, which is usually related to its age. Each colony has a single queen and several hundred drones.
Reproduction and the strength of swarms depend on the queen. The queen is easy to identify from other members of the colony; its body is normally much longer than either the drone or workers.
The queen is the only sexually developed female bee. She can lay 1 500 eggs per day or more and can lay up to 250 000 eggs per year. This means it is easy to expand the apiculture business.
Drones are male bees and are the largest in the colony. Their main function is to fertilise the queen during her mating flight, but only a few members of the drones perform this function. Drones become sexually mature about a week after emerging and die instantly upon mating.
Drones have no stingers.
Workers are the smallest bees in a colony and are sexually undeveloped females and, under normal hive conditions, they do not lay eggs. They have specialised structures such as brood food glands, scent glands, wax glands and pollen baskets which allow them to perform all the labour of the hive.
Beekeeping has basic equipment needed, which are the components of the hive, protective gear, smoker, hive tool, bee brush and bucket or tray for handling the honey. Each tool has its definite task.
If one wants to venture into beekeeping, one should consider the site and many other factors. During the foraging season, nectar, water and pollen sources should be within a short distance (not more than 2 kilometres) of the hives. The site should be an area free from human and animal interference.
The best hive is one that is appropriate, given the materials available, and the skills and financial resources of the beekeeper.
The simpler and cheaper a hive is to make, the more people will be able to take part in beekeeping. An expensive system does not necessarily result in higher yield.
Sustainability comes with making or buying cheap hives made from local materials. It is not simply the type of hive that determines how much honey the bees will store but also the size.
Installation of hives is one of the important aspects that should be done carefully. Hives should either be placed on stands or hung on tree branches to protect them from termites.
Hives should not directly face the sun’s rays. They should be well-covered on top so that they will not allow light or air inside.
Beekeeping needs more attention, especially on the management of hives and swarms. The hives should be free from vegetation that restricts bee movement.
Honey is marketed in five basic forms, namely, section comb, cut comb, chunk, creamed honey and liquid honey. The production or extraction of honey requires special equipment for uncapping combs and removing honey from the cells.
Waste that is obtained from extracting liquid honey is used for making beeswax. Beeswax is used for many different purposes such as floor polish, candles, body lotion and soap. An apiculturist can make money through hiring out hives to farmers for pollination and bee removal.
That beekeeping does not require tracts of land, but can be done in the backyard, and is not capital- intensive should motivate anyone to venture into it. It can be a source of livelihood and nutrition, especially for rural communities.
◆ Tanaka D. Mudarikwa is an apiculturist. Word from the market is a column produced by the Agricultural Marketing Authority to promote market-driven production. Feedback: [email protected] or WhatsApp/Call +263781706212.