Chapter 1 Introduction
Honey, the natural food of the honeybee, has many times been described as man's sweetest food. The credit must never go to man but to the honeybee, which may be called "the golden insect". The honeybee is well distributed over the globe except in the severe cold of the polar regions. Africa is blessed with numerous types of wild honeybee. They exist everywhere on the continent where man lives, from the equatorial evergreen rain-forest to the desert oasis, although they are more numerous in the drier savannah than in the wetter forest areas. They all produce honey, the nutritious natural food good for both man and animals.
Honey is collected from tree branches, hollows and crevices in several regions of the continent. Keeping bees in beehives as practiced in Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania is not well known in other parts of Africa. Even in these countries, traditional beekeeping does not make use of the correct equipment and modern techniques. Honey is harvested by the use of fire or live torches which burn the insects to death. In Vest Africa, the method of honey harvesting is barbaric. The insect collects nectar from flowers and then processes it in the hive and packs it in comb cells. Han waits patiently until the warmest time of the year, when the insect has the largest quantity of the sweet honey in stock, then takes his machete, axe and mallet, hacks down the tree where the hive is built and sets fire to most of the bees to kill them or weaken them before the combs are removed. He takes away all the combs. Some tribes eat both honey and brood alike. Often the queen bee, essential to the colony, is killed in the process, and that, of course, dooms the colony. A colony of bees treated this way is overwhelmed, and the only thing left for the few still alive to do is to seek a new abode elsewhere. This kind of honey hunting is like the farmer who kills his cow in order to milk it.
The honey-tapper sometimes melts down both honey and beeswax into a container. The next morning the honey has cooled down, and the wax has hardened on top of it. The wax is then removed and thrown away. Thus the poor man loses additional income and his government also loses foreign exchange. This practice is going on today.
Another sad side of this ignorance is that, after harvesting the honeycombs (something which is usually done at night), the honey-tapper throws away his live torch. The swift-blowing dry harmattan wind fans the flame, and this results in a huge wild veldt fire which can consume several square kilometres, destroying life and property and leaving the soil bare for the winds to turn into a desert. The honey-hunter is doing all this, but strangely enough, no government has raised a finger against him, and no Vest African government has initiated any apicultural programme to educate him, even though the land is ideally rich in honey and beeswax.
The history of honey-hunting involving the live torch dates back several thousand years. Dr. Eva Crane's Book of Honey (1980) contains the picture of a rock painting, near the Toghwana Dam, Matopo Hills, Zimbabwe, of a honey-hunter using fire. 20th-century man is too mature to do the same. The practice must be shunned, discouraged, regarded as out-of-date and stopped. Modern man must approach beekeeping scientifically, using new methods of hunting or harvesting honey described in this manual.
Why should Africa keep bees?
Honey is money. Honey is delicious and nutritious. How can man obtain honey to combat malnutrition? The answer is in beekeeping. By keeping bees, he can obtain large quantities of honey and raw beeswax for home consumption and for export. Other benefits of beekeeping are as follows:
1. Tropical apiculture is cheap. It does not involve mass feeding of bees, because the insects can provide their own food all year round, and there is no over-wintering bee management.Six bee products are known. These are honey, beeswax, propolis, pollen, royal jelly or "bee milk", and bee venom.
2. All the necessary inputs required for beekeeping are available locally. Some may be wasted if bees are not kept, e.g. pollen and nectar from flowering plants.
3. Individuals and private organizations such as churches, women's groups, youth associations and cooperative societies can initiate it with only limited funds.
4. Beekeeping is self-reliant. It does not depend on importation of foreign equipment or inputs.
5. In many rural localities, the technology is available.
6. It improves the ecology. It helps plant reproduction. Bees do not over-graze as other animals do.
7. The honeybee produces honey, beeswax and propolis. These are non-perishable commodities that can be marketed locally or abroad.
8. The honeybee provides pollination service. This is an indispensable activity in the food production process.
9. The honeybee is the only insect that can be transported from crop to crop.
10. Honey and beeswax can be produced in semi-arid areas that are unsuitable for any other agricultural use.
11. The beekeeper does not need to own land in order to keep bees.
Bee products and their uses
a) Honey is the sweet, viscous Juice usually collected in the largest quantities from the beehive. It is found in cells of the honeybee comb. Matured (ripe) honey is usually found in sealed combs and can be kept indefinitely; unsealed honey is not matured and therefore ferments shortly after it is harvested.
b) Beeswax is a product of the honeybee. It is produced from the bee's own body during the warm period of the day. The bee uses wax to build the comb cells in which its brood are reared, and also the cells in which honey and pollen are stored. The bee consumes between 8 and 15 kg of honey to produce one kg of beeswax. The wax is removed or collected by heating (see Chapter 6). In several countries, beeswax collection is unknown because the people do not know that the local beeswax is good for use. Instead, craftsmen and industrialists import beeswax from Europe. In Vest Africa, honey-tappers throw away the wax. At the same time, big manufacturing firms pressure the government to collect foreign exchange to import the wax, mostly from the United Kingdom and Prance.
Beeswax is rendered from the bee combs after the honey has been removed. In Europe, America and Australia, beeswax extraction has a minor place because only a few combs are harvested. Therefore these continents depend on tropical countries for their raw beeswax.
Beeswax has over 120 industrial uses. It has a ready market both at home and abroad. In 1978, one kilogramme of bleached beeswax cost £ 11.00 in Britain. Suppliers in Europe buy processed or bleached beeswax from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania, and other African countries purchase the same wax from Europe! One African firm spent US$ 400 000 in 1979 alone to purchase beeswax, transportation costs not included.
c) Propolis is a resinous material collected by bees from leaves and buds of certain trees. It is greenish-black in colour and gummy in consistency. The bees use propolis to fill cracks in their hive, to seal the entrance hole when it is too large, to make the hive watertight, to glue the top bars to the hive body, to strengthen the thin borders of their comb and as an embalming material to cover any dead hive intruder which they cannot remove from the hive.
This hive product has several pharmacological properties; for instance, it is used in preparations to treat some skin diseases, and research on other uses is going forward. It is also marketable abroad.
d) Pollen, the male reproductive agent of flowering plants, is collected by bees and stored in comb cells. It is fed to the brood in the larval stage. Pollen is collected from beehives by the use of pollen traps. These remove the pollen pellets from the corbicula (pollen baskets) on the hind legs of the foraging bee.
Beekeepers can collect pollen from hives and save it to feed to the bees at times when no plants producing pollen are in flower for the bees to collect and eat directly. In the developed countries, pollen is also used in some expensive dietary supplements, since it is believed to have valuable medicinal properties.
e) Royal jelly, or "bee milk", is used by the bees to feed the queen bee and the young larvae less than three days old. It is secreted from the glands of the 5- to 15-day-old worker bee. Studies show royal jelly to be a good source of Vitamin B. Like pollen, it is thought to have medicinal value and is therefore used in certain expensive preparations. Human consumption in China alone is 100 tonnes annually. China makes royal Jelly chocolate candy and wine, as well as lotions and tonics for therapeutic use.
f) Bee venom is used by the bees as a defensive weapon to protect their property. Nature provides the honeybee with this venom. Otherwise, insects, some birds and reptiles would not allow them to enjoy the fruit of their labour. The African bee is aggressive and stings painfully, and this serves it well, for otherwise human beings, too, the worst enemies of the insect, would rob them easily.
The venom has two main medical uses: as a desensitizer for those who are allergic to bee stings, and in the treatment of arthritis. It is applied directly or by inject ion.
The most important service the honeybee renders to mankind is pollination of fruit crops. "The fact that bees are important in the pollination of many species of plants is not new, but the fact that honeybees are becoming indispensable in our agricultural economy may be considered as relatively new. Statements frequently have been made that the value of the bees in pollination exceeds by ten to twenty times their value in the production of honey and beeswax." (Hambleton, 1954.)
In the USA, some beekeepers move their hives over 2 500 kilometres away and make considerable charges for pollination service. This shows what farmers from other parts of the world do to ensure the setting of their fruit crops. In tropical Africa, the few wild bees left for pollination are being burnt to death every day. Their natural abodes in trees are being destroyed. In most countries, the people are looking on unconcerned, with no programme to replace the trees and rehabilitate the bees. We need the honeybees. Every farmer should employ honeybees just as labourers are employed on the farm. Every farmer should make sure that he has enough bees on his farm for adequate pollination, and this can best be done through getting involved in beekeeping. By doing so, the farmer will harvest honey and wax in addition to enjoying better crop yields.
Where to keep bees?
The ideal vegetation for commercial honey and beeswax production is on savannah (irrigated) and semi-arid lands. Such areas have very low annual rainfall, between 125 and 1 250 mm. The tropical deciduous forest, with an annual rainfall between 1 275 mm and 1 875 mm, can also support considerable bee activity. It is this vegetation that produces such cash crops as coffee, cola, palm oil and coconut, all of which require the honeybee's pollinating service.
The vegetation not suitable for honey production is the equatorial evergreen rain forest with an annual rainfall between 2 000 mm and 10 000 mm.
Is the African bee worth keeping?
The first beekeeping project in Ghana was initiated by the government in the 1960s. Exotic bees were imported for breeding, in an attempt to replace the aggressive tropical African bee with the more gentle Caucasian and Italian strains. However, the bees (which had been purchased with scarce foreign exchange) died off quickly, the project failed, and beekeeping was shelved in Ghana for another 20 years.
In recent years, however, a number of private enthusiasts have begun working with the tropical honeybee (Apis mellifera adansonii), better adapted to African ecological conditions. Although this local honeybee does tend to be aggressive, it has the considerable advantage of producing several honey crops a year. It gathers its own food all the time. There is little or no need to feed it. This contrasts with temperate-zone bees which only work between six and nine months a year. Colonies are then over-wintered (kept out of the cold) and are fed with sugar or corn syrup, making management expensive and tedious.
All bees in the world are feared, because all of them sting painfully. There seems to be no difference between the stings of the European and African strains. But while the African bee is more energetic and quick-tempered than most others, it is not as dangerous as some people think. It is gentler than the "Africanized" bee from South America which is threatening American beekeepers.
Differences between the African bee and the European bee (A. mellifera) of interest to beekeepers include the following:
a) The European bee is slightly larger than the tropical honeybee, and therefore hive dimensions for A. m. adansonii are somewhat smaller.Honey production
b) The tropical African honeybee colony produces more drones than the European bee colony. Drone cells are usually superimposed on worker cells. They are found side by side and at the base of one or more combs on opposite sides.
c) The European bee can be managed easily. Most African bees are unmanageable. Even the manageable few are not very reliable in this respect and may desert the hive when greatly disturbed.
d) The African bee migrates if meteorological conditions are unfavourable. It absconds when disturbed, a phenomenon which exists to a much lesser extent among European bees.
e) The African bee is aggressive during the hot hours of the day. The warmer the period, the more aggressive it is. In contrast, the European bee ignores the beekeeper during the warm period of the day but stings him when the temperature falls.
f) Very little smoke is required to cool down the Italian or the Carnolian, but the tropical bee needs copious quantities of smoke repeated at short intervals.
g) Several African bees take to the air immediately when their comb is removed from the hive. The colony sometimes leaves the hive empty and flies in all directions, hunting for the culprit.
h) African bees hate noise. Beekeepers are advised not to talk or make noise when they are visiting them during the daytime. In contrast, the Californian beekeeper, working with European bees, drives his truck to the apiary and uses motorized mowers to cut weeds. The bees never take any notice of the great noise unless the hive is hit by the blade. They seem to be deaf or, at least, their sense of hearing is not very acute.
i) The alarm pheromone of the tropical honeybee (see p. 34) seems to be more powerful than that of the European bee. When a victim is stung, he is anointed with the pheromone around the spot. If he then refuses to move away, more bees will follow and sting him on the same spot. Within a short period, he will be covered with angry bees.
j) The European bee will not punish the beekeeper who kills a bee near the hive, but dozens of the African bee will chase and sting the culprit, especially when one of them is crushed near the hive.
k) The African bee may chase its victim for more than 400 m. The European bee does so for not more than 50 m.
Many people believe that the European bee produces more honey than the tropical honeybee. This point is very controversial. Perhaps such statements are made without taking into consideration the following factors:
a) The European bee is fed with sugar and corn syrup. If this is subtracted from the honey yield, it will be found that the wild, unfed tropical bee is also a good honey producer.A good colony of bees can produce over 100 kg of honey per year in Africa. At Yendi in Ghana, two Peace Corps volunteers working for the Technology Consultancy Centre harvested 112 kg of honey in 1983 from one wild colony. Some poor colonies may produce almost nothing, but this happens all over the world, Just as with any agricultural crop.
b) There are more flowering plants in the temperate climates than in tropical vegetation zones.
c) Bees near the Equator work for 13 hours a day during the honey-flow season. In the rich honey areas of the temperate zone, where the summer days are longer, the honeybee works for more than 18 hours.
d) The introduction of modern equipment (e.g. the Langstroth hive and the centrifugal honey extractor) in the tropics will make a considerable change. Currently, beekeepers in most African countries crush their honeycombs for honey and wax. The honeybee has to produce new combs for every new crop, and comb-building wastes 8-15 kg of honey for every kg of wax made.
Who should keep bees?
In several places in East Africa, beekeeping is associated with witchcraft. Young men therefore do not keep bees, and beekeeping is considered to be the occupation of the old people in the society. In Botswana, on the contrary, Mr. Bernhard Clauss and Miss Phokedi are working bees with school children. In Ghana, housewives are very active. The Ghana Bee News reported that one woman drove her bees for several miles unprotected, indicating that beekeeping is possible for everyone, except those with bee allergy problems.
Beekeepers should form associations and organize themselves into cooperative societies at the local, and regional and national levels. They should explore possibilities for support to enable them to set up training and processing centres, acquire suitable equipment, promote the well-being of the industry and find markets for bee products. On the other hand, the efforts of enthusiastic beekeepers should be supported by governments and development agencies, which should provide funding for training, research and development programmes, and introduce apicultural studies in school and university curricula.
At a time when sugar is scarce, the honeybee is prepared to provide abundant, sweet, nutritious honey for cooking and baking, and to feed the infant as well as the invalid. The honeybee is waiting to pollinate fruit crops for man without any obligation.
Beekeeping can thus reward the African beekeeper and his continent.
Chapter 2 Colony life and social organization
Organization of a bee colony
The tropical honeybee, Apis mellifera adansonii (scute-lata), lives a unique, sophisticated social life similar to that of its counterparts in Europe and elsewhere. There are two sexes, the female and the male, but the former is subdivided into two castes. In the average colony, there are -
a) one fertile queen, whose main activity is egg- laying,In addition, there are about 5 000 eggs and 25-30 000 immature bees in various stages of their development, called the brood. Of these, some 10 000, newly hatched, are the larvae, which have to be fed by the workers, while the remainder, after the larval stage, are pupae, sealed into their cells by the workers to mature. They are called the sealed brood.
b) from 20 000 to 80 000 sterile female worker bees, which do almost everything that needs to be done in the colony, and
c) from 300 to 800 fertile males, generally called drones.
The honeybee nest
The nest of a bee colony consists of a number of vertical combs which hang parallel to each other at a distance of about 10 mm. The combs, about 25 mm wide, are composed of hexagonal cells. There are two types of comb cells: the smaller, called worker cells, and the larger, called drone cells. In the worker cells in the lower part of the comb, the bees rear worker brood; in the upper part of the comb, they store pollen and honey. In the drone cells, the bees rear drones. Occasionally they build a third type of cell, the queen cells, in which queens are reared.
Development of the honeybee
The bees develop from fertilized or unfertilized eggs laid by the queen at the bottom of the cells. Fertilized eggs are laid into worker cells and queen cells, and the unfertilized into drone cells. The egg develops in three days. After that time, the female queen and worker larvae hatch from fertilized eggs, and male larvae hatch from unfertilized eggs.
All the larvae are fed during their first three days of life with "bee milk", or "royal jelly", produced by the nurse bees, which are young worker bees not yet ready to leave the hive. After that time, worker and drone larvae are fed on a mixed food composed of honey and pollen, while larvae destined to develop into queens are fed on royal jelly during their whole larval life of five days. Thus, queens can be reared from any worker larvae younger than three days.
When a queen disappears accidentally from a colony, the workers reconstruct a few worker cells, containing larvae younger than three days, into queen cells and continue to feed the larvae with royal Jelly. Queen larvae are sealed in their cells by the workers five days after being hatched, worker larvae after six days and drone larvae after seven days.
In the sealed cells, metamorphosis of the larvae creates the pupae. The adult queen emerges from the cell 16 days after deposition of an egg, the worker bee after 21 days and the drone after 24 days.
There is always one queen in a hive. She is half again as large as a worker and longer than a drone. Her wings are much shorter than her body and cannot cover the whole of her abdomen. Her long, tapering abdomen makes her resemble a wasp. She has sparkling gold hairs on her shiny body. The queen has a sting but, unlike the aggressive workers, does not use it to fight hive intruders. Her sting is only used to fight rival queens. She does not go out to collect pollen, nectar, water or propolis, and therefore she has no collecting apparatus like pollen baskets, long proboscis for drawing nectar or wax glands to secrete wax to build comb cells. As a queen, she usually does not feed herself.
Immediately after she emerges, the queen tours the hive to see if there is any rival queen hiding somewhere. If she finds one, the two queens will fight until one is killed.
If the colony is not preparing to swarm, then the newly emerged queen seeks out potential queens hiding in comb cells. The queen pipes to make a special noise and the hidden capped queen responds. Immediately, the emerged queen locates the cell, tears it to pieces and kills the unemerged queen. Sometimes the workers watching as spectators will help the queen to evacuate the contents of every queen cell.
Five days after the queen emerges from her cell, she starts to fly out of the hive, making an orientation flight of about five minutes. Next she makes mating flights which last about 30 minutes. She flies to an area 6-10 m above the ground where drones have congregated. In other places, she is not attractive to the drones. During a successful mating flight, she is mated by about eight drones. If the flight is not successful, she makes another the next day. During the mating flight, the drone's semen is injected into her oviducts. Prom there, the spermatozoa enter into a special reservoir called the spermatheca. A well-inseminated queen carries about 5000000 spermatozoa stored in her spermatheca.
Sometimes nuptial flights can be delayed as the result of a long rainy season or pronounced bad weather. When a young queen bee has been unable to mate for about a month, she will start to lay unfertilized eggs in worker cells. From these eggs, only drones will develop. In this case, the colony will perish within a few weeks unless the beekeeper observes what is happening and reacts immediately by giving the colony a new queen (requeening) or by inserting a new brood comb with very young larvae and eggs, from which the colony will develop a new queen, after having killed the old unfertilized one.
Three days after her last mating flight, the queen starts to lay her eggs, which are produced in her ovaries. A good queen lays 1 500-2 000 eggs per day. She lives three to five years, but after two years she lays fewer eggs. When her spermatozoa become exhausted, the she also lays unfertilized eggs in worker cells, where drones now develop. Such a queen in called a dronelayer.
Each queen produces a queen substance, called a pheromone, by which many activities of a colony are controlled. In the absence of a queen or a pheromone, the workers transform some worker cells containing young larvae into queen cells and start to rear new queens.
When there are no larvae younger than three days in the colony, the bees have no way of rearing new queens. In this case, ovaries of some workers develop, and they start to lay eggs. However, as worker bees cannot be inseminated, they lay only unfertilized eggs. Such workers are called laying workers.
The drone is popularly known for exhibiting a high degree of laziness. His presence in the hive seems to be of little importance to the beekeeper. He is stout and larger than the worker. He has no suitable proboscis for gathering nectar and has no sting to defend himself or the colony. Like the queen, he possesses no baskets for collecting pollen grains and no glands to secrete wax for comb construction. He does no work in the hive but is fed, eating large quantities of food, and moves about in sunshine and on warm days making loud, frightening noises everywhere he goes. This is why he is considered useless, but he has a very important function to play, which only a few of his kind ever fulfil. This function is to inseminate the queen, and for this he is well prepared.
The compound eyes of the drone are twice as large as those of the queens and workers, and both eyes meet at the top of his head, which is not true of workers and queens. This enables him to see the queen during the mating flight. The drones also have the largest wings, which help them to reach the queen during the flight.
The spermatozoa are produced in the drone's testes during the pupal stage. After the drone emerges from the comb cell, the spermatozoa pass into seminal vesicles, where they remain until mating. During mating, they pass into the copulatory apparatus.
The colony begins to rear drones in late spring and early summer. They reach sexual maturity nine days after emerging, and fly out of the hive (mostly between 1 and 3 p.m.) searching for the queens over a distance of 8 km or more. Hating occurs in the open air, in the drones' congregation areas. During mating, the drone everts his copulatory apparatus, injecting the semen into the queen's oviducts and leaving part of the apparatus in the tip of the queen's abdomen. That part, visible in the queen returning from the mating flight, is called the mating sign. The drone dies during mating.
Toward the end of the nectar flow, when fresh nectar becomes scarce, the workers prevent the drones from feeding. At first they push the drones from the brood combs to the side combs and eventually drag them half-starved from the hive.
In unfavourable periods, drones are tolerated only in queenless colonies or those containing unmated queens. Thus the presence of drones in a colony during such periods shows that something is wrong with the queen and that action by the beekeeper is needed.
Workers are the smallest and most numerous of the bees, constituting over 98% of the colony's population. One colony, as has been seen, may have as many as 80 000 workers, but 50 000 is a more common maximum.
Although they never mate, the workers possess organs necessary for carrying out the many duties essential to the wellbeing of the colony. They have a longer tongue than the queen and drones, and thus are well fitted for sucking nectar from flowers. They have large honey stomachs to carry the nectar from the field to the hive; they have pollen baskets on their third pair of legs to transport the pollen to the hive. Glands in their head produce royal jelly as food for the larvae and glands in their thorax secrete enzymes necessary for ripening honey. Four sets of wax glands, situated inside the last four ventral segments of the abdomen, produce wax for comb construction. A well-developed sting permits them to defend the colony very efficiently.
The kind of work performed by the worker depends largely upon her age. The first three weeks of her adult life, during which she is referred to as a house bee, are devoted to activities within the hive, while the remainder are devoted to field work, so that she is called a field bee.
Duties of the house bee
The duties of a house bee are -
a) cleaning the hive and the combCleaning
b) feeding the brood
c) caring for the queen
d) making orientation flights
e) comb building
f) ventilating the hive
g) packing pollen, water, nectar or honey into the combs
i) guard duty
The first activity of the worker bee on reaching maturity is to clean herself. She removes all unnecessary particles, grooms herself immediately and then crawls out of her cell. She takes in food and then starts cleaning the brood cells, employing both tongue and mandibles. The comb cells are cleaned to receive eggs laid by the queen who, before laying, examines the comb cell to satisfy herself that it has been properly cleaned. If she finds a cell that is not properly cleaned, she quickly rejects it. Other duties which may occasionally be necessary include removing dead intruders or dead bees from the hive, and removing debris and other objectionable material. Anything that is too large to carry is often dragged along and pushed outside, while dead snakes, wax moths or other carcasses too heavy to transport are encased with propolis brought in by field bees.
Feeding the brood
After three to five days, the worker bee starts to feed the brood. At this stage she is called a nurse bee. At first she feeds larvae more than three days old with a mixture of honey or nectar, pollen, small quantities of bee milk and some water. After a few days, she starts to feed the younger larvae (1-3 days old) exclusively on bee milk, which she produces in brood-food glands, also called milk glands or hypopharyngeal glands, located in her head.
Caring for the queen
The next work undertaken by the young worker is to provide for the needs of the queen bee. Whenever the queen needs food, she calls for it by stretching out her proboscis towards the mandible or mouth of the nearest worker. The workers are always anxious to satisfy her needs and make a circle or semi-circle around her. The queen contacts the nearest worker, and if she does not get as much as she needs, she approaches the next. This continues until all her demands are met. It is also the duty of the nurse bees to bathe her with their tongues and mandibles and to carry away her faeces.
The orientation flight is not so much a house duty as an exercise for the young worker. She must learn how to fly, and she must know the vicinity, especially the location of the hive. She therefore first makes some short flights in front of the hive and in the immediate vicinity to acquaint herself with the environment, so that when in the near future she goes out to forage, she will be able to find her way back home.
Comb building provides the needed "rooms" in the hive, in the form of hexagonal cells, for two main purposes: storing food and rearing brood. Beeswax, the material for the construction of comb, is secreted by the worker's wax glands, which are best developed and productive when she is 12-18 days old. The wax, which emerges from the glands as a liquid, hardens quickly and appears in the form of oval flakes similar to small fish scales, protruding from between the last four overlapping abdominal segments on the under-side of the worker's body. As we have already seen, the bee must consume large amounts of food (honey and nectar) to produce these wax flakes.
Bees engaged in building combs usually hang themselves in festoons at or near the site of the building operation. There they hang quietly while their digestive organs transform the contents of their honey sacs into energy and beeswax. The wax is removed with the spines of the hind legs and is then manipulated with the mandibles to build the comb cells. Capping of comb cells is also the duty of comb builders.
Ventilating the hive
Temperature control is one of the important duties of the house bee. When the temperature is low, bees cluster to generate heat for themselves, but when it is high, some of them have to fan their wings to circulate air throughout the hive. The right temperature required is between 33° and 36°C, while the brood chamber requires a constant heat of 35°. Honey has to be cured in order to ripen, and this also requires the help of circulating air. According to Crane, 12 fanning bees positioned across a hive entrance 25 cm wide can produce an air flow amounting to 50-60 litres per minute. This fanning can go on day and night during the honey-flow season. The phenomenon is always at its peak in October in the high savannah and forest zones of Vest Africa.
Honey conversion and packing
It takes several bees to produce honey. No single honeybee completes the whole process. The forager brings a load of nectar to the hive and transfers it to a house bee, who proceeds to the empty or uncrowded part of the hive, where she rests and exposes the nectar to the air being fanned by the fanning bees. The air circulation helps reduce the moisture content of the nectar and thus aids sugar concentration. The house bee may load the nectar into the upper section of an empty cell or add it to the honey or nectar of a cell incompletely filled. The speed with which she manipulates the nectar depends on the intensity of the nectar flow. If nectar is abundant, the house bee may deposit her load quickly into a comb cell for later processing.
The time required for the nectar to mature into honey depends for the most part on its original moisture content. For example, if the sugar content is high, as in the nectar of Combretum paniculatum, which is usually over 65%, ripening takes about two hours. On the other hand, if palm wine (which bees enjoy very much) is sent into the hive, more time will be required, since its sugar content is as low as 4.5%. Matured honey usually has over 80% sugar concentration. Ripening time is also determined by the quantity of the nectar: combs completely filled with nectar, even if strongly ventilated, may take as much as 36 days to mature.
Packing water, pollen and propolis
Other essential commodities which are brought in by the foragers and need the attention of the house bee are water, pollen and propolis. Water is required for cooling the hive, especially during the harmattan season, when the atmosphere is very dry and temperatures are too warm for the bees' comfort. Water is mixed with honey and pollen and then fed to the older larvae, between 3-6 days old. Pollen is also packed to about three-quarters full in comb cells in the brood chamber, sometimes side by side with brood cells. Cells are never completely packed with pollen.
Propolis is a resinous material collected from trees. It is difficult to unload, because it is gummy in consistency, and the house bees have to help the foragers to unload. The carrier holds firmly onto the walls of the hive, and the house bee removes the sticky gum from the hairy corbicula or pollen basket. Sometimes it takes more than three days to off-load a forager. The propolis is either stored or used immediately for the purpose required: to block holes and cracks in the hive, to repair combs, to strengthen the thin edges of the comb, or to make the entrance of the hive watertight or easier to defend. As already mentioned, propolis is also used to cover objectionable material in the hive and to embalm dead intruders such as wax moths, snakes, etc., too large to be removed.
It is interesting to note that house bees are always eager to help unload the field bee that brings in material which the hive requires immediately. For example, when the weather is too warm and water is required to cool the hive, they will pay no attention to foragers bringing in nectar or propolis, who will have to wait until the heat situation is brought under control before they are offloaded.
Executions are a means of protecting the colony from hunger, disease and any catastrophic event. They may be performed to eliminate strange bees, to kill or drive away old and sick bees, to discourage other hive predators from entering the hive, to remove sick or unwanted unemerged brood, to eliminate useless drones, and to kill unwanted or strange queens.
Guard duty is the final activity of the house bee before she leaves the hive. By this time she has reached peak strength, is very energetic, and is best fit to defend the entrance of the hive, which is also the point of entry of the colony's enemies.
The guard bee has the duty of inspecting all incoming foragers by smelling their odour. When satisfied, the guard allows the incoming bee to enter unmolested with her load. In most ·cases, foragers with loads to discharge are not intercepted unless the hive is greatly disturbed. After staying at the entrance for a while, the guard may fly out on patrol for some time before returning to the entrance. The guard bee is also responsible for watching any crack through which a robber bee or any other intruder might enter the hive. In an alerted hive, guard bees stand on four legs, their forelegs lifted and they antennae held straight, searching here and there. Any intruder, robber or other enemy first receives a frightening audible warning, followed by a sting; if he persists, the application of the alarm pheromone on the spot where the bee stings quickly summons more defenders. The scent helps other attackers to find the target and follow without delay.
It has been observed that during the brood-rearing season, more guards are stationed at the hive entrance than during the peak of the honey flow.
The field bees
Activities involving flight may start from the third day after emergence from the brood cell, but the young worker begins her actual foraging activity later. Between the 18th and the 21st day, her hypopharyngeal and wax glands have become too weak to function, so that she cannot produce royal jelly to feed the queen and the young larvae, nor wax to build comb cells. But by this time she is in perfect condition to fly and knows the geography of the locality. She therefore starts field work, fetching nectar, pollen, propolis or water, but always concentrating her activity on the immediate needs of the colony.
Observations conducted in several places in Ghana showed that foragers begin to be active as early as 5:15 a.m. and that by 6:30 p.m. almost all have returned to the hive. In the latter part of July, August and September, most foragers brought pollen. By 5:20 a.m. the first consignment of pollen had arrived. More heavy loads of pollen continued to come, and traffic at the entrance was heavy until 7:30 a.m. This phenomenon was repeated between 10:00 and 11:30 a.m., when the sunshine was intense.
Nectar, the sweet liquid secreted by plant nectaries, is collected by foragers, taken to the hive and turned over to the house bees for processing. The forager then returns to the flowers and collects more. The number of trips she makes in a day cannot be assessed precisely. It may vary from time to time for a number of reasons: the availability and accessibility of the nectar source, the quantity of nectar present, and the nectar requirement of the colony for the day.
Sight and smell enable the bee to locate sources. She lands on the part of the plant that will support her and dips her stretched proboscis into the corolla of the flower. If there is nectar, she sucks it into her honey stomach. If there is none, she wastes no time before moving to the next flower. Some flowers have more nectar than others. Sometimes the bee can load enough by visiting one, two or three, but in plants with tiny flowers she can only get a full load by visiting hundreds. A fully loaded bee can carry 85% of her own weight.
The time taken to complete a trip varies, but can reach 2 hours. In the savannah, foragers visit certain plants at specific times of the day. The dawadawa plant (Parkia clappertoniana), for example, produces large quantities of nectar and sweet Juice which flows on parts of the stem and branches, but the dry harmattan drains the moisture in the liquid, and the juice becomes so sticky that the bee cannot load it easily. Probably for this reason, bees visit the plant as early as 5:15 a.m. and as late as 6:15 p.m. On each occasion, only one trip is made. By 6:30 p.m., no bees can be found on the tree.
Bees consider water-carrying as one of their most important duties. They execute it regardless of what may be involved. If they need Water for the hive, they will resort to drastic methods to acquire it. In water-scarce areas, desperate bees sometimes attack farmers for their sweat, and clothes cannot be washed outdoors in the daytime for fear of molestation by desperate bees searching for water. Thirsty bees visit kitchens, bathrooms, toilets and all obscure humid places. They will land on any moist area, dip their proboscis and suck in water. Loading of water takes only a few seconds. The bee carries it to the hive and returns in a few minutes to reload if water is still present.
The scout bee
Foragers can take on scout duties as well. The scout bee locates food sources and passes on the information to other bees by a series of dance-like movements. She circles around and around, stamping her legs and wagging her abdomen; sometimes she stretches her proboscis, possibly to show the type of food she has found. The onlooking workers watch her dance, interpret it and act accordingly. It is believed that different dances show different types of information to be passed on.
Another most important duty of the scout bee in a new swarm is to search for a suitable accommodation, while the rest of the swarm waits on a tree branch or in a small enclosure. On finding a suitable hollow or hive, she returns to the swarm and performs a characteristic dance to inform them about the find. When two or more bees make different finds, each scout dances especially vigourously in an attempt to win the support of the swarm.
All worker or foraging bees are thieves. They claim anything they like as their own property. They snatch honey away from honey harvesters from other swarms during the daytime, especially when the weather is sunny and bright. In the rich savannah bee-zones where water is scarce, bees easily steal water from villagers. Robber bees visit other colonies' hives and try to take honey in order to store it in their own hive. The problem of hive robbing is not as serious in tropical Africa as in America and elsewhere. Only very weak colonies are sometimes robbed; usually it is abandoned hives that other colonies invade to take advantage of the honey stored in the comb cells.
It is strange that bees often fail to take advantage of water or any sweet juice located close to the hive, but when it is placed further away (about 20 metres or more) they take it. This shows that the beekeeper should always watch his hives to avoid leakages of honey, for the leak will not be recovered by his own bees but by other bees from elsewhere, thus encouraging robbing.
The annual biological cycle op the bee colony
1) The colony in the period before the honey season
A period occurs in the tropics as well as in the temperate zones during which environmental conditions are unfavourable for the bees, and as a result the activity of the colony diminishes.
In temperate zones, the winter temperature falls so low that the worker bees cannot fly out of the hive. The queen stops laying, so that the bees do not rear brood in winter at all.
In tropical zones, unfavourable conditions for honeybees may occur in different periods and may be caused by different factors:
a) In some areas, the temperature falls so low that the activity of the colony is reduced. Few or no plants are flowering. Only a few bees fly out of the hives, and as a result, very little, if any, nectar is collected.In all these circumstances, temperatures are higher than during temperate-zone winters, and the bee colony's activity never completely stops. The queen generally does not stop laying as long as stores are available within the hive, although the amount of brood present reflects a much slower rhythm of laying. Thus, bees in unfavourable environmental conditions in the tropics require more food than bees during temperate-zone winters.
b) In other areas, drought occurs, and the number of flowers, and therefore the amount of nectar available, is reduced considerably.
c) Still elsewhere, the rainy season sets in and the bees cannot collect nectar.
When the colony's stores are exhausted, the bees stop rearing brood and start to eat it. The population of the colony diminishes, and the colony may die or migrate in search of better living conditions. Migration is very common in African A. mellifera as well as in the Asiatic bees A. cerana and A. dorsata; European A. mellifera very often do not migrate but die off.
In any case, the population of a bee colony at the end of the unfavourable period is very much reduced.
2) The colony during the development period
When more plants start to bloom, the unfavourable period is over. The bees can collect more nectar and pollen, and the young workers eating more pollen, can produce more bee milk. As a result, the queen can lay more eggs, and the nurse bees can feed and rear more brood. During the unfavourable period, sometimes only 100 cm2 of brood, or even less, is present in one comb, but now the amount of brood increases gradually to cover 10 or 12 entire combs, and sometimes even more. The number of comb cells occupied by brood may reach 30 000.
As the availability of pollen and nectar increases, the population of the colony thus increases with it. But when, at the same time, the honey flow is not heavy, some disorder occurs.
Each nurse bee can secrete more bee milk than one larva can eat, and when 2 000 workers emerge per day, they are able to feed 4 000 larvae. but the queen can only lay 2 000 eggs per day at best. Thus there is over-production of bee milk in the hive, and some nurse bees have no larvae to feed.
Since drone larvae consume four times as much bee milk as the worker larvae, the bees probably now rear drone brood. Nevertheless, some workers cannot pass through the stage of nurse bees. They start to eat the bee milk themselves and to feed other adult bees on it. Their ovaries develop. The colony is now crowded with such bees, and they will provoke swarming of the bee colony.
Under these conditions, the workers start to build several queen cells, or "cups", in which the queen lays her eggs over several days; when the larvae hatch, the nurse bees supply them with large quantities of royal jelly, neglecting to feed the queen with it. As a result, the ovaries of the queen shrink and she is now able to fly.
The bees swarm the day after the first queen cell is sealed; about half of the population leaves the hive together with the old queen. The swarm clusters, usually on a limb of a tree, before it decides to fly to a new home found by the scouts.
The original parent colony is now queenless. The new queen will emerge from the queen cell 16 days after the egg was laid, or seven days after the swarm left the hive. When the environmental conditions are good, the bees protect the rest of the queen cells so that they will not be destroyed. Thus, two days later (nine days after the first swarm left the hive), a second swarm leaves, but it now has a virgin queen. The next day, a third swarm may leave, and the next a fourth one. When conditions are poor or the population has decreased considerably, the bees will accept the first young queen which emerges but will destroy all the other queen cells with pupae inside them.
After the swarm finds a new home, the workers start to build combs for a new nest. Virgin queens from the swarms and from the parent colony will mate in the near future, and after a few days will start to lay eggs.
Factors provoking and limiting swarming
Certain factors stimulate, and others retard, the swarming of bees. Swarming will be encouraged when the hive is small, for the queen will be restricted earlier in her egg laying, and disorder caused by the problem of having to feed large numbers of larvae will occur sooner. The same holds true when the queen is old and lays fewer eggs. When the hive is located in the sun, many workers cannot work inside it and have to cluster outside. This also provokes swarming. All the opposite factors limit it. Thus, it is limited when there is ample space in the hive, when the queen is young, when the hive is placed in the shade, and when young bees are supplied with comb foundation (see p. 40). Swarming is also controlled by a heavy honey flow.
3) The colony during the main honey flow
During the main honey flow, scout workers inform the bees of the colony, by means of energetic dances, about the rich nectar sources they have found. Many young workers start to collect large amounts of nectar earlier (at the age of 14 days) than usual (21 days). The other hive bees are fully occupied with evaporation, ripening honey and sealing combs. Consequently, the swarming tendency disappears completely.
At that time, the bees require many empty comb cells to store the nectar they collect. The nectar contains 80% of water and only 20% of sugar. Later it will be transformed into honey, which contains 80% of sugar and only 20% of water. This is why more empty cells must be available in the hive during the main honey flow than are necessary for storing honey. Normally, about 50% of the water from nectar collected during the day is evaporated during the night. During evaporation, the bees also add enzymes which are necessary to mature the honey. The honey is stored in comb cells above the brood and in combs near the walls of the hive. When the honey is ripe and the cells are filled up, the bees seal (cap) them with wax cappings. Such combs are ready to be harvested by the beekeeper.
When the heavy honey flow ends but a lighter flow of nectar and pollen continues, a second swarming period may occur, because the numerous workers which continue to emerge are underworked.
4) The colony during the period after the honey flow
After the main honey-flow season ends, the nectar sources diminish and later stop completely. This causes the queen to lay fewer eggs; eventually she may stop completely. The old worker bees die off and the population of the colony decreases.
The scarcity of nectar and pollen induces the worker bees to dismiss all the drones, which remain only in queenless colonies, in those with laying workers or in those with an unfertilized queen. The presence of drones in colonies during the unfavourable season is a sure sign to the beekeeper that something is wrong with the queen.
Lack of nectar in flowers causes the bees to start searching for honey in other bee colonies. When the hives have fissures or when the colonies are weak, bees from other colonies will rob the honey from them and kill many workers. Therefore, the guard bees carefully protect hive entrances and attack any approaching foreign bee or any creature moving near the hive.
During this period, the bees also arrange proper placement of honey stores. The honey is located in the upper part of the hive, on both sides and to the rear. Space near the entrance is reserved for the brood, and when no brood is present, this area remains empty. Sufficient stores in the colony during the unfavourable period are essential for the survival of the colony. When the stores are exhausted, the colony will die or migrate in search of better environmental conditions. In some areas, massive migration of bee colonies can be observed. However, this phenomenon should be distinguished from swarming. Swarming occurs in favourable development conditions: the colonies divide; one part leaves the nest, but the other part of the colony remains together with brood and stores. Migration occurs in unfavourable conditions: the whole colony leaves the nest, which contains mostly empty combs.
Fig. 3. External structure of a worker bee, as seen when the hairy covering is removed. Ab, abdomen; Ant, antenna; E, compound eye; K, head; L1, L2, L3, legs; Md, mandible; 0, ocelli; Prb, proboscis; Stn, sting; Th, thorax; W1, W2, wings. (Courtesy Dadant and Sons.)
Chapter 3 Anatomy of the honeybee
The honeybee has been described as the most useful of all insects known to man, because it provides man, as well as other forms of life, with basic services vital to their survival. This the insect has been able to do because nature has endowed it with the special organs which enable it to live a peculiar way of life. To understand the creature, a closer study must be made of its anatomical structure which enables it, and it alone, to perform such functions as gathering and ripening nectar, collecting pollen and propolis, producing wax, etc., and incidentally fertilizing flowering plants.
Like all insects, the honeybee has three main parts: head, thorax and abdomen.
1. THE HEAD
Triangular in shape, the head has five eyes, a pair of antennae, and mouth parts consisting, among other organs, of two mandibles, the proboscis, etc.
a) The eyes: The seeing apparatus of the bee consists of a pair of compound eyes and three small simple eyes, called the ocelli. The compound eyes are composed of several thousands of simple light-sensitive cells, called ommatidia, which enable the bee to distinguish light and colour and to detect directional information from the sun's ultraviolet rays. The eyes of the drone are larger by far than those of the worker or the queen bee, occupying a large proportion of the total volume of the head. They assist him to locate the queen as he pursues her during the mating flight.2. THE THORAX
b) The antennae are a pair of sensitive receptors whose base is situated in the small socket-like membraneous areas of the head wall. They move freely in every direction. The antennae's functions are to feel or touch and to smell, and thus to guide the bee outside and inside the hive, to differentiate floral and pheromone odours, and to locate hive intruders.
c) The mandibles are a pair of jaws suspended from the head and parts of the bee's mouth. The insect uses them to chew wood when redesigning the hive entrance, to chew pollen and to work wax for comb-building. They also permit any activity requiring a pair of grasping instruments.
d) The proboscis: Unlike the proboscis of all other sucking insects, that of the honeybee is not a permanent functional organ; it is improvised temporarily by assembling parts of the maxillae and the labium to produce a unique tube for drawing up liquids such as sweet juices, nectar, water and honey. The insect releases it when needed for use, then withdraws and folds it back beneath the head when it is not needed.
The armour-plated mid-section of an insect, the thorax, supports two pairs of wings and three pairs of legs, and carries the locomotor, or "engine", and the muscles that control the movement of the head, the abdomen and the wings.
a) The legs: Each pair of legs differs in size and shape from the other two pairs and is Jointed into six segments, with a pair of claws at the tip which help the insect to cling to surfaces. The leg can be flexed at any of the six joints. Its primary function is to help the bee to walk and run, but various parts also serve special purposes other than locomotion. For example, the brushes on the inner surface of the fifth segment, (the tarsus) of the two front legs are used for sweeping pollen and other particles from the head, eyes and mouth parts. The same tarsi of the mid-legs serve as brushes for cleaning the thorax, while the spines found at the end of the fourth sections (tibiae) are used for removing the pellets of pollen and for cleaning the wings. Two important parts to note on the legs are the antenna cleaners on the front legs and the pollen baskets on the hind legs.3. THE ABDOMEN
i) The antenna cleaner, located on the inner margin of the tibia of the forelegs, consists of a deeply-cut semi-circular notch, equipped with a comb-like row of small spines. All three castes - drone, queen, worker -- have this cleaning apparatus.b) The wings of the honeybee, like those of most insects, are thin, flat and two-layered. The front pair is much longer than the rear. The worker's wings are used both for flight and for ventilating the hive, while the drone and the queen use theirs for flight only.
ii) Pollen baskets: The tibiae of the hind legs of the worker bee carry a special apparatus, called the corbiculae, or pollen baskets, which enables her to carry pollen into the hive. These pollen baskets, concave in shape, are surrounded with several long hairs which bind the contents into an almost solid mass, allowing the worker to carry the load safely home.
Like the thorax, the abdomen is armour-plated. It contains such vital parts as the heart, the honey sac, the stomach, the intestines, the reproductive organ, and the sting. As seen from the outside, only six segments can be observed, but the adult honeybee has nine, while the larva has ten.
4. INTERNAL ORGANS
The interest of the beekeeper is usually focused on those parts of the bee which make it capable of producing honey and wax and performing other duties necessary for its survival. Among these are the hypopharyngeal gland, the wax gland, the scent or pheromone glands, the queen's pheromone glands, and the sting with the passion gland.
a) The hypopharyngeal gland is located in the head of the worker bee, in front of the brain. It starts to mature three days after the bee's emergence, and develops only when the insect secretes royal jelly to feed the young larvae and the queen.
b) The wax gland, located in the lower part of the young worker's abdomen, releases wax between a series of four overlapping plates, called sterna, below the abdomen. The worker begins to secrete wax 12 days after emerging; six days later, the gland degenerates and the worker stops comb-building.
c) Scent glands: The worker bee produces three main scents. The gland beneath the sting produces a special pheromone consisting mainly of isopental acetate, which it sprays around the spot of the sting. The odour stimulates other workers to pursue and sting the victim. A second alarm pheromone, released by glands at the base of the mandibles, has the same function. A third gland, located near the rear of the abdomen, produces a pheromone which, when released by scout bees, attracts swarms of other bees to move toward them.
d) Queen's pheromone glands: In the queen bee's mandibles are located special glands which produce and release pheromones called the queen substances, which enable her to identify members of the colony, to inhibit ovary development in worker bees, to prevent the workers from building queen cells, to help a swarm or colony to move as a cohesive unit, and to attract drones during mating flights. The absence of the queen substance (e.g. when the queen dies) produces opposite responses, i.e. worker bees begin to develop ovaries and to build queen cells, and a swarm searching for accommodation will not cluster but will divide into smaller groups that cannot support the normal life of a bee colony.
e) The sting of the worker bee is designed to perforate the skin of her enemies and to pump poison into the wound. It has about ten barbs, so that when it is thrust into flesh, the bee cannot pull it back again. It breaks off with the poison sac always attached to it, enabling more poison to penetrate for as long as it remains in the flesh. The bee's sting is lodged in a special sheath and is released only when the need arises. The sting of the queen bee is longer than that of the worker. It is used only to fight and kill rival queens in the hive. The drone has no sting and is totally defenceless.
Chapter 4 Traditional and modern beehives and beekeeping equipment
Honeybees that nest in the open produce far less honey than those confined in enclosures. There are good reasons for this. Colonies in the open are exposed to predators (see pp. 105-110) and therefore have to employ numerous workers as guards to fight intruders. They have to consume large quantities of honey, which they use as fuel, to enable them to cluster to stop the wind which cools down their combs and to generate enough heat to maintain the proper temperature for brood development. During severely hot days, more bees have to use honey as fuel to enable them to fan and cool melting combs to avoid disaster. This temperature control can only be quite inefficient, because of the colony's exposed condition. The exposed colony therefore has to keep larger numbers of house bees, and will thus have fewer foraging bees available to bring in the needed nectar and other essentials from the field.
It has been seen that the bees' primary natural ranges are in the savannah and semi-arid lands, where temperature variations are extreme. Often the few nesting enclosures available to the bees are in ant-hills and rocks from which honeycombs cannot be easily harvested. Large trees are scarce; few have hollows large enough to house a colony. With the increased interest in beekeeping and the growing demand for bee products and services, bees can no longer be maintained in their few natural dwelling places, but must be provided with special artificial hollows in the form of beehives.
Beekeeping is not new in Africa. It has been practiced from time immemorial, especially in the Sahel regions. In these large areas, wooden boards or timber are scarce, and therefore grass and mud have played major roles in providing material for beehive construction.
The grass hive
Dry grasses are woven together in a basket or cylindrical form, usually with entry points at both ends. The hive is installed high in tree-tops to avoid termites. Some beekeepers lower it carefully at harvest time, while others drop it carelessly by cutting the suspension rope. Owing to the weakness of the material, such hives' usefulness is usually less than one year, and they are used for seasonal beekeeping only.
The gourd hive
The gourd provides a natural hollow for bees, but most gourds are too small for an average bee colony, so that their use often induces swarming. There are two types of gourds. One is more or less pot-shaped, while the other has a long neck attached to the "pot" section. Both are installed by a suspension cord or by resting the mouth on a wooden peg.
Most gourd hives have to be broken into pieces before honey and brood combs can be removed. In the savannah areas, some tribes eat both honey and brood, and do not care to wait until there is a maximum of honey to harvest.
The log hive
Two main types of log hive are known. In some isolated areas of the Vest African coasts (e.g. Ghana and Guinea-Bissau), the ciba or palmyra palm (Borassus flabellifer) produces natural hollows for interested beekeepers to use as hives. When the plant dies, the beekeeper waits for termites to consume the soft inner pith. The tree is then felled and cut into pieces and the ends are sealed with woven grass, a few small holes being left at the ends to provide entry and exit for the bees.
For the second type, found in East Africa (e.g. Kenya and Tanzania), a tree is felled and cut into cylindrical logs which are carefully scooped out to form hollows. They are then sealed, leaving some small holes for exit and entry. In Tanzania, the hive is split into halves, which the beekeeper attaches together before baiting and installation. At harvest time, the hive is split open and the honeycombs removed. The halves are then rejoined for the bees to start the next honey crop.
The East African log hive, while simple in construction, is however expensive and inefficient. Several cheap and more productive hives could have been made with wooden planks from the same tree if only it had not been crudely shaped into log sections first.
The barrel hive
Metal and wooden barrels are sometimes employed as beehives in some places in West Africa. In Guinea-Bissau, for instance, barrels containing pigs'-feet or wine, imported by the Portuguese, were adapted for use as hives. Some of these old barrels are deteriorating, however, and no new ones are available to replace them.
The clay-pot hive
The cheapest and most durable of all the traditional hives is the clay pot, very popular especially in the northern savannah of West Africa. The pot is similar to the type generally used to carry water or other liquids, modified to provide a wider mouth and a small mid-section hole for both exit and entry.
The pots, usually made by the elderly women, are bisque-fired, and the inner part is smoked as part of the baiting. They are then baited with cow dung or other waste and installed on the ground or on pegs in trees. In some areas, the pots are turned upside down directly on the ground, for beekeepers find that when they are installed on a flat plate or wood, bees glue the plate firmly to the hive with propolis, making harvesting tedious. This method of installation, however, has a serious drawback: frequent ant invasions force some bee colonies to abscond.
Traditional beekeeping utilizes cheap and plentiful local materials for hive construction, some of which would otherwise be wasted, e.g. the ciba palm. But such simple beehives cannot be easily manipulated because bees fix combs to the hive body. Combs cannot be inspected at all, and detached combs cannot be easily replaced. To counter this problem, traditional beekeepers should adopt the top-bar system as a simple, modern way to convert traditional hives into movable-comb hives.
The design of all modern beehives is based on the discovery, by the father of modern beekeeping, Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, that when bees build their combs they always leave exactly the same amount of space (the bee space) between them (see pp. 39-40). On the basis of this finding, Langstroth invented a hive with frames separated by this bee space, in which the bees could build their comb. The frames are so arranged that they can be removed individually without disturbing other combs and without crushing bees, and the sides and bottom of the frame provide very good support for the comb.
Langstroth also found that several communicating hive boxes can be stacked one above another, and that the queen can be confined to the lowest, or brood, chamber, by means of a queen excluder. In this way, the upper chambers (called supers) can be reached only by the workers, and therefore contain only honey-comb. This made hive inspection and many other management practices possible, and turned the art of beekeeping into a full-scale industry. Almost all commercial hives in use today operate on the Langstroth pattern, although they may contain from 10 to 13 frames.
Other bee enthusiasts have given their names to similar hives that are essentially modifications of the original Langstroth, and these frame hives are in general use throughout Europe, North America, Australia, and parts of South America and Asia, as well as in some northern and southern African countries. For technical and economic reasons set out on pp. 44-45, however, most African countries, mainly in the tropics, are not yet in a position to use frame hives, and for them the top-bar hive represents a satisfactory compromise, although it is admittedly less efficient and perhaps somewhat more difficult to use, especially for beginning beekeepers.
The top-bar hive
In the top-bar hive, the Langstroth frame is replaced by a simple modification of the top bar of the Langstroth frame, and the bees build their combs hanging down from the centre of the bar. Since the combs are not supported on all four sides as they are in the Langstroth frame, they can break more easily, but because they are fixed only to the top-bars and not to the hive body, it is still possible -- with care -- to remove and replace them at any time for inspection or other management practices.
While boxes built especially to receive top-bars give the best results, clay pots, barrels and most containers used by traditional beekeepers can easily be fitted with top-bars: the important thing is to maintain the proper, equal distance between the combs.
Cut any piece of wood to fit the size of the container's opening. The width of the wood must be exactly 32 millimetres (3.2 centimetres or 11/4 inches). This is a crucial measurement. The tropical honeybee builds a comb which has a thickness of 25 millimetres. This comb is usually attached to the centre of the top-bar. A space of 3.5 millimetres is thus left at either side of the comb. When two or more top-bars fixed with combs are placed side by side, the inner space becomes 7 mm (i.e. 3.5 mm plus 3.5 mm). This space, vital to the bees, is usually referred to as the "bee space". These bee spaces are also found between the combs and the hive body. They serve the bees as paths in which they can move freely.
Fig. 4. Beehives, top-bars and frame. (Courtesy Intermediate Technology Publications, Inc.)
Currently, three types of top-bars are in use. Their names refer to their shape. These are the V-shape or ridge, the groove and the pointed starter.
The V-shaped top-bar (see Fig. 4 (i) c)
This is usually the first to be used by the beginning beekeeper who has no beeswax or comb foundation to serve as a guide for the bees. It is easy to be built by any local carpenter with simple, basic tools. The bees are naturally guided to follow the top-bar's ridge, fixing their comb along the line. The problem with this type of hive is that new honeycombs can easily break away from the bar. Therefore, the beekeeper is warned to handle top-bars with combs carefully. However, given enough time, the bees will reinforce the combs, fixing them firmly to the bars.
The groove top-bar (see Fig. 4 (iv))
This type can be built more quickly than the V-shape, but its manufacture requires the use of electrically powered machines to cut the groove in the centre of the bar. The beekeeper fixes strips of wax about 6 mm thick into the groove to form a guide for the bees. They will then glue this wax foundation firmly into the groove and begin to build their combs along it.
The pointed starter (see Fig. 4 (v))
Like the groove top-bar, the pointed starter cannot be produced cheaply and easily by a village carpenter. Electric machine tools are required for production. This type of top-bar does not require any foundation as does the groove; however, wax can be rubbed along the edge to show the bees where to fix the comb. The bees find this with ease, and the combs built are always firmly attached. Care must be taken by the carpenter to place the pointed edge at the centre of the top-bar.
The Kenyan top-bar hive (K.T.B.H.) was developed by Professor G.F. Townsend and his team of Kenyan bee students at Fuelph University, Canada, for use in East Africa. It is an ideal accommodation for the aggressive tropical bee, and therefore it is highly recommended for use by beginners. The hive is illustrated in Fig. 5 below and its dimensions and technical drawings are shown in Fig. 6.
Fig. 6. Kenyan top-bar hive (K.T.B.H. ) - Specifications
The rectangular hive can be fitted either with top-bars or frames or both at the same time. A rectangular hive built according to Kenyan top-bar hive specifications can utilize the standard top bars; however, if the hive's width is modified, then the top-bar length must reflect this change.
The Tanzanian transitional long hive (see Fig 6 (iii)) is a single-box rectangular hive that uses frames (see Pig. 6 (vi)) instead of top-bars. Usually it contains 27 to 33 frames. All the frames are patterned after the Langstroth type, but the dimensions differ to suit the tropical African bee.
Advantages and disadvantages of frame and top-bar hives
Advantages of the frame hive
a) The comb is fixed firmly to the four sides of the frame. This facilitates easy harvesting, and the beekeeper has little fear of damaging the comb.Disadvantages of the frame hive in tropical Africa
b) The strength of the built-in comb also allows easy transportation, even over bad roads. It also affords easy control of a colony of bees without fear of breakage before the arrival at the new destination.
c) Honey is extracted by means of the centrifugal honey extractor, which makes it possible to remove the honey without damaging the comb. Empty combs are returned to the hive for the bees to refill with new honey, thus saving the insects from wasting time and energy to construct a replacement comb. Honey harvests are maximized, as the beekeeper can obtain several honey crops within the year. In Canada, for instance, a frame hive with a strong colony of bees may produce over 200 kg of honey per year. Thus, it is ideal for a serious large-scale honey production programme.
d) During hive manipulations, very few bees are crushed between frames, whereas dozens of bees can easily be killed by careless handling of top-bars.
e) The hive is so designed (with queen excluder and supers) that the queen and brood are confined to the lower chamber. Supers contain only honey, and the lower brood chamber is undisturbed when honey is harvested.
f) Stealing a double- or triple-storey hive with a colony is a difficult feat for a thief. The Kenyan top-bar hive, on the contrary, can be carried away easily.
g) A swarm of bees can be hived with ease. Bees can easily pass through the numerous spaces between the frame and at the top of the hive.
h) Hive boxes can be stacked easily. This makes it easy to expand and contract the hive to meet the needs of the bee colony.
i) Drugs can be applied with ease through the openings.
a) A frame hive with two supers costs three times as much as a Kenyan 27-top-bar hive.In the light of these serious problems, it is advisable for the beginner to start with the simplest type of movable-comb hive, which is, of course, the top-bar hive.
b) A high degree of craftsmanship is required to build the hive. Frame dimensions must be precise. Local village carpenters are not usually skilled enough for the job, and suitable tools for large-scale production of frame parts may not be available. Even if they are, it is never certain that the craftsmen have the patience to construct the hive correctly. Hives ordered for use in Ghana by the Technology Consultancy Centre failed to achieve the desired goals due to lack of precision in construction.
c) Wood for frame construction must be seasoned for at least a year. Very few carpenters or entrepreneurs can tie up their capital in this way.
d) The need to keep a stock of frames to replace those removed during the honey harvest creates an additional cost.
e) The need to import centrifugal honey extractors, decapping-knives, trays and other sophisticated equipment cannot be ruled out. In many countries, currency to order these from abroad cannot be obtained easily by local beekeepers.
f) If frames are unguided, honeybees find it difficult to start the combs correctly on the frame. The beekeeper has to install a wired comb foundation which is not available. The only foundations that can be ordered from abroad cannot be successfully used by the tropical honeybee, because the African bee is smaller than the European bee, and the cell size on imported foundation is too large for African bees.
g) A hive with supers is heavy and difficult to carry as a head-load; therefore, a vehicle may be required to move colonies if the need arises.
h) Because the frames do not fit together as the top-bars do, it is very difficult for the beekeeper to control the numerous bees which pass through the spaces between the frames and the top of the hive. This problem is very serious with the transitional long hive, which has as many as 30 frames arranged in a single-storey rectangular box. Such a beehive needs a special large smoker, and even such a smoker may not be able to produce enough smoke to "cool" the aggressive bees. The new beekeeper, upon seeing hordes of bees escaping, may run away, leaving the hive uncovered.
Advantages of the top-bar hive
a) This hive is cheaper and easier to produce than a frame hive. Any semi-skilled carpenter can make it. Only a few simple carpentry tools are required.In general, the top-bar hive is significantly cheaper and easier to use than hives with frames. The following disadvantages, however, cannot be overlooked.
b) There is little or no need to import anything. All materials required can be obtained locally.
c) The hive can be opened easily and quickly. There is little or no need to employ a hive tool. Top-bars can be constructed to overlap the sides of the hive body slightly, and this makes it possible to use the thumb to pry up the top-bar.
d) Top-bars occupied by combs can easily be detected, so that the hive is opened from the empty side. This avoids crushing the bees between the top-bars when lifting the first comb.
e) Bees in the top-bar hive can easily be controlled when harvesting or inspecting the combs. The smoker puffs smoke through the opening created by the removal of one top-bar. Few bees can attack, since the beekeeper drives them away with smoke. When the top cover is removed from the transitional long hive, all the frames' 7-mm spaces are exposed, which permits numerous attackers to fly out and attack the beekeeper.
f) The top-bar hive is lighter to carry, even when the colony is inside.
g) More beeswax can be produced. Sales of beeswax increase the beekeeper's earnings and solve a great national problem. Beeswax is a multi-purpose industrial raw material required by factories and craftsmen.
h) There is no need to employ a queen excluder, which at the moment is not available. In practice, the bees keep their brood chamber separate from the honeycombs. Clean honey can be taken away, leaving brood combs undisturbed.
i) Honey production can be high. A well-managed hive with a good strong colony can produce between 50 and 120 kg of honey annually.
j) Honeycombs adulterated with pollen can be of high value. Pollen is a nutritious food supplement; the only way the nutrition is passed on is through honey harvested from such combs.
k) Only a few extra top-bars need be held in stock to replace worn-out or damaged bars.
Disadvantages of the top-bar hive
a) A newly-constructed comb and all combs filled with honey must be handled with the utmost care. It is not advisable to move a top-bar hive, occupied by bees and combs, on lorries along bad roads full of potholes.The hive entrance
b) Honey can only be extracted by destroying honeycombs, either by using the solar wax melter to dissolve the comb cells or by crushing them and squeezing out the honey. Bees have to build up new ones in their place, and this involves time, material and resources of the honeybees.
c) Bees are often crushed between top-bars as the beekeeper rearranges the bars after removing them from the hive body. This problem can be serious when colonies are manipulated at night. When bees are crushed in this way, it is difficult to fix the last top-bar into place. Crushing bees is usually not a serious problem with frame hives.
d) A top-bar hive is relatively easy to steal, as it is light and compactly designed. It is more difficult to steal hives and supers arranged one above the other.
The tropical honeybee colony seems to attach great importance to the design of the hive entrance. After colonizing a hive, the workers select among themselves suitable "masons" which use propolis to re-shape the entrance to conform with their own taste. They rebuild it, taking into consideration strategies to deal with their enemies. They close up the entrance if it is too large, leaving a space not more than 7 mm high. This prevents birds, reptiles and larger insects such as beetles and butterflies from entering. If the entrance gap is less than what the bees require (due to an increase in population and foraging activity), they will widen it by chewing the wood or removing propolis. The re-shaping of the entrance helps to protect a weak colony. It also helps to prevent water from entering from the outside platform even if the hive is tilted upward.
The landing board
The tropical honeybee seems to be satisfied without a landing platform, but one must be provided because some heavily-loaded foragers sometimes fall on their back when landing. If a lizard or a toad is close by, such a forager will be swallowed in no time.
The swarm-catcher is a small beehive, usually containing only five or six top-bars or frames. Thanks to its small size, it can be carried high up in a tree. The beekeeper then visits it frequently to find whether the box has attracted a swarm. If it has, the box is lowered or carried down and the bees, together with their combs, are transferred carefully into the beehive, which is four to six times the size of the catcher box. The top-bar or frame of a swarm-catcher should have the same dimensions as that of the beehive to facilitate easy transfer of bees and combs from one to the other. The shape of the catcher box for Kenyan top-bar hives should not be different from that of the beehive. If it is, new combs built by the new swarm cannot be easily transferred into the main hive unless the beekeeper reshapes them to conform with the shape of the hive.
The queen cage is a small container designed to hold and carry the queen and a few "attendants", usually between six and ten worker bees. This is important only when the queen is being transported from one place to another. In the absence of a neatly-designed queen cage, a match-box can be used. It is important to perforate the box with tiny holes to give the bee the needed ventilation. This is done by simply heating a metallic rod and drilling it into the light wooden cover of the matchbox.
Timber used for making beehives
The beekeeper should consult forestry authorities and wood craftsmen for advice on the best locally-available timber to use for beehive production. The wood must be termite-proof, resistant to the rotting effect of the sun and rain, warp-proof, and non-bee repellent.
The wood of three tree species, all found in the tropical evergreen rain and deciduous forests, manifest these desirable qualities: Terminalia ivorensis, Chorophora excelsa and Piptadeniastrum africanum.
The common name of Terminalia ivorensis is "émiré". It is a hard wood yet light in weight. It is used for fencing, building and as roofing beams. Termites find the wood sour-tasting, yet the flower provides the honeybee with sweet nectar. The wood is sawn into boards of various sizes: in Ghana, up to 65 centimetres wide and 6.5 metres long. Most beehives produced in that country are made of this timber, but the wax-moth larvae found in it can seriously damage both the hive body and the top-bars. Before the larvae turn into pupae, they eat away the wood to form shells which protect them during the pupal period. The beekeeper must be alert and quickly remove all combs from the hive if the bees abscond.
Chorophora excelsa ("odum"), a most popular wood in Ghana's forests, is often used by wood-workers to manufacture furniture and for general building purposes. It is hard, heavy and expensive. A well-constructed beehive of this wood has a life span of not less than 40 years. At the Technology Consultancy Centre in Ghana, it became necessary to use this wood for hive production when the wax-moth larvae problem was detected in émiré. The larvae can do no appreciable damage to odum. In fact, top-bars should only be constructed from hard wood; Chorophora excelsa is the best for the job. Care must however be taken to select only the best quality, what the timber market terms "grade one". (Grade two contains "slabs" which are good only for firewood.) Beehives made from Chorophora excelsa are usually heavy. The wood must be allowed to dry for at least a year to ensure thorough seasoning before construction.
Piptadeniastrum africanum is also a hard wood, but it is not very popular on the market. Because of the low demand for it, beekeepers would be wise to utilize this relatively inexpensive wood rather than the higher-priced Chorophora excelsa.
Equipment required by the beekeeper
The smoker is next in importance to the beehive itself. No honeybee will ever allow a beekeeper to harvest its honey without a fight. The tropical honeybee is noted for its aggressiveness, and the beekeeper is warned not to conduct any brood control or harvest without using his smoker.
The smoker has two main parts: the container, which is a metallic can, big enough to carry enough dry material to last at least 40 minutes; and the bellows section, which puffs air into the container to drive the smoke out of the can. The container is loaded with wood shavings, smouldering cow-dung or any dry material which provides white smoke. (No oil or kerosene should ever be used in a smoker.) The smoke renders bees docile, so that the beekeeper can work undisturbed.
A hive tool may be necessary to pry up and remove the frames from the beehive. The Kenyan top-bar hive may not need a hive tool, but a knife instead.
A knife may be required to pry open top-bars or frames which are usually glued to the hive body by the bees. The knife is also useful for cutting a portion of the comb attached to the hive body, separating two combs joined together, and cutting out the honeycomb from the top-bar during the honey harvest. A knife can perform almost all the functions of the hive tool, but the hive tool cannot be used to cut bee combs as neatly as is required.
The brush or quill: Bees must sometimes be brushed gently into a container or a hive. A brush with soft hairs is useful for this, but if the beekeeper can easily obtain a strong, large quill like an ostrich or turkey feather, there is no need to acquire a brush. Indeed, the quill of a big bird is better than any artificial device for this purpose.
The feeder can be a jam jar or a special container turned upside down and so arranged that water trickles slowly from it for the bees to drink.
Protective clothing: Most traditional honey-tappers prefer to strip themselves naked than to wear clothes when harvesting honey at night, but the modern beekeeper is advised to acquire suitable protective clothes to keep the bees from reaching his flesh. Thus a bee suit, gloves, veil and a pair of boots should be acquired before the honey is harvested or any work involving the opening of the hive is undertaken. When working with bees during the daylight hours, light-coloured clothing (preferably white, yellow or green) should be worn; for night work, dark colours are better.
The bee suit is sewn to cover all parts of the body except the head, hands and feet. Bee suits are worn to harvest honey and to control the brood nest during the daylight hours.
The veil is the most important. The beekeeper can easily make or purchase a straw hat (or any type of hat with a brim). Netting is sewn firmly around the hat and attached at the back by a piece of cloth. The veil protects the head, face and neck from attack.
Bee gloves must be sewn with good, flexible white leather to protect the hand and fingers from stings and help the beekeeper to scoop up bees with his hands if the need arises. Indeed, bee stings on the hand or fingers are among the most painful, and the beekeeper is urged to acquire gloves to ensure that he works with little or no difficulty.
A pair of long boots is also important to protect the feet from stings. When they are not available, a pair of light shoes and thick white socks can be worn. Dark or black socks should only be worn at night when the bees, vision is poor.
In the previous chapter, the pros and cons of the two types of hive, the top-bar and the frame, were discussed in detail. It is assumed here that the beginner will start with the simple and then proceed to the more complicated. Although this chapter deals mostly with the top-bar hive, it should be studied by the user of the frame hive as well, because some of the points raised here may also apply to him.
When a carpenter is commissioned to produce a hive, he should be instructed to comply strictly with the specifications, to copy exactly what is given, and not to be "creative". For example, the width of the top-bar must be exactly 32 mm for the African bee. The size of the beehive may differ, but it is important to adhere to a regional standard of equipment. This will enable beekeepers to assist each other and will also promote sales on a larger scale. It is important to make the inner side of the beehive very smooth, for bees prefer to live in smooth cavities, and always waste their time cleaning rough areas of the hive with their mandibles. Where they cannot remove the rough particles, they propolize to make sure the hive is smooth; but carrying propolis wastes the time of the insect.
Before accepting delivery of the beehive, the beekeeper should make sure it has been built correctly. The hive must have no holes or cavities anywhere except at the main entrance, since holes at the top will allow water to enter the hive, and other cavities will be used by robber bees and other hive intruders. Such openings can also create great problems when the colony is being transferred to a new location.
Bees need warmth but cannot work when it is too hot in the hive. To protect the hive from excessive heat, a hole or two, 2 cm wide, can be made in any side of the hive, but it must be sealed with mosquito mesh and a small "door" to cover it when it is not needed. Beekeepers operating above 8° N. and below 8° S. latitude will not need to provide such ventilation. Other ways to protect the hive from excessive heat are to paint it white and to stand it in the shade. Even in temperate climates, hives should not be installed in the sun.
An apiary (or bee yard or bee farm) is a place where beehives are kept. In the United States, Canada and Australia, an apiary can contain a hundred or more bee colonies. Where there are plenty of nectariferous trees for bees to enjoy, 100 colonies crowded in a small area can obtain their food supply without any trouble. In Africa, an apiary should contain only about 10 hives per km2.
Where to locate an apiary sometimes creates problems. It is generally agreed that the beekeeper can make a good living without necessarily becoming a landowner. In Ghana, for example, the Forestry Department is willing to allocate government forest reserves to any group or individual who needs them for keeping bees. Here is a letter which a Californian beekeeper sends to fruit growers:
"Hello, my name is......... I'm a local beekeeper. I'm looking for a spot to put about 50 beehives. I'd need a fairly flat open area, at least 15 x 15 metres, that I can drive a pickup to. In addition to free pollination of your trees, I'll give you 10 kg of fresh honey every summer. Should you decide that you no longer need them, I would of course move them away ... I have been raising queen bees for 8 years. This is my livelihood, so you can be sure that my manner is professional."
In this way Mr. has acquired several apiary sites containing over 800 colonies of bees.
Owing to the aggressive nature of the African bee, it is not advisable to place hives right on the farm but near it; 100-200 metres away from crops is good. It is important to keep hives away from fertile spots of the farmland: they should be placed on rocks or on the poorest portions of the farm, for which the farmer has little or no other use. Experience has shown that farmers who disobey this important rule sometimes cannot clear the weeds around their trees or crops because of the constant presence of bees. Bees can travel about 3 km to visit a plant. Bees sited about 150 metres away from a productive area of the farm will allow labourers to clear weeds, turn the soil and work the crops.
The ideal apiary site should be:
- away from playgrounds and noisy commercial or industrial areas;
- near a fresh water supply: the banks of a river, lake or fish-pond, or even a dripping faucet;
- near food sources, e.g. citrus, avocado, coconut, palm, cola, shea butter, neem or eucalyptus plantation, waste area or marsh land;
- fairly dry, away from swampy or flooding valley or any bottom land with stagnant water (humid areas promote fungal diseases and prevent proper honey curing);
- accessible to good roads;
- on the leeward side of a hill, with rainfall not exceeding 1 250 mm a year; and
- away from smoke and fire, danger of vandalism and unfriendly neighbours.
Preparing the top-bar hive for installation
Let us now assume that the beehives and the site have been acquired. The hives must be installed, but before that is done, they must be prepared so that bees will occupy them.
1. Clean the beehive. Be sure it contains no dirt, cobwebs, spiders or insect which might arrest any scout bee visiting the installed beehive in the near future.
2. Bait the beehive with any one of the following materials: a little raw beeswax, dry cassava flour, a sweet syrup such as palm wine or molasses, granulated sugar, sweet-scented lavender, limes, cow-dung, intestinal waste, lemon grass or even, in very dry areas, a dish of water.
How to bait
Wax: The best bait is beeswax, which can quickly attract a swarm of bees. Beeswax is the most reliable bait, because it retains its properties for a long time. All other baits cannot last long in the hive and must be replenished or replaced when the old supply is exhausted or destroyed.
A small cake of beeswax rubbed against the inner walls of the hive can encourage bees to visit the hive. It is also important to rub wax against the tip of the v-shaped or ridged portion and the wooden starter top-bars. Beeswax rubbed against those areas of the top-bar will guide the bees to build their combs along it. Otherwise, the bees may build comb across the top-bars, creating a serious problem which is difficult to correct and makes brood-nest control impossible.
Syrup: Sweet juices and syrup can be used to bait bees. They can be put in a jam jar or any container. Twigs or sticks must be provided as landing boards so that the insects can safely take the syrup without being drowned. Special care must be taken to restrain other insects from visiting the syrup.
Granulated sugar may be sprinkled on the floor of the hive.
Lavender: Spray or sprinkle a few drops in the hive. The smell will attract honeybees to visit the beehive.
Lime: One or two limes can be placed inside or outside the hive. Lime juice left in the hive may help.
Lemon grass can be rubbed on the inner sides of the hive.
Cow-dung: In the northern savannah where beekeeping is a traditional occupation, dried cow-dung is usually burned to glaze the inside of the clay-pot hive. This is said to attract bees. Bees always visit fresh cow-dung to obtain water during dry periods of the day. Intestinal waste serves the same purpose.
Water cannot be used as a bait in cities and towns where water for human consumption is abundant. But in the dry savannah villages where water is scarce, it can work.
After baiting the hive and treating the top-bars, the top-bars must be neatly arranged, leaving no gaps in between them. Check whether the top-bars fit the hive body. Do not leave any gaps anywhere, because they will cause problems when the colony is being moved. Let the bees use only the entrance if possible.
How to treat grooved top-bars
The groove in grooved top-bars should be filled with wax. First, melt down the wax completely in a flat tray. Allow it to cool and cut it into strips about 6 mm wide. Insert the strip along the groove. Heat the tip of a knife and run it quickly along the wax. This will melt some wax and allow the wax strip to stick firmly into the groove.
Installation of beehives
A hive can be suspended, for example between two trees or from sturdy branches of big trees. It can also be installed on a platform or a rock. This is a decision that must be made by the individual beekeeper. Advantages and disadvantages of the two methods are set out below.
Advantages of hanging beehives
1. It is cheaper to hang a beehive than to install it on a platform.Disadvantages
2. The lizard, an important hive predator, does not seem to pose a serious danger.
3. Cattle and other grazing animals cannot tip the hive over.
4. Running water cannot carry the beehive away.
5. It is easier to prevent ants from reaching the hive than when it is installed on a stand.
6. A thief seldom steals a Kenyan top-bar hive in a tree, especially when it contains honey, because it is not easy to remove the suspension wires if they are properly attached.
1. A suspended hive can swing. The bees become alert and are prepared to pounce on the beekeeper if they find him.Advantages of installing a hive on a stand
2. Honey-harvesting and brood-nest control are difficult to execute during the day.
3. It is not easy to change the location of the hive. When removing it from the tree, the least false movement may result in tipping it over and jarring the whole contents. Sometimes the only way to remove it from the tree is to cut the suspension wires.
1. It is easier to place the hive on the stand and remove it.Disadvantages
2. It is easy to move both hive and stand to another spot.
3. The beehive does not swing about even if the beekeeper is working.
4. Honey collection and brood-nest control can easily be carried out even during the warmest time of the day.
1. Grazing animals can knock the hive over.Fig. 8. Small apiary in Kumasi, Ghana, using Kenyan top-bar hives suspended from framework. Note cones on stand legs, acting as lizard guards.
2. The legs of the stand can easily be used by lizards to reach the hive unless they are protected by lizard guards (see Fig. 8).
3. It is more expensive and tedious to make a reliable stand than to buy a metallic wire for hanging a hive.
4. Easy movement facilitates easy stealing. The thief has no time to waste.
How to install a hive
Bees in the forest and the savannah woodlands do not require shade, but those in the Sahel vegetation zones with extremely high temperatures may need shade. Unfortunately, this is the area where it is difficult to provide shade easily.
To hang a hive in a tree, select a suitable branch and test its strength. Remember that the hive can weigh as much as 60 kg.
Fig. 9. Installing hives. (Courtesy Intermediate Technology Publications, Inc.)
Inspect the tree to be sure it is ant-free. If it contains ants, avoid it (see p. 105).
Use the suspension wire to hang the hive as shown at (,) in Fig. 9. The hive should tilt slightly, with the entrance down, so that any water entering the hive can trickle out. It should be parallel with and one metre above the ground. Study Fig. 9; only hive (A) is correctly installed. It is hanging from two strong and sturdy branches, and each of the four suspension wires is attached separately. Hive (B) is nicely hung parallel to the ground, but the wires on each side are joined and hang from only two points on the same branch. The other subsidiary branches were ignored. In a strong wind, hive (A) will never tip over, but hive (B) will dangle and tip over, and all the contents may be lost. Further, the top cover of the hive should always be unobstructed to facilitate its removal and replacement. The stand for hive (C) has no lizard guards.
The beehive is baited and installed. The beekeeper waits until a swarm of bees comes to settle in the hive. The coming of the swarm is not automatic, but most beehives installed and baited will be colonized. The time required varies widely: the earliest time known is within 20 minutes after installation. Hives sited very close to residential areas may take a long time to attract bees; hives sited near large quantities of flowering plants will generally be colonized rapidly.
Where does the bee swarm come from?
The honeybee colony is endowed with an instinct which brings about an increase in the number of colonies from time to time. One colony may produce two or more new colonies a year. When a colony in a nest or hive is too populous, the old queen, accompanied by some drones and thousands of young and old workers, flies to a distant place to begin life anew. None of these new settlers will ever return to the old nest. As the bees leave the entrance of the old hive, they fly gyratingly into the sky with a loud hum until they cluster on a tree branch. This cluster is referred to as a swarm of bees.
The swarm hangs there temporarily. Scouts go and find a hollow tree or any suitable place for the new colony. This place may be a hive installed by a beekeeper. The exploratory team of scouts, if lucky, will return with a favourable report to the swarm still waiting on the branch. The swarm will follow the scout into the new-found home.
The first swarm to leave a hive during the season is called the prime swarm. A prime swarm is always accompanied by the old queen and some older workers. Before leaving the old hive, they take in honey and other essential commodities from the old hive, so that when they settle in the new nest, they can begin to build combs within a short time to enable the queen to lay.
After the prime swarm, any other swarm leaving the parent hive is termed a secondary swarm. It is composed of young workers, young drones and a young queen, completely docile and showing little or no sign of aggressivity. (They may begin to show some aggressive tendencies after six or seven weeks.) The young bees may need the beekeeper's assistance for some time. Food can be provided in the form of sugar syrup as a supplement to help them. They will survive if no help is provided, but the assistance provided by the beekeeper may enable them to work faster than if they had received no help.
Capturing a swarm
It has already been pointed out that not all beehives in an apiary are self-colonized. In Europe, Australia, America and some parts of northern and southern Africa (i.e. in temperate climates), the beginning or established beekeeper who wants to set up or expand an apiary obtains colonies of bees by purchasing package bees or buying nucleus or established hives. Since beekeeping in tropical Africa has not yet developed to the point where queens or nucleus swarms are produced and marketed commercially, the African beekeeper must be bold and fearless in learning how to capture and move swarms from roofs and cavities when his beehives are not colonized voluntarily by bees. He should not wait unconcerned, hoping that swarms may come by themselves. He must advertise himself in his locality as someone who needs swarms, and he must be prepared to buy them from people who bring them to him. He should consider himself lucky when he finds a swarm and must be prepared to capture it for his empty beehive. He should never be afraid to catch a swarm. Pioneer beekeepers in Ghana catch them, sometimes wearing no protective clothes.
Here are some hints:
1. Study the swarm. Consider what will be required for collecting it. For example, a ladder may be needed if the bees are located high up in a tree, but not if they can be reached while standing on the ground and are supported on a small branch that can easily be cut by a knife or a carpenter's saw. Also consider whether a hive, a box or a bag will be required. Never keep bees in polyethylene bags. Another important item that may be needed is a match-box to carry the queen bee separately. It should be perforated to allow air to enter. A queen cage is an ideal apparatus if one can be obtained. No smoker is required to collect a swarm. Smoke will only scatter the bees.An alternative method
2. When bees cluster on a small branch of a tree, it can be cut down and brought home without any problem.
3. If the bees are so high in tree branches that they cannot be reached easily, a ladder can be used to reach them. They can then be shaken into a jute sack or any good container, but before this is done, the queen bee should be captured and placed in the matchbox, which can then be attached to the container and left for some time. The workers will begin to cluster around her, and the container can then be carried to the hive site.
4. If the queen cannot be found easily, shake the bees into the container. After shaking them for some time, watch their movements, especially those flying about. If they fly to the container, this means that the queen bee is within. Wait a while to let most of the workers cluster around her before taking them to the hive.
5. It is advisable to insert a brood comb from an old established colony into the new hive. The queen can then be released and attached to the brood comb. Now shake the captured swarm into the hive. The old brood comb will make the bees feel "at home" and accept the hive readily. Allow time for all the bees to settle before dressing the hive with the remaining top-bars, and then place the top cover on the beehive.
6. Feed the swarm on sugar syrup or a mixture of 2/3 honey and 1/3 water. Stir well and pour into a jam jar or a similar container. Turn it upside down so that the lid of the jam jar stands on the floor. Insert a small piece of wood (the size of a match-stick) between the bottle and the lid and place it inside the hive for the bees. Then seal off the entrance of the hive. Do not allow the bees to go out for at least 24 hours; otherwise, bees hived in this manner will adopt the hive when the day is cool but can decide to leave if the sun shines brightly.
7. Place a thick bundle of dry grass or dry leaves on the cover if it is metallic, in order to protect the beehive from overheating.
8. Place the hive on a platform. Do not hang this hive, because the least mistake may result in the whole hive tipping over and the contents being jarred. Remember to protect the bees from ants.
9. After 24 hours, the bees can be released by opening the entrance. This should be done in the evening between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m, a time when the queen bee and the drones will never leave the hive. The bees have accepted the hive if they are found carrying pollen into the hive. Do not disturb them.
Another interesting and simple way to hive a swarm that can be reached from the ground is as follows:
Stay away until evening (between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.). Bring a piece of white paper and a brush or quill with you.
1. Place the beehive directly below the swarm and arrange the top-bars neatly, leaving out only one or two.Do not fear this process; the bees are not dangerous at this time of day, nor is their sting painful. The author of this book employs school children between the ages of five and eight to do this work. The children become very enthusiastic and visit the bees frequently.
2. Holding the paper in the left hand and the quill or brush in the right, brush off some bees from the cluster onto the white paper, drop them into the hive, and replace the last top-bars and the top cover.
3. Acting quickly so that the bees in the hive will not rejoin the cluster in the tree, and with the help of the white paper and brush, collect more bees from the cluster, but this time place them at the hive entrance. The first bees in the hive will be "buzzing" their wings, and this will stimulate the incoming bees to join them. Repeat this process until all the bees have entered the hive.
Removing wild bees from their nest
A third method of obtaining bees for the beehive is to remove wild bees from their nest. In attempting to do this, the beekeeper must be sure to wear protective clothes, i.e. bee suit, veil, leather gloves and boots.
Other things necessary to carry to the site are a good smoker, an empty beehive or a swarm catcher, a container to carry honey, tools such as a crow-bar, hammer, saw, mallet, chisel, machete or axe, and thread or twine (this can be plantain skin or raffia palm).
This work must be carried out late in the evening, after 6:00 p.m.
1. Fill the smoker with fuel and puff smoke through the bees' gateway into the nest for five minutes. The bees will rush into the nest and gorge themselves full of honey, if there is enough in the hive. They will then feel too heavy and drowsy to move.
2. Then break open the nest by using the appropriate tool. Puff some smoke at the bees whenever they show any sign of aggressiveness.
3. Locate the honeycombs and the brood combs.
4. If possible, remove only the honeycombs first and put them in a container.
5. Wait about ten minutes. The bees will cluster around the brood combs. There is no need to smoke them again.
6. Remove brood combs and bees together. Do not drive the bees away, but try to collect as many as possible with the hands. They are needed to rear young bees and another queen if the old one is killed in the operation. Place brood combs and bees in the beehive or the swarm catcher.
7. Carry the bees to a new site at least three kilometres away; otherwise, the older bees or the foragers will return to the old nest.
8. Select the following carefully:
i) two or three brood combs fully or partly capped, possibly with some queen cells;
ii) one or two brood combs containing young larvae of different ages and possibly with eggs;
iii) two combs of unripe or one of ripe and one of unripe honey;
iv) one or two combs with pollen; and v) two empty combs.
Do not take more combs than necessary. The new colony must be able to cluster around all the combs and defend them against attack. Brood comb left unguarded will be chilled and go bad, creating serious problems for the new colony.
9. Attach the combs to the top-bars and tie them securely with twine. Any oversized comb must be trimmed in order to fit the beehive. Be sure to leave 7-mm bee spaces.
10. Now arrange the combs in the beehive in the order listed in 8 above. The purpose of the arrangement is that all brood combs require constant high temperatures, and larvae and pupae need warmth. Honey and pollen combs put side by side will keep the brood combs warm.
11. Shake all the bees into the hive and insert the remaining top-bars. Then cover the hive with its lid and install it on a platform 3 km away. Syrup may be supplied if necessary.
12. Visit the bees the next day. Pay them a second visit on the following day and another a week later. If the bees have started carrying pollen into the hive, this means that they are settled and should not be disturbed. Pollen-carrying suggests that the hive contains young brood which must be fed and also a productive queen.
Some common practices in apiary management
When the beekeeper has successfully obtained some bees in his hives, he can look forward to a bumper harvest, but he must remember that success in keeping bees depends on the exercise of his knowledge of colony organization in relation to various factors. It is also controlled or affected by seasonal and climatic changes, not forgetting the existence of vegetation or bee forage in the area. A farmer who plants his crop on fertile land with excellent climatic conditions is bound to fail if he leaves everything to chance, neglecting other important managerial practices such as pest control, bush clearing, pruning, thinning, etc. Beekeeping calls for practices which are vital to the survival and well-being of every bee colony.
How to examine a bee colony
While the experienced beekeeper can usually have a fair idea of how his colonies are progressing by observing them from outside, the only means he has of knowing for sure whether everything is going smoothly is to open the hives and inspect each comb. This will let him know if honey is being prepared and capped regularly, whether the colony is getting ready to swarm, whether the hive has been attacked by pests, etc.
The general rules for hive inspection and for harvesting honey are the same, and therefore they can be discussed together here.
1. Wear protective clothes, and cover the body thoroughly. It is better to have another person check to be sure the bees have no way to reach the skin.Controlling swarming to advantage
2. Beekeepers should always work in pairs: one operating the smoker and the other working the top-bars and combs.
3. Get a good smoker with a large bellows. The fuel container must be large enough to carry enough fuel to last for the entire operation. Carpenter's wood shavings are excellent for fuel. Never forget to take along a good knife or hive tool and brush or quill.
4. Puff some smoke gently around the hive. Then puff continuously through the main entrance for at least three minutes. Wait about one or two minutes for the bees to rush in and gorge themselves with honey.
5. Using the hive tool or knife, pry open the lid of the hive if it has been propolized (top-bar hives have no problem with propolizing). With the top-bar hive, it is important to knock at the top-bars to determine which are without combs; the empty side makes the most noise. (The frame hive does not need to be "knocked".) Using the hive tool or knife, pry up the top-bars from the empty side. Then puff some smoke gently so that the smoke will drive the bees to the other side of the hive. Host bees will gather as far as possible from the first comb.
6. Then remove the first comb and inspect it. If it is a brood comb, look to see that the cells are filled regularly and well sealed, and especially whether the comb contains queen and drone cells as well as worker cells; this is a sign that the colony is preparing to swarm. If it is a honey comb, look to see whether the cells are fully capped (containing ripe honey) or uncapped or partly capped (containing unripe honey). Then replace the comb, even if it is full of ripe honey; it can be removed and taken away later, during honey-harvesting operations, which call for special equipment (see p. 84).
7. Replace the comb, give a puff of smoke, go on to the next comb, and repeat the operation until all the combs have been inspected.
8. If more than ten brood combs are found, remove the excess, because if too much brood is allowed to emerge, the hive will become overcrowded and the colony may abscond. These brood combs can be placed in another hive to strengthen its colony if necessary.
The discussion of swarming on pp. 27-28 may have given the reader unhappy moments -- the fact that the bees in the hive will one day separate and that some of them will leave. The beekeeper will be worried about the honey and other valuables that the bees will carry away from the hive. Swarming divides the population of the colony, and this of course causes a considerable reduction of the working force. As a result, the amount of honey and other valuable products that the colony might produce is considerably reduced. Consequently, the beekeeper would prefer to retain all the bees and make valuable use of them. This can be done by controlling swarming, but in a manner that will not interfere with the bees' natural instinctive desire. Such interference can lead to absconding, another deplorable behaviour characteristic of the tropical bee.
Let us now look a little more closely at the circumstances that lead the bees to swarm. During the peak of the brood-rearing stage, the best queens are capable of laying up to 2 000 eggs a day. In the forest areas, this occurs between August
October and April-Hay (these periods may differ in some parts of the region, but they usually occur after the main rainy season, when flowers are in bloom). The brood combs become so populous that the queen can no longer withstand the congestion in the brood nest. The whole colony is thrown out of balance, and workers begin to build queen cells to rear queens for the purpose of swarming. The queen cells are numerous and are built in twos and threes at intervals of two days. These are always built at the sides of the comb of a top-bar hive or at the base of the comb of a frame hive.
To prevent swarming, the hive must be managed so that congestion will be avoided or, at least, minimized. The idea is to create a commodious area to cope with the ever-increasing brood during the build-up stages. Any managerial activity that will increase the desired cells required for the comfort of the queen and the workers will prevent or delay swarming. Some methods of doing this are as follows:
i) Remove honeycombs near the brood nest and replace them with empty combs.The sign that warns the beekeeper that the bees are preparing to swarm is the discovery of swarming queen cells. When these are found, the beekeeper must intervene to turn this activity to his advantage by dividing the colony himself.
ii) Add empty combs from other hives at the sides of the brood combs of the overcrowded hive. This means that the beekeeper must build a stock of empty combs, which must be carefully protected from the wax-moth larva.
iii) Do not leave honeycombs in small hives for too long. Always remove them to create more space for the bees to work.
iv) Provide shade by covering the hive with a bundle of dry grass or palm branches when it is too warm for the bees. Overheating can be detected when bees gather at the entrance of the hive, fanning themselves.
Dividing an established colony
The beekeeper should be sure there is abundant bee food available before deciding to divide. He should look around the surrounding area to see whether there are bee forage flowers in bloom, for the success of the operation will depend on the availability of food for the new colony. (food may be provided by supplying combs containing honey and pollen or by placing syrup in the hive.) Only exceptionally good colonies with nine or more combs should be divided. No attempt should be made to divide a colony with only eight combs or less.
1. Remove from the old colony one comb with old, capped brood worker pupae, one comb with young larvae, eggs, capped brood and a queen cell if possible, one unripe or partly ripe honeycomb plus pollen, or one comb with pollen.
2. Arrange the combs in the new empty hive, surrounding brood combs by honey and pollen combs.
3. Scoop bees into the new hive, making sure that there are enough bees to cover the brood combs and generate enough heat to enable the brood to hatch. The new nucleus must be carried at least three kilometres away so that the bees will stay to rear the brood and a queen. If the new nucleus is left on the site with the old hive, the old bees will return to their queen and few young bees will remain to work in the new hive. The new colony's survival depends on the number of bees present to work in the hive.
4. Syrup or honey may be provided. The new colony must be protected from ants and other natural enemies.
5. Visit the new colony regularly for the first month to make sure that the bees are doing well, but do not interfere with or harass them by frequently opening, smoking and inspecting the hive.
6. After a month, check that the new hive contains a queen. This can be determined by the existence of eggs, larvae and sometimes capped brood in the comb cells. There is no need to find the queen: the presence of eggs and brood indicates that she is in the hive.
Bees are feared not only in Africa but all over the world. They sting painfully, but the tropical bee, in addition, can kill both man and his animals. Bees in the forest areas and those in the temperate region in the south are less aggressive than those in the savannah vegetation and in the Sahara: the least disturbance may provoke the desert bee to abscond. Even though stings can kill, bees should not be considered as extremely dangerous. The beekeeper who is afraid of his bees is like a lorry driver who will not drive for fear of an accident, or a farmer who will not go to his farm for fear of a snake bite. It is interesting to note that bee stings can treat diseases like arthritis and that bee venom is used as a desensitizer for people who are allergic to stings. Thus a few stings that administer small doses of venom may be helpful. But too much can be dangerous, and people allergic to bee stings should not keep bees.
If a sting is inserted into the skin, it must be scraped away with the fingernail or a knife. Do not pull it out, or more poison will be injected into the flesh. If the result is itching and swelling, do not rub the spot, as this action will cause greater pain and swelling.
Treat bee stings by applying cold cloths. In extreme cases, victims should be sent to the hospital. Ephedrine may be administered when a doctor's help cannot be obtained.
What causes bees to sting?
- visiting a hive during the warm part of the day;On the attack
- disturbing them without smoke;
- breathing into the hive, especially if the beekeeper has been drinking any alcoholic beverage, including beer;
- wearing a cosmetic item which contains beeswax;
- talking, drumming or making any other noise when bees are busy nearby;
- standing in their flight path;
- wearing dark clothes near the hive during the daytime;
- making jerky movements near the hive;
- crushing a bee near a hive or squashing a bee body and smearing the juice on one's body;
- swatting with the hand to drive a bee away.
It is safe to work as long as no bees attack. However, the first bee sting attracts others to strike. If the victim stands quietly without moving his body, all other attackers will sting on the same spot as the first strike. Every bee that stings puts more alarm pheromone on the spot, thus causing more and more bees to strike, and the resulting pain makes the victim swat round and round, causing other attackers to sting other parts of the body.
How to avoid stings
Remember that a queenless colony is very aggressive during its early days.
Remember that every bee that stings dies afterwards. Thus the apiarist who causes his bees to strike in fact kills them. A reduction of the field force means a reduction of output of work which results in less honey production.
If unprotected, one should run away after the first sting. The attacker may chase the beekeeper, but he should not be afraid of a second sting by the same bee. This bee can be killed so that she cannot return to the colony and pass on information.
Using the Langstroth frame
The Langstroth frame hive is the most popular and extensively used hive in America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and northern and southern Africa. Frames imported from these parts of the world cannot be successfully used in tropical Africa because honeybees found in temperate and sub-tropical regions are larger in size than the African bee and therefore require a larger bee space, and this leads to a different set of frame dimensions. Langstroth hives used in Tanzania and by some Ghanaian beekeepers have been modified to suit the Apis mellifera adansonii (scutelata). The African frame hive may have 10-13 frames; the number of supers to be stacked on the brood chamber depends on the strength of the colony.
The queen excluder in this hive enables the beekeeper to harvest only clean honey unadulterated by pollen and brood; moreover, easy handling of combs facilitates quick manipulation.
Baits and some of the baiting methods discussed on pp. 55-56 may apply, but the following points should be noted:
1. Frames must be wired and the comb foundation fixed. Where comb foundation cannot be obtained, mosquito nylon mesh or 1-2 cm nylon net can be used to help the bees build a foundation comb. Usually one such frame is needed in each hive. The bees will build other combs, hanging them at the appropriate positions in the other frames if the frame dimensions are correct.
2. Frame hives should not be hung, but should be placed on special stands about 30 cm high. Hive stands must be protected against ants and weeds.
3. Only the brood chamber should be installed on the first day. The super is stacked on the brood chamber only when the colony needs more space to build more combs.
4. A queen excluder may be inserted on top of the brood chamber or between the super and the brood chamber.
5. A swarm of bees can be hived as set out on pp. 61-63, except that the swarm can be passed through the top of the hive, between the frames, before the lid is replaced.
6. When bees and their combs are removed for the new hive, honey and empty combs should be placed side by side next to the brood combs to provide the needed warmth for brood-rearing.
How to unite bees
The beekeeper may find it necessary to unite two swarms, two colonies or a swarm and a colony when he is short of beehives or when he wants to strengthen the colony. Before uniting bees, he should judge the performance of the two colonies being united and eliminate the one which performs poorly. If a colony loses its queen, he may decide to unite it with a colony that has a good queen (a "queen-right" colony) instead of waiting for it to produce its own. If he raises queens, he may take a limited number of bees from each of his hives to form the nucleus of a colony.
After swarming, some colony populations may be so reduced that the brood may be left uncovered. If this occurs, more bees must be added to clothe the brood combs left inside the hive. If this is not done, the exposed brood is quickly cooled and will die of cold. In this case, bees from any source, but preferably from a strong colony, should be collected and united to the weakened colony.
When colonies or swarms are united, one of them must be queenless, because two queens cannot live in the same colony. If the two queens are left together, they will fight until one of them is killed, and the other may be severely injured during the combat. To prevent this, the beekeeper must remove or kill one of the queens, 24 hours before carrying out the operation. The decision as to which queen to eliminate rests with the beekeeper, but he should always try to keep the better of the two. (See p. 74.)
Another step in preparing for unification is to place some fragrant material (oil of lemon, lavender, camphor, etc.) in both hives, so that the bees are familiar with one another's smell. This will make them less aggressive to each other.
The best time to unite bees is in the evening, after they have stopped flying. This prevents robbing and makes unification easier. In uniting a swarm and a colony, the beekeeper carries the swarm to the colony; in uniting two colonies or two swarms, he always carries the weaker to the stronger; in uniting a queenless to a queen-right colony, he carries the queenless to the queen-right. In this way, he disturbs the stronger group less than the other, and interferes less with their production.
Before uniting the two groups, the beekeeper should smoke them both, in order to calm them and make them more receptive. After uniting them, he should puff some smoke on them to make sure they have a homogeneous smell so that fighting among workers will not occur.
The next day, he should check whether there are dead bees at the entrance of the hive. If there are no casualties, then they have accepted each other peacefully.
In uniting a queenless to a queen-right colony, or in forming a nucleus, it is advisable to carry the new colony three kilometres away, so that the bees added cannot find their way to rejoin the parent nest. If the hives were originally next to each other, the new colony does not have to be moved, but the empty hive must be taken away after the exercise.
Uniting bees with white paper is the best method of all but can only be applied when the Langstroth frame hive is used. Smoke both colonies, open the top cover of the hive, and spread a white paper with two or three holes punched in it above the combs. Add another super and pour or shake the bees onto the paper. The bees under and above the paper will start to chew the paper and will merge gradually without fighting. If both colonies are in Langstroth hives, put just one box (without bottom) on the paper above the other hive.
How to judge a queen bee
Good queens are always judged by their ability to lay. A rapid increase of population before the main honey-flow season will produce a good crop. The size of the queen should be observed regularly, because when it dwindles, this suggests that something adverse is happening. Her wings or legs can be clipped (not by the beekeeper), thereby causing her to limp and affecting her ability to lay. The age of the queen is also important. Normally, colonies with young queens swarm less and produce about 30% more honey than those with queens two years old. But some young queens do poorly, while some older queens produce eggs rapidly.
Another thing to watch is the progeny. Some colonies are more aggressive than others. Some swarm more rapidly, wasting resources to the detriment of the beekeeper -- all must be taken into consideration. When choosing to divide in order to multiply his colonies, the beekeeper should consider dividing the very good colonies, which of course suggests that the queens are good.
In temperate climates, the queen is controlled. The beekeeper marks and puts her into the hive. When he feels he has to change her, he does so. However, due to the nature of the tropical bee, African beekeepers do not disturb their colonies much to find the queen, remove and replace her. Requeening therefore has not been a common practice. The tropical beekeeper relies much on swarming, and nature does the requeening for him.
Robbing and its prevention
The honeybee has a strong instinct of acquisition which leads her to collect sweet juices and store them for use during the rainy and cold seasons when she remains indoors. The instinct to collect and store is so strong that whenever she locates any sweet juice, she regards it as her own property. Colonies have no respect for others when it comes to the possession of honey. They will rob other colonies at the least opportunity, especially when there is little nectar in the field. Strong colonies with the largest stores are the most aggressive and prey upon the weak ones. When robbing goes on in the same apiary, it might seem that there is no cause for alarm, but the owner has cause to be concerned: if one colony continuously robs another, the victimized colony cannot grow to be strong. A colony of 30 000 bees cannot provide half as much as a colony of 60 000, because, unlike a strong colony, a weak colony cannot send out enough workers to obtain the quantity of honey it needs to provide for its security, let alone to build up a reserve.
Some robbing can be carried out so secretly that the beekeeper hardly notices it. The robbers do not enter in large numbers and no confrontation is detected. They slip through the entrance and cracks, bypassing the guards. After taking their fill of honey, they quickly slip out with their booty. The beekeeper can however detect that robbing is taking place when he sees a number of bees flying about hunting in all corners and cracks of the hive. Robber bees are always nervous and guilty, and fly away quickly when the hive is opened by the beekeeper. Sometimes they cannot alight boldly on the platform at the entrance, and when the guards catch them, they pull away.
There are several means of preventing -- or at least minimizing -- robbing:
i) During brood-nest control and harvesting, always work speedily and never leave combs exposed. Avoid spilling honey near the hive, as this will attract passing bees and other troublesome hive predators.
ii) Design the entrance so that it can be reduced at will. This will afford the bees an easy opportunity to protect a weak colony.
iii) Use repellents such as petrol or carbolic acid in cracks. This will discourage robbers from approaching the hive.
iv) During bad weather, feed bees in the mornings and evenings. The food must be placed in the hive.
It is necessary to feed bees during the rainy and dry seasons, as well as in the early stages of a young colony, as mentioned on p. 69.
There are two rainy seasons in the forest and transitional forest regions. The heaviest rains generally occur in June and July, and less severe ones from September to November. The June-July rains are so continuous in some areas that the honeybee has to stop foraging for some time. It is this period that beekeepers in these areas can describe as a time of famine in their apiaries. At the peak of the rainy season, it can rain continuously for more than three days with only a few short breaks. There is no sun, and the atmosphere is always misty, bleak and cloudy. Bees never go out. The nectar in the fields is diluted so much that the bees cannot recognize it. Pollen is washed away, and flowers generally stop blooming. Plants produce leaves instead of flowers. Bee food becomes scarce, as honey and pollen stores in the hive are also depleted.
A strong colony may require 1.4 kg of honey or syrup a day, and it is therefore important for the commercial honey producer to sacrifice part of his reserves for the bees, or else to feed them on sugar cane or syrup. The beekeeper must remember that the bees intended the honey they produced for their own consumption during the rainy season, and if he has taken it away, then he must provide something else to keep the colony alive and strong. Some honey must therefore be left for the bees during the honey harvest: at least seven to ten combs containing honey and brood. Do not deplete the hive of every drop of honey.
Natural feeding of bees
Many species of trees are good for bee pasture. Many such trees not only provide nectar and pollen for bees but have other uses for man. Some are listed in the Appendix. Where there are large plantations of some of these trees, the beekeeper can take advantage of them by setting up his apiary near them. Another plant which matures quickly and can help the beekeeper is the sunflower. Apart from providing edible oil from the seed and rich nectar and pollen, the sunflower attracts swarms of bees that the beekeeper can hive in the same apiary.
Beekeepers can also take advantage of the game reserves scattered all over the savannah. For example, the Bauchi Plateau game reserve area in Nigeria may be used by beekeepers. The Hole National Park in Ghana is another huge bee centre which should be developed. Indeed, there are many in almost every country. Most of the trees listed in the Appendix are found in the savannah game or forest reserves.
Water for bees
An apiary sited near a regular fresh-water supply can build up quickly during the honey-flow season which coincides with the beginning of the dry season. Water is very important for honeybees. They use large quantities to dilute brood food and to cool the hive by evaporation. The need for water to prepare brood food is so necessary in the harmattan season that bees have been known to harass villagers in the dry zones. Water fetched for household purposes can easily be snatched by bees. They will visit water tanks, standpipes, pools and sometimes even urinals, latrines or garbage dumps. If colonies are not located near any source of water, the beekeeper must provide some.
Water dripping gradually from a standing pipe is ideal for feeding the insect. Any water meant for bees should contain straws or other floating material that the bees can use as landing boards so that they will not drown.
Good records kept by the beekeeper will help him to follow the general progress of his operation. Two records are particularly important: the colony and operational records.
The beekeeper must study the geographical or climatic conditions of his locality in association with his colony's progress, since a recorded guide is rarely available. He should study the rainfall and temperature pattern in relation to flowering and the movement of the bees. This will keep him alert as to the swarming season, the best time to split colonies to make them increase or to collect wild bees for hiving, the harvest period, etc. Also to be recorded are the seasonal arrival of pests and seasonal development of diseases, when the wax moth arrives, when Acherontia atropos is found, the seasons for wild ants, beetles, etc.
The beekeeper should keep individual colony records, and always carry a pencil and a notebook. He should record when the hive was colonized, whether the bees moved in voluntarily or if a wild colony was captured. He should weigh the individual hive when it is colonized, and every month (or two weeks) check the weight again to find whether progress has been made. There is no need to buy a scale for this exercise. Lifting the hive to feel the weight is enough. If the weight has gone down, then action must be taken to bring it to the normal condition. The general progress will assist the apiarist to know the condition of the queen. He should record when the bees carry pollen into the hive, observing them at different times and occasionally estimating the number of bees bringing in pollen. If there are many, this means that the bees are rearing brood and the queen is laying more eggs. If the number decreases, the beekeeper must find out why. If there is a decrease in weight, the bees may have swarmed, or the queen is failing and must be replaced.
Crayons can be used to mark individual records on the top cover of the hive, while general records are kept in a notebook.
It is very important to keep a notebook recording information on visits to the apiary site, purchases, labour, transport costs, servicing equipment and all other expenses, as well as income. The material that will be required on the next visit should be listed and then prepared. At the end of the year, the success or failure of the operation should be assessed, and how best to reduce costs and maximize profits should be determined.
In order to obtain a good crop of honey and beeswax, the beekeeper must ensure that his colonies are functioning well. He must be sure that
- every colony has a good laying queen,The seasonal cycle
- every colony is protected from extremes of weather,
- every hive is sited in a strategic location where the insects can collect abundant food, and
- every colony is fully protected from diseases and natural enemies.
Tropical bees work all year round. There is no need to overwinter them or keep them indoors and then to get them working again as in temperate regions. In contrast to temperate-zone bees which swarm once a year, the tropical bee has two main swarming seasons: one in December/February and the other in June! November. It is during these two swarming seasons that the beekeeper should get bees in his hives.
A good swarm is always headed by an energetic queen. An average swarm weighs between two and three kg and contains between 7000 and 9000 bees. Absconding colonies are, however, larger than this, sometimes numbering over 50 000 bees. The day they arrive at a hive, most of them hang themselves in festoons and build combs to enable the queen to start laying. At this stage, only very few bees forage. Four to eight top-bars may be occupied; within two weeks, one or two combs will be completed, while others remain incomplete. All these foundation combs contain worker cells only. If a new swarm begins with drone cells, this is an indication that the swarm has no queen. An absconded or prime swarm builds very quickly to enable the old queen, who needs no impregnation, to start laying, while a secondary swarm consisting of fewer bees and a young queen, works rather slowly. Laying in a queen-right colony may start as little as four days after arrival, depending on the availability of comb cells and the maturity of the queen.
The presence of young brood in the new hive is always signaled by foragers sending pollen into the hive.
At the early stages of colonization, the beekeeper should test the weight of the hive by lifting it. He should also see whether combs have been constructed correctly along the top-bars. He should continue to check the weight by feeling it every fortnight because some colonies produce very quickly and may take the honey away if they issue a swarm. A colony may spend only 15 days producing well, and then over 80% of the bees may depart, leaving only a few behind to start all over again.
The brood-rearing cycle
Brood-rearing takes place after the main rainfall season, when flowers begin to bloom. In forest and high savannah areas, brood-rearing occurs between August and early October and from March to April. This stage is characterized by intense activity in the colony. Food is usually abundant. Comb builders need to work fast to enable the queen to lay; nursing bees must feed the young brood; pollen, nectar and propolis must be collected; Water must be carried to dilute brood food; and all repair work at the security gate must also be performed. Workers fly out early in the morning, and after barely ten minutes the first consignment of pollen arrives. With sunshine, the entry gate becomes overcrowded. The flight path leading to the gate becomes busy with traffic.
At the peak of the brood-rearing stage, a good queen may lay over 2 000 eggs a day, a load heavier than her own weight. The population of the hive increases rapidly, and sometimes the workers cannot supply enough empty cells to enable the queen to lay more eggs. When this situation occurs, the colony may prepare to swarm. Queen and drone cells will be constructed, the queen will lay drone eggs, and queens will be raised in preparation for the swarms.
The bees' output of work is greater if there is abundant sunshine and longer days, aided, of course, by abundant flowering nectariferous plants. The interior of the hive becomes warmer than ever. Panning bees gather at the entrance and empty sides of the hive, and fan their wings to generate air to cool the hive and to help honey cure rapidly, because the new swarms that will issue must take honey away.
But by good management, swarming can be delayed. The beekeeper can intervene by providing empty worker combs which will afford the queen more space to lay her eggs. Unless the beekeeper raises queen bees and who needs drones to mate with his queens, drone combs are useless for commercial honey producers and should be removed and melted down for wax.
Honey harvesting and what to look for
When the first honey crop can be harvested depends on when the hive was colonized by bees. Once a parent colony is capping honey, so will the offspring colony, probably because nectar is available at the same time. If the locality has been experiencing some degree of drought, honey must be stored for use during the dearth season, when bee food will be scarce in the field. Young colonies from the coastal scrublands and the transition forest zones have already demonstrated that honey can be ready in less than two months. In that time, 20 kg of surplus honey were harvested in one of several Kenyan top-bar hives in Kintampo (Ghana) and 15 kg were realized in Accra within six weeks.
But the K.T.B.H. is a small hive and must be harvested regularly to afford space for the next honey crop. The user of the frame hive will be well off if he drains the honey and inserts empty combs which will be refilled with matured honey in two weeks. Some colonies are so slow that they need more than six months to produce enough honey to be worth harvesting. In good beekeeping areas, three months may be enough, but the quantity of honey will always depend on the strength of the individual colony.
Observing the behaviour of the local flowering plants can be very useful in determining when honey can be harvested with maximum results: it is when most of the flowers drop that the bees have capped most of the honey in their nest. As an example, the best harvesting time in vest Africa occurs during the peak of the dry season, just before the arrival of the dry harmattan wind. The beekeeper should not wait to harvest until the windy nights and first rains drive the bees to load their honey and fly off with it. West Africa begins to harvest honey in the latter part of October and may continue until June. Indeed, some areas with plants such as coconut that flower all year round can have honey throughout the year.
In any particular area, the best way the beekeeper has of knowing that his honey crop is at the maximum is to observe that his colonies are getting ready to swarm. Brood-rearing ceases, and this is characterized by foraging bees sending little or no pollen into the hive. Pew bees are seen at the entrance during the day; the bees seem to become lazy, as foraging activity in general seems to have come to an end, but most of the bees continue buzzing and ventilate the hive at night. The honey cells are capped. The hive smells of honey when it is approached. The guards at the entrance become more aggressive than ever and send out patrols to attack any potential intruder loitering in the vicinity. The population of the hive is now at its peak. The brood nest is overcrowded. There is congestion at the entrance. During the night, the bees form a large cluster there, waiting for the cool wind, because they cannot cope with the heat in the hive. All these signs that the colony is getting ready to swarm are also signs that its honey reserves are maximum.
But not every colony will be at this point at the same time, and therefore the beekeeper should weigh his hives during his inspection. The heavier hives may be ready for harvesting, while others will have to wait a little longer.
How to harvest honey
As we have already seen (p. 66), the general rules for brood-nest control and honey-harvesting are the same, and they therefore do not need to be repeated here in detail.
Wear protective clothes. Never forget to take along a good knife or hive tool, brush or quill and a good container for honey. The honey container may be made of earthenware, stainless steel, plate or plastic, but it should always be rust-proof. Smoke the hive and open it as described on p. 66. Then remove the combs one by one (giving a puff of smoke before removing each one) and look at them carefully.
Empty combs, brood combs, and combs containing both brood and honey or uncapped honey should all be returned to the hive (see Fig. 11). Only full combs of ripe honey (see Fig. 10) should be taken. When such a comb is found, brush any bees on it into the hive and use a knife to cut the comb honey away as shown in Fig. 12. Leave about one centimetre of comb on the top-bar to guide the bees to work the next honey crop. Carry on with the harvest until a dark comb is reached. This comb usually contains both honey at the top and brood below. Stop here.
Some combs may not be easy to remove because the bees may have attached them to each other. This usually happens when the beekeeper has left space between his top-bars. Use a knife to separate them.
If the hive entrance is in the mid-section, there will be honey at both sides. Replace all top-bars and treat the other side in the same manner, but be sure to leave ten combs in the middle. The bees will then work faster to produce the next honey crop than if all honeycombs were taken away.
After removing the surplus honey, rearrange the top-bars carefully in the same manner as before. If bees are rushing out between top-bars, drive them back with smoke, but avoid crushing them unnecessarily. Then close the hive carefully, making sure the lid is firmly placed on the hive. Cork the smoker after work is done. Do not throw left-over fuel into the bush -- it can cause bush fires.
Honey harvesting at night
In practice, the aggressiveness of the African honeybee makes it impossible for most beekeepers and wild-honey tappers to approach their hives or harvest their honeycombs in broad daylight. Comb moving and most related jobs, such as brood-nest control, are best performed late in the afternoon or delayed until night or early morning, when bees are less aggressive. On two occasions near Atebubu, a rich beekeeping area in Ghana, some hives were opened at about 10:00 a.m. by beekeepers wearing protective clothes. On returning to the village more than a kilometre away, they discovered that the inhabitants had all deserted their homes and taken refuge in the nearby bushes. The harassment by bees continued until 5:00 p.m., when the villagers were able to return to their homes. This explains why most honey tappers work at night.
However, it is not easy to work well in the dark. Light must therefore be provided, and this definitely requires an extra hand to assist in the operations. Flashlights, which are ideal for use in the job, are usually beyond the reach of the average honey-tapper, especially since, in many tropical countries, batteries for them cannot be obtained on the market. When lanterns or hive torches are used, many bees, attracted to the fire, are burned to death. If the lanterns are shaded to avoid this, bees will cluster around the shades and shut out most of the light.
Under such circumstances, the job cannot be carried out efficiently, and precious bees and comb may well be crushed in the process.
Another problem with night harvesting is that many beekeepers, especially beginners, find it difficult in the dark to distinguish between brood combs and honeycomb, and all are harvested together. In this way, valuable brood is lost, and good honey is polluted with crushed brood.
Finally, crushing of bees between top-bars cannot be avoided in the dark. As a result, the last top-bar may not fit, and the beekeeper will then have to remove and rearrange all the top-bars, and even then the problem may not be solved. If the beekeeper then decides to leave the last top-bar out of the hive, the bees will fill up the gap with propolis or extra comb, wasting time that could be better spent collecting nectar, and making the next control and harvesting operations all the more difficult.
It is clear, then, that the beekeeper will do well to work out a method for carrying out his harvesting and control operations during the daylight hours, even if some danger may be involved.
Honey harvesting in daylight
One simple and effective system for harvesting honey or controlling the brood nest with little or no danger, even during the hottest hours of the day, makes use of the fact that foraging bees always return to the site of their hive, even if the hive is no longer there.
1. The beekeeper brings with him to the site an empty hive and a container with a lid for carrying the harvested honey.The economy of this system is obvious. Daylight is utilized to ensure proper execution and efficient harvest or brood-nest control without attacking bees chasing nearby inhabitants. Diseases can easily be detected, and hive predators can be found and eliminated. Crushing of combs and bees between top-bars is avoided or minimized. Top-bars can be restored to their proper position. Work can be done throughout the day in a pleasant atmosphere without rushing.
2. He smokes the hive heavily from the outside to force the "security guards" and any other bees of the colony who are waiting outside the hive to return to it. It is important to continue smoking until the bees have lost all their aggressivity.
3. The hive is then carried away from the site, in the direction opposite to the flight runway, and placed on a platform (or on the ground) at least 50 metres from the nearest hive in the apiary. The empty hive is left at the hive site to serve as a temporary home for any returning foragers or for any bees that escape from the moved hive.
4. Working as quickly as possible in order to avoid robber bees, which can otherwise cause trouble, the beekeeper carries out his harvesting or control operations in the normal manner.
5. When the work is completed, the hive is closed and carried back to its original position, and the empty hive is removed. Any bees in it, or members of the colony waiting outside, will then rejoin the hive.
To take advantage of this process, it is suggested that beehives be sited on platforms to facilitate easy moving instead of hanging them on trees or nailing them to a table.
Honey and beeswax extraction
The traditional methods of extracting honey and beeswax are unsuitable and unhygienic. Extraction of honey by squeezing with the hand seems to be the quickest method for the average honey-tapper, who cannot afford a centrifugal honey extractor or solar wax-melter. However, the hand contaminates the honey, and unripe honey ferments within a few days after extraction. (Fermentation of honey is more a problem in coastal areas than inland.) Neem and coconut honeys are light in consistency and ferment more quickly than honeys produced from other plants.
The combs, including brood, unripe and capped honeycombs, are collected at night. They are all stacked on a wire mesh and a container is put underneath the pile of combs. Live embers are placed on the pile. The fire begins to consume the combs, and honey and wax trickle down into the container until all combs are completely consumed by the fire. The material collected is left untouched until the next morning. The beeswax which has hardened at the top of the honey is removed, and the honey is poured into bottles of about one kilogram.
The disadvantage here is that honey loses nutritional value and quality when exposed to high temperatures. In addition, the smoky fire employed is full of ashes, charcoal, dust and gravel which contaminate the honey. Such honey tastes bitter and smoky. The brood combs also add water to the honey, and such honey cannot be stored for long nor enter international markets.
The solar vex-melter
This is a simple device and can be made by local craftsmen. The melter is made of wood, lined with a galvanized metal plate and has a glass or clear plastic cover. The base is airtight. The melter can be painted black to absorb more heat.
On a sunny day, the wax extractor is capable of generating a temperature of 61°C, enough to melt down a bee comb so that both honey and beeswax flow into a container inside the box.
Hot bath method
In the absence of a wax-melter, the hot-water bath process now in use by some African beekeepers may be adopted. This is the quickest method of obtaining the wax, but it can only be employed after the combs have been crushed and the honey removed.
- a cooking potProcedure:
- sackcloth or a sack (preferably jute)
- string or twine (2-3 metres)
- a stick or a discarded top-bar
- a large spoon or ladle
- a mould for the wax
1. Put water (amount depending on the quantity of bee combs) into the cooking pot and heat over a fire.Note: Do not subject beeswax to high temperatures. Prevent the water from boiling by reducing heat.
2. Wash crushed bee combs to remove dirt and honey and place in the sack.
3. Make a good package by tightening the string around the sack.
4. By now the water should be quite warm. Put the package into the pot and use the stick to push it down to the bottom.
5. When it reaches a temperature of about 59°C, the wax begins to melt and a waxy scum begins to form on top of the water.
6. Use the stick to press the package. More wax will float to the top of the Water.
7. Use the ladle to skim off the melted wax and pour it into a mould. Continue this process until wax no longer rises to the surface.
Extraction of honey and beeswax by Ocloo's method
This method, suggested by a beekeeper from Accra, Ghana, is published here for its simplicity, cheapness and efficiency. The method works on the same principle as the solar wax melter, employing the sun's heat to melt down the combs.
- a large containerProcedure:
- a sheet of nylon mosquito mesh
- a strong nylon cord and a needle
- a plastic or polyethylene cover
1. Fasten the mosquito mesh over the container with the nylon cord.Moulding beeswax
2. Place honeycombs on the wire mesh so that honey can trickle into the container.
3. Cover the honeycombs and container with plastic and secure it fast to the container with another cord.
4. Leave the honey and container in the sun. Both honey and wax will seep down into the container. The vex will harden above the honey and can be removed when the money cools down to be decanted and bottled.
Beeswax collected should be moulded in the following manner:
1. Use a container with a rounded bottom and a mouth wider than the bottom with a very smooth inner surface. Many plastic containers are suitable.
2. Place a small quantity of water (about a tablespoonful) in a cooking pot and put on the fire. Do not melt beeswax in a dry container. It should not be exposed to fire because it burns easily and can be damaged by too much heat. Melt beeswax and all bee combs outdoors.
3. Add all the beeswax and watch carefully as wax melts down. Remove it from the fire immediately after the last lump of wax has melted.
4. Pour melted beeswax into the mould and place in a cool, dry place to cool.
5. Remove the cakes of beeswax next morning.
6. The dark material collected at the bottom can be removed with a knife and can be sold to a shoemaker. The clean raw beeswax is ready for the market.
Some facts about honey
Honey is classified by the source from which the bees gathered the nectar, because the source influences the honey's flavour, colour and viscosity (thickness). For example, honey collected between October and December may have an orange flavour, showing that the bees collected most of the nectar from citrus trees. The following table shows some plants, with the colour and viscosity of the honey they produce.
|Neem||Light, amber||Very low (runs|
Uses of honey
• As human food:
- in certain alcoholic beverages sugar substitute in cooking and baking• As an ingredient in drugs:
- in child feeding
- for athletic and strenuous activities diabetics
- for hay fever; in cough syrup; as sweetening agent in drugs, especially for children• For animal feeding:
- dairy cows (to increase milk production)• In veterinary medicine:
- donkeys and racehorses poultry mash and feed for fish farms
- in the treatment of acetonemia (a disease of the cow)• In cosmetics:
- as a facial cleanser and an ingredient in hand lotion• In mice- and rat-repellent compounds
Chapter 7 The use of bees for pollination
The practice of using bees to pollinate fruit crops is as new as the beekeeping industry in most parts of tropical Africa, although the practice has started in a few places in northern and southern Africa. This short chapter describes how farmers could utilize it to great advantage.
Chapter 1 of this manual has already said a good deal about the need for such an activity in the African agricultural economy, on a great continent where hunger, malnutrition and desertification are enormous problems. From flowers, the honeybees collect large quantities of nectar for the production of honey to feed themselves and pollen for feeding their young. In the collection process, the insect pollinates thousands of different kinds of plants, including edible and cash crops. According to Prof. E.C. Martin, the value of bee pollination of fruits, vegetables and seeds in the United States of America totalled very close to $8 billion in the 1960s; the figure 20 years later is probably close to $20 billion.
Prof. Martin goes on to calculate that foods derived from insect-pollinated plants represented about one-third of the total food consumed in the USA in 1970. This amounted to $40 billion. He concludes:
"Many parts of the world are blessed with similar variety and nutritive quality in their available food supply. If less fortunate parts of the world are to improve their diets to include more meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables, there will be need for great world-wide increases not only in bee-pollinated crops but also in bees and beekeepers to carry on the pollination and particularly an increase in knowledge and understanding of what a potent force in food production and human nutrition the honeybee activity is."In Africa, many crops depend on the wind for their pollination, including cereals: millet, guinea corn, maize and rice. Plantain, cocoyam and yam also do not need insects to pollinate them. But most leguminous vegetables; cash crops such as coffee, cola nut, cocoa, coconut, palm, cashew and shea butter; fruits such as the mango and citrus; and many other plants cannot be pollinated without insects.
The insect forages for nectar and pollen from several thousands of plant species and in the process pollinates a wide variety of crops important for the survival of life. While bees may visit many species of plants in a day, a forager may also constantly visit one plant, sometimes for several days, until there is no more nectar or pollen to collect.
Pollen is a vital food for the brood of the honeybee. The bee needs it in the hive, but the flower also needs the bee to fertilize it. The bright colour and sweet odour of the flower combine to attract insects. The honeybee, which has a powerful sense of smell and a keen sense of sight, is easily attracted to the flower. In the process of gathering both nectar and pollen, it incidentally transfers some pollen from the flower's male organs, the anthers, to its female organ, the stigma. The pollen germinates, and penetrates to the plant's ovaries, where the seeds are formed.
The honeybee starts its foraging activity between 5:00 and 5:15 a.m. Flight usually depends on the weather and temperature. The honeybee will not leave the hive if the temperature is below 14°C or if the wind speed is above 30 kilometres per hour. To be effective, therefore, pollination should take place in warm, clear weather, but too much heat has the same adverse effect as too much cold. If the weather is hot, dry and windy, the flower's stigma may dry out, so that pollen deposited does not germinate. Pollen may also not be available in conditions of continuous rainfall, since flowers are usually scarce during the rainy season. Thus, areas of frequent rainfall offer few flowers for bee activity.
The honeybee is the only insect that can successfully be moved from farm to farm. It is estimated that five average colonies (about 50 000 bees each) can work a two-hectare plantation. This is achieved by moving colonies and siting them close to the farm.
How to move bees
The beekeeper must study carefully the temperament of his bees, and keep a record of the seasons when they are friendly or aggressive in his locality, because during certain periods of the year, bees can be transported easily without precautionary measures against aggression and stinging.
A motorized lorry is an indispensable tool for the professional beekeeper. Bees cannot be moved by head-load. The top-bar hive cannot be transported over long distances on poor roads or tracks, and therefore hives that are to be transported frequently must be fitted with movable frames. The hives should have a ventilation hole about two centimetres in diameter, covered with mosquito mesh. Their bottom board should be coated with termite-repellent paint.
The hives should be light enough to be loaded and unloaded easily. Combs with capped honey should be removed to reduce weight, while uncapped combs should be retained in the hive. Before loading, hives should be inspected and all unwanted openings sealed with wood and wax, since they can create problems if the bees come through them and cluster outside the hive. However, bees tend to cluster quietly in moving vehicles and rarely attempt to fly away or cause any harm until movement stops.
In general, bees are less troublesome riding at night. Hives should be loaded in the evening, when most of the bees have returned from foraging. The bees clustered at the entrance are smoked to drive them into the hive. The entrance is then sealed, and the ventilation hole is opened to allow air to circulate through the hive. Hives can be stacked one above another. They should be packed closely and neatly, and secured with a trucer's rope. The journey and the reinstallation of the hives should take place at night: hives should be unloaded and installed before sunrise, because the bees will be ready to leave shortly after that time. To assist in the night work, a flashlight with a red bulb, or covered with red cellophane, is a useful tool, because bees cannot detect red light and are therefore not disturbed by it.
Fruit-growers should be encouraged to keep their own bees to ensure that their crops are properly pollinated. Growers who for any reason do not wish to keep bees should be advised to use the services of a beekeeper who has colonies to move about for the purpose.
In order for a pollination programme to work successfully, it is important that the farmer and the beekeeper work in close collaboration, because both have an essential role to play. yell before he needs the bees (where bees are scarce, several months' notice may be necessary), the farmer should contact the beekeeper to make detailed arrangements. At this time they should agree on a number of points, and it is often advisable for the agreement to be written down in a simple contract. Among the things they should agree on, these are possibly the most important:
1. The number and the strength of the colonies to be provided. Rented colonies should be queen-right, with at least four brood combs;In this chapter, environmental problems which the bee industry is likely to face will be discussed in some detail, and, where possible, suggestions will be made on ways and means of counteracting them. These problems are grouped into three categories: natural climatic conditions, man and his activities, and natural pests.
2. The dates of delivery and removal of the colonies;
3. The distribution of the hives on the farm;
4. The fee and schedule of payments. This is negotiable and depends on a number of factors, including proximity and transport costs, the quantity and quality of honey produced from the crop, and the risks, if any, involved in the operation. Due to the fact that he can expect two different benefits from the operation, the beekeeper should be prepared to charge moderate prices;
5. Ownership of the honey produced. Normally, the honey belongs to the beekeeper. If not, his fee is likely to be higher;
6. The right of the grower to verify that the colonies are up to strength. However, the grower should never attempt to open hives without the consent of the beekeeper. Colonies can be simply inspected by counting the number of returning foragers: on a warm, bright day during the flowering period, 100 bees returning to the hive within one minute is usually regarded as very good;
7. Restrictions on the use of insecticides or pesticides toxic to bees, not only during the rental period but for a specified period before it begins. This is important because the farmer owes it not only to the beekeeper but also to himself to be sure that the colonies are strong, and therefore that he does not kill bees by the wrong use of pesticides;
8. Precautions to be taken against bush fires;
9. Liability for random stinging by bees, for vandalism, for livestock damage, and for theft of hives.
Chapter 8 Adverse natural factors and pests
The amount of annual rainfall and the temperature of an area exert a great influence on the life and work output of the honeybee. The insect has been called a "summer bird", for it performs most energetically at relatively high temperatures, up to 35°C. Its activity slows when the temperature drops below 20°C, and bees will not move at all below 8°C. Fortunately, such low temperatures are rare in Africa.
At low temperatures, comb building ceases. Bees remain indoors and cluster to generate heat to keep themselves warm. To fan themselves or to cluster, they need fuel to burn; honey fuel allows them to perform these functions. Therefore, if one of these two activities is allowed to continue for long, field bees will not fetch food and other necessities of life, and the colony will have to depend on honey stored in the comb cells. The same phenomenon occurs during rainfall or the rainy season. Indeed, honey stored is for consumption during bad weather such as the chilly rainy season. If bees are confined because of unfavourable weather, an average colony may consume as much as 1.4 kg of honey in a day. Should this continue, whole stores of honey may be completely depleted and the colony will face famine.
On the other hand, temperatures above 37°C are equally unfavourable for the honeybee. At very high temperatures, combs begin to melt and most of the bees in the hive will move out and fan themselves and the brood nest frantically. At such temperatures, bees will spend all their time fetching water to cool the hive, and nectar collection will cease completely.
It was previously mentioned that the equatorial evergreen rain-forest area does not support any reasonable beekeeping activity. In the dense forest regions of Africa, the annual rainfall may range from 1 500 to as much as 10 000 mm, and the peak rainy season occurs from mid-June through July. It is at this period that most bee colonies swarm, and they therefore have to solve their accommodation problems promptly: if suitable hollows are not available, the swarm will hang in the open and drown. The problem of the swarm does not end there. A young virgin queen leading a secondary swarm must make her mating flight. A temperature of about 21°C is required for the drone to leave the hive, while the queen bee flies out at about 24°C. If the rain continues for a long time and low temperatures persist, the queen's nuptial flight will be delayed. After a week, the workers will become angry and may kill her or, if she is allowed to live, she will begin to lay unfertilized eggs. Once she starts egg-laying, the nuptial flight cannot take place and that will spell the doom of the entire colony.
Other problems are also encountered by the honeybee in the dense equatorial forest:
- Some trees are so tall that worker bees will not visit them for any reason.It should be noted that the absence of honeybee, from the forest in adequate numbers hampers adequate pollination, and this affects crop yields. This explains why some fruit crops (e.g. mango and orange) cannot perform well in dense forests; even though the plants grow taller and larger, they always bear less fruit than might otherwise be expected.
- Tall trees in the equatorial forest have few or no flowers, so that nectar and pollen are scarce.
- The sun's rays cannot reach the forest floor, the thick undergrowth prevents the free flow of air, and the temperatures are too low to induce worker bees to fly out to procure the commodities essential for the colony.
- High humidity levels promote serious fungal diseases in the insect.
- High moisture content in the nectar prevents honey from curing well.
- Ants, reptiles, birds and other hive predators are present in the forest in large numbers.
The savannah and semi-arid regions occupy over 50% of Africa's total area. These regions ideally could support large-scale commercial beekeeping, because their climatic conditions favour the honeybee. Almost every shrub and tree found in the region produces flowers. Grasses are wind-pollinated, but it is common to find bees visiting some of them, including guinea corn, millet and maize. These regions have few beekeeping problems, the most important being inadequate surface water and the dry harmattan wind.
The density of human population suggests the degree to which an area is geographically favourable for man and animals, and also for bees. In general, most arid and desert areas of Africa are fertile lands which only require water in the form of either rainfall or irrigation. In Egypt, for example, thanks to the presence of the Nile River for irrigation, parts of the land support high-density human settlement. The irrigated areas have several tree crops and enough water to support abundant bee life. The days are bright and warm. There is little or no rainfall to disturb flight activities. There are abundant drought-resistant plants which when in bloom provide nectar and pollen to support strong bee colonies.
Sparsely-populated areas, on the other hand, are like the dense forest regions in that they do not support beekeeping. They have the same wild plants and warmth as the densely populated savannah to support the honeybee, but they lack year-round surface water. In several uninhabited savannah woodland areas of West Africa, for example, the annual rainfall may exceed 1 000 mm, but the torrential rains come within two months and leave a long period of the year with barely a shower. The porous soil cannot retain the rain water for long, and the harmattan winds aggravate the situation: the dry, thirsty wind drains all moisture from both the soil and the plants. The trees shed their leaves quickly, and there are no flowers to support the honeybee. Colonies which began life during the rainy season quickly migrate to other regions where they can survive.
The worst of all the enemies of the honeybee is man. In his attempt to improve his living conditions, man has caused, and is still causing, great damage to nature. Trees that support bee life are hacked down, and houses are built on fertile soils which would support crops. Forage trees and forests which took millions of years to develop are destroyed in decades. The bee population is falling off, as their places for food and shelter are being destroyed through the work of lumbermen, road builders, building constructors and farmers. The farmer is the most guilty, and he is also the most severely punished for destroying his own environment. He has cleared all the bush covering the soil along the banks of the rivers which provide him with water, thus exposing the water to direct sunlight and increasing the rate of evaporation and soil erosion. The catchment areas that our grandfathers used have been cleared, and the water-tables have therefore dropped seriously. Drought and famine, which are causing a mass exodus from the land and untold human suffering in wide areas, are thus to a great extent the result of man's careless utilization of the land.
A well-implemented reafforestation programme is the best -indeed, it is probably the only -- means of halting the desertification that is threatening ever-larger zones of Africa. If every able-bodied person in a country of 10 million people planted only one tree a year, the country would have 100 million new trees in only 10 years. Beekeepers, however, should set their own, much higher, targets, planting quick-maturing bee-forage trees (eucalyptus is perhaps the best) to cover once again the banks of streams and rivers and all other areas known to have water-tables. They should also plant fruit crops that, with the help of the honeybee, could yield fruit, honey and beeswax for man. Many apiaries could be sited in such man-made forests. The bees would find their food and water naturally, while man would gain several immediate advantages and lay a sound foundation for future generations.
As mentioned very early in Chapter 1, honey-hunters using outdated, barbaric methods are a terrible danger to the bees. Not only do they deliberately kill many of them, but as they cut down trees to take the colonies' combs, they destroy the tree hollows that are the bees' natural home. The colonies are thus forced to hang outdoors, exposed to all their natural enemies. And if the bees are destroyed, they cannot fertilize flowering crops, and this again contributes to famine conditions.
For all these reasons, the activities of the traditional honey-tapper, the main present supplier of honey in most African countries, should be very strictly controlled. Governments should not only regulate honey-hunting and enforce the regulations once made, but should also make serious efforts to instruct honey-tappers in the newer, more efficient ways of honey-hunting, as well as to encourage them to keep bees themselves.
One of the greatest problems in the savannah and the transitional forest zones is bush-burning. This practice is rampant during the dry season (generally from November to Hay). Some obvious reasons for bush-burning are (i) to clear the land for farming (ii) and to clear the bush and make hunting easy. The honeybee population suffers greatly from such fires' in a wild fire that consumes an area of 250 square kilometres, with only one colony for every 10 hectares, about 125 million bees could be destroyed.
The beekeeper must guard his hives against bush fires. Before the dry season, he should make a fire belt around the apiary and visit it as frequently as possible, removing any fallen wood or leaves which could spread a fire on the site.
Where water is scarce during the dry season, the honeybee makes life difficult for man. The streams disappear, and it becomes necessary to travel several miles to fetch a head-load of water for domestic purposes. At the same time, the temperature is high, and the harmattan wind drains all moisture from the honeycomb. There are larvae to feed, and this requires water, but the honeybee can only travel three kilometres. If she cannot find water in the streams, then that bucketful of water which the villager has collected must be snatched away. The bees will lay claim to-it in large numbers. Returning from the farm late in the evening, the exhausted, thirsty farmer finds that his only bucket of water has been drained by the bees. What is more, the bees harass the women pounding grain. In extreme cases, they try to suck human sweat, and this results in a scuffle.
In some places, therefore, the villagers hunt the bees and burn them. In one village in Ghana, a government officer said,
"We deliberately burn them in order that we can live peacefully in this area."
Bees must be watered in the same manner as birds are watered on a poultry farm. The surest way to prevent bee-burning is to provide a regular water supply for bees as well as for human consumption in the dry season. In planning a beekeeping project in the savannah area, it is essential to provide adequate water for bees as well as for humans, in order to prevent bee attacks from causing loss of life or other serious inconvenience.
The palm-vine tapper
The palm tree produces a sweet, refreshing liquid which is drunk by man in many tropical countries. The honeybee also refreshes herself with this type of wine from the pot of the wine-tapper. The honeybee begins to leave the hive as early as 5 a.m. The wine-tapper usually makes sure he reaches his wine very early, but by the time he removes his first pot of wine from the tree, many bees have already been there. They fill themselves with wine and become tipsy. In extreme cases, the whole pot of wine is consumed, and many bees drown. The wine-tapper, furious at the sight of the countless bees lying in the wine pot, sometimes collects all the bees and throws them away or kills them. If he assumes that the motionless, tipsy bees are dead, he does them no further harm. However, most of the bees left unmolested will eventually recover and return to the hive.
In general, drunken bees are like human drunkards. They work less and produce little honey. Apiaries should therefore not be set up near places where vine-tapping is in progress. Colonies may dwindle in size and may perish completely as the insects are burned, crushed or drowned.
As the honeybee visits plants during her search for nectar or pollen, she flies from one plant and flower to another. Sometimes the insect unknowingly lands on a poisonous plant or contacts a poisonous pesticide which the farmer has sprayed to protect his crops. (According to a report published in 1973, out of 399 pesticides, 20% were highly toxic to bees, 15% were moderately toxic and 65% were relatively non-toxic.) Pollen collectors may carry this poisoned pollen into the hive and store it for future use by the bee brood. As long as the poisonous pollen remains in the cells, it poses a dangerous threat. It may kill both adults and brood, either by contact or by ingestion. This intensive hazard of pesticide poisoning sometimes overshadows all other problems, for example when an entire orchard is sprayed by aircraft. Beekeepers are strongly advised to keep their hives away from sprayed fields.
Natural enemies and posts
The greatest natural enemies of the honeybee are all types of ants: driver, tailor, black, red, brown, large or small, all are dangerous to the hive. They eat sweets such as nectar, honey, sugar and the bee's body. They like to live in hollows like the bee, and the same empty beehive produced by man for bees can also be a good home for them. The hive must therefore be protected from ants.
All four wires or the legs of the hive should be protected by insect repellents. The part of the suspension wire nearest to the branch on which the wire hangs should be coated with thick grease. The legs of the hive stands can also be protected with grease, but the best insect repellent to use with hive stands is dirty engine oil, each leg of the stand being placed in a shallow container full of the oil. Spreading wood ash or charcoal ash around the stand will also keep ants away.
A newly installed beehive should be visited frequently to check whether it has been colonized by bees or ants. Destroy every ant found in the hive.
Wax moths (Galleria mellonella and Achroia grisella)
The wax moth is the bee's second worst enemy. There are two types: greater and lesser wax moths. They attack colonies during the warm periods of the year. Strong colonies are able to repel them, but weak ones are susceptible to attack. The moth itself does no harm to adult bees but does harm the larvae. The female, which is slightly smaller than the honeybee, enters the hive freely and lays her eggs in the combs. The eggs hatch in three days, and the emerged larvae begin to eat the wax, tunnelling through and destroying the comb cells, and spinning web-like cocoons about themselves for protection against the bees. They are capable of destroying all the combs in a hive. The bees may leave the hive and cluster on a support near the apiary. If the beekeeper's attention is drawn to this, he can sometimes prevent the colony from absconding by cleaning all the destroyed combs and removing all the larvae of the wax moth. The bees may return to the hive and start all over again.
When the wax-moth reaches its pupal stage, it digs hollows in wood for its cocoon and by doing so damages or destroys the inner surface of the hive and the top-bars. (See Fig. 15.)
Weak colonies can be protected against wax moth by making them strong, for example by uniting two or three colonies. The moth usually enters a hive to lay her eggs when a colony swarms.
When strong colonies swarm, most of the bees leave the hive, and the few which remain may not be able to cover all the combs. Unguarded combs should be removed, stored and replaced later as the colony increases in size.
The entrance of a weak colony should be reduced to enable the few "security officers" to guard it effectively. Other holes which can serve as entrances to the hive will surely be used not only by the moth but by other hive predators as well. Such entrances should be sealed off as soon as they are discovered.
Lizards, reptiles measuring about 25 cm from head to tail, are mostly found in backyard gardens, in villages and the outskirts of the city. The activity of the "home lizard" may cause great concern to the beekeeper. It sometimes stays very close to the hive or accommodates itself comfortably between the lid and the hive body, if it can find an entrance. From that convenient spot, it may feed indefinitely on the bees.
Even lizards not living near the hive will feed on the bees once they can locate the apiary. Although they prefer dead bees, they will eat live ones as well. A worker bee, acting as a scavenger, will pounce on an old, lazy or sick bee and try to tear the victim's wings, breaking them into pieces. While this action is in progress, the lizard will rush in and lick both of them up with its sticky tongue.
A serious lizard problem may lead to absconding. The simplest and most practical protective measure is illustrated in Fig. 8 on page 52. Beehives are installed on a platform, with metal cones nailed on the legs about 70 cm above the ground, to prevent lizards from reaching the hives.
Toads use the same methods as lizards, and will remain in the apiary if they can get bees to eat. The toad generally consumes only weak and dead bees, but if it can reach the hive, it will eat live bees as well. The toad does not pose as many problems as the lizard because it cannot climb. The best means of protecting hives against toads is therefore to install them at least 60 cm above the ground.
Some snakes are known to eat bees. They do not cause much damage to the colony, but the beekeeper should always be careful to avoid being bitten by a poisonous snake near the hive.
This large moth is well known in the forest for entering hives between June and November. It makes a special sound which paralyzes the bees, and they may refrain from attacking it. The moth may then be able to load its stomach with honey. Sometimes the bees are able to catch the moth and break it into pieces. The dead Atropos may be found disposed of near the entrance of the hive.
Since the wing-span of the moth is as wide as 12 cm, Atropos cannot enter any hole which is only 8 mm in diameter. The use of hives with slot-like entrances should be avoided if the area is infested with this insect.
The bee pirate
A wasp-like insect with orange and black skin is sometimes found molesting the field bees entering and leaving the hive. This insect is usually active between October and May. There is nothing the beekeeper can do to stop it, but it cannot cause any great harm to a colony of bees.
The praying mantis
The praying mantis also eats bees, but this insect cannot cause any great damage to a colony.
The spider constructs webs around in the apiary or in an empty hive. Once the web catches bees, the spider will eat them.
All webs found in or near the apiary should be destroyed. The hive should be cleaned and all webs found within it removed. Otherwise, the scout bees will be caught and eaten, and no swarm will ever take possession of the empty hive.
The Alpine swift
This bird is well known for eating bees. The birds arrive in December and stay on for several weeks, usually causing considerable losses.
There are other organisms which follow a swarm and settle with them in the hive. Some harass the bees, and the Workers are often found trying to drive them away.
The hive beetle (Aethina tumida): This is a small black or brown insect with an armour-plated shell which the honeybee is unable to crack with her mandibles or sting to death. The beetles are found in the hive every day, and their number increases during the honey-flow season. A colony of bees containing large numbers of this insect produces less honey than one of the same size without the insects. The bees try to keep them away, but as the bees chase them out, the beetles resist and waste the honeybees' time. There is no known way to eliminate them.
The bee scorpion (Pseudoscorpion): This insect, as the name implies, looks like a scorpion. It usually clings to the legs of the bees and accompanies them to the nest. The worker bees try to drive them away, but like the Aethina tumida, the pseudo-scorpion will never go away.
The bee louse (Braula): One or two may be found on a worker or drone, but more are usually found on the queen bee, probably because the braula enjoys taking royal jelly; hence, it would be the first to partake of the food whenever the queen is served. The worker bees never attack them, but the queen can be deloused by catching her and holding her between the thumb and the middle finger, placing a live cigarette ash on the louse. It will quickly fall off. It can also be smoked out with the smoke of a cigarette.
Creatures found in or near the hive which constitute no danger to honeybees are the little green lizard, wall gecko, some small frogs and the cockroach. They are usually called the bee friends. They eat some insects which encroach upon the hive such as the wax moth, the house fly, the blue-bottle fly and the mosquito. However, there is some doubt whether the cockroach is really a good friend to the honeybee.
Chapter 9 Some bee diseases
Like all other living creatures, the honeybee suffers from diseases. In many parts of the world, research is underway for means of combating or preventing them, but the African bee industry is in its infant stage and not much research has been carried out on bee diseases in Africa. It is believed that some of the diseases found in temperate and sub-tropical regions of other parts of the world may be present on the continent.
Some sub-tropical African countries (e.g. Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia), have some of the known diseases; it is therefore important that beekeepers study the diseases described here and watch for their symptoms in their apiary. Such discoveries should be reported to the International Bee Research Association (IBRA), 18 North Road, Cardiff CF1 3DY, UK.
The life cycle of the honeybee starts with an egg, which hatches in three days. It then passes through larval and pupal stages before emerging as an imago or a young bee. During the brood stage, the insect may be attacked by bacterial, viral or fungal diseases.
The beginner cannot detect any brood disease unless he knows what a healthy brood comb looks like. It is usually clean; it may be black, brown or white. Good, healthy queens lay their eggs in clean cells. The laying pattern must be watched. It usually takes the form of concentric circles. First, the eggs are laid at the centre of the comb and then outward in rings to the comb edges. The capping of the pupae follows the same pattern from the centre to the edges. The regularity of the brood in the cells should also be noted. Good brood comb cells are usually compactly filled by the fifth and sixth days before sealing takes place. An irregular brood comb may signal brood disease. Care must be taken, however, because an irregularity may also be the result of brood emerging.
Watch a healthy larva carefully. It coils like a "comma" in the cell and is fleshy, glistening, juicy white in appearance. It does not move from place to place in the cell. It does not look brown, black or assume any other colour except white. The larva should not be misshapen or found dead. Pupae must remain capped; the seal should not be punctured or sunken.
Any of these irregularities suggests that something has gone wrong, and this may be caused by a disease. Some diseases are serious and can wipe out an entire colony; they can gradually spread into other colonies and destroy a whole apiary. Some are seasonal and mild and cause only a small loss of the total population.
The brood diseases the beekeeper must watch for are American foul brood (AFB), European foul brood (EFB), stone brood, chalk brood, and sac brood.
American foul brood is the most serious of all brood diseases, followed by European foul brood. They are so called not because they are peculiar to each of these continents but because the two diseases were studied separately by American and European researchers at the same time.
American foul brood was present in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia in 1982, and its presence was suspected in several other African countries. In the same year, European foul brood had been reported from at least ten African countries, north and south of the Sahara, and this suggests that it is common throughout the continent. Sac brood was found in Egypt and in southern Africa in 1982, but chalk brood was reported only from Tunisia.
American foul brood (APB)
AFB causes heavy losses to the colony's population. It can wipe out not only a single colony but all the colonies in an apiary, and it can easily spread quickly from one apiary to another. It is not seasonal and may occur at any time.
The disease is caused by Bacillus larvae. The bacteria form strong resistant spores. The organisms attack the larva, which dies after it has been capped (i.e. pre-pupa). The dead insect becomes brown and finally dries up into a hard scale which is difficult to remove from the cell.
The normally convex cell cap becomes moist, dark and sunken, and later perforated. The perforation of the capped cells is the result of the attempt by the workers to uncap it to remove the decomposing remains. The brood combs of an affected colony become patchy in appearance, owing to the presence of the dead larvae. The decomposed brood has an unpleasant smell. When a match-stick is thrust into the cell of the decomposed pupa, it draws out a ropy thread several centimetres in length.
If he finds AFB in his apiary, the beekeeper should contact the local bee station, the Ministry of Agriculture or any office responsible for apiculture in the locality. Where such contact is not possible, he should burn the beehive and all its contents, including bees, combs, top-bars and frames, and bury the ashes deep in the soil. Drugs such as sulfathiazole and oxytetracycline (terramycin) can be used both as preventives and as remedies if available.
European foul brood (EPB)
The bacterium Melissococcus pluton (formerly referred to as Streptococcus pluton) is believed to be the primary causative agent, but the larva's death is also accelerated by the presence of Bacterium eurydice and others. The young larva is infected by taking in food containing the bacteria, which multiply in its gut; the larva dies on the fourth day, and the worker bees may leave the cell containing the dead larva uncapped. Sometimes the infected larva does not die until it is sealed, and this may result in sunken and perforated cappings.
Symptoms: A healthy bee larva remains coiled in the cell, but not a larva infected by EFB. Shortly before death, the infected larva moves about inside its cell. As a result, the dead larva is found in an unnatural coiled position across the mouth of its cell, sometimes twisted spirally around the walls or stretched lengthwise from the base to the mouth. The dead larva is porridge-like in appearance, as if it has been decomposed. Its plump, fleshy appearance is completely loaf. It turns yellowish-brown and eventually dries up into brown scales. Sometimes sick larvae sealed in the cells can be seen lying in sunken capped cells. The regular laying pattern of the queen is lost, and different age groups are scattered throughout the comb. The smell of the decomposed larvae varies according to the species of secondary bacteria which invade the dead larvae.
Treatment: Larvae reared in unfavourable conditions are more susceptible to EFB than those reared in favourable conditions. The disease may be seasonal and usually occurs during and immediately after the seasonal rainfall, gradually diminishing until the population of the colony rises again in October. The honey yield of the affected colony will drop. Such drugs as streptomycin, penicillin and terramycin control the disease. Immediately after the disappearance of the disease, the queen should be removed and the colony requeened.
Stone-brood disease is caused by a mould belonging to the genus Aspergillus. It attacks the brood and transforms the larva into a hard, stone-like coloured object which is found lying in open cells. Adult bees may also be attacked and are also killed in the process. The disease has not yet been reported in Africa, but beekeepers must keep alert.
The name "chalk brood" derives from the chalky appearance of the dead brood. This fungal disease, caused by Ascophaera apis, may cause serious problems to bee colonies in humid areas. Spores of the fungus are ingested in the brood food. The spores germinate in the gut, and the growth of the fungus causes the death of the brood, which occurs in the pre-pupal stage.
This is a virus disease. Larvae infected with sac brood die in their sealed cells. They become light yellow in colour, with tough skins. The skin darkens and the outer layer becomes loose, forming a "sac" which encloses a watery fluid. The brood lies stretched out lengthwise in the sealed cell. After the death of the insect, the cell is partly or fully opened, and the worker bees remove it from the hive.
The virus is spread in the nest by the house bees evacuating the dead brood. The virus does not survive long, and the disease may disappear during the honey-flow period. Serious outbreaks are not common, and usually no control action is necessary. If control is needed, then the colony must be requeened.
Other brood abnormalities
Two other brood disorders, which are not diseases, are chilled brood and bald brood.
Chilled brood, sometimes called overheated or starved brood, is caused either by cold or by overheating. When the colony's population declines, fewer house bees are available to protect the brood combs. Some brood is exposed to cold air, and this reduction of heat in the hive can kill larvae, eggs and capped pupae. Overheating can have a similar negative effect. When the interior of the hive is overheated, house bees will go outside and leave the brood unfanned.
Chilled brood may also be the result of pesticide poisoning. The bees decrease in population so that there are insufficient bees to cover the brood combs.
The obvious way to combat chilled brood is to strengthen the affected colony.
Bald brood is a secondary effect of the infestation of the hive by the wax moth (see pp. 105-107). It will be remembered that as the wax-moth larva tunnels through the comb, it produces a web-like material to form a cocoon. The tunnelling can have two results on the bee brood. If the sealed brood is uncovered, the pupae will die of the untimely exposure. But if the brood becomes entangled in the web, it will be unable to emerge, and it too will die in the cell or, if it does manage to emerge, it will be dried out to some extent, with shrivelled wings or malformed legs which will make it unable to survive.
Occasionally, a queen's eggs may fail to hatch, the young larvae may be eaten by nurse bees, or the pupae will die or fail to emerge. This may be caused by inbreeding, and the only way to overcome the problem is to requeen the colony by inserting a capped queen cell, but not an emerged queen.
Adult bee diseases
Nosema disease, among the most serious of the bee diseases, is caused by a microscopic organism, a protozoan called Nosema apis, which is believed to exist in all parts of Africa. The parasite passes its active reproductive life cycle within the digestive cell lining in the mid-gut of the adult bee. After entering a cell, the parasite multiplies quickly, competing with its host bee for its food supply until reproduction stops after a few days, with the formation of a large number of spores. The cell then ruptures and the spores enter the bee's digestive system, finally passing out in the bee's droppings. The parasite, which is in its resting stage, is then picked up again by another bee and swallowed. The spores germinate on passing from the honey sac of the bee into the mid-gut. The parasites then emerge from the spores, pass through the lining of the mid-gut and start another phase of intracellular growth and multiplication. The spores may remain viable for several months, as long as they remain in the brood combs in the hive.
The affected bee cannot utilize her protein reserves, and consequently very little royal Jelly or brood food can be produced. Therefore, only a small percentage of the potential brood can be reared. The disease causes the young bee to grow prematurely and to forage earlier than usual. Her life span is greatly reduced. The quantity of water in her body increases; she becomes lethargic and may begin to soil the hive. She later becomes a crawler and subsequently collapses.
The ovaries of the affected queen bee soon degenerate. Her egg production decreases, and finally stops completely. Her life span is also reduced, and the result may be a queenless colony or one in which the old queen is replaced by supersedure.
Since a microscope is needed to confirm the presence of the parasite, it is impossible for the average beekeeper to diagnose the disease. The only visible sign is that the colony becomes weaker and weaker as the bees fail to build up when conditions are favourable. Swollen abdomens should also be watched for.
Treatment: Nosema is best treated by giving the colony a new set of combs and requeening the hive. The affected colony can also be given fumigillin (Fumidil-B): 100 mg active ingredients in four litres of a 1:1 sugar solution. If the medication given cannot be obtained, the only option left is to burn the colony to avoid spreading the disease to other hives or even to other apiaries.
This so-called "disease" is caused by a microscopic mite, Acarapis woodii. The mite enters the bee's breathing apparatus (the tracheal system), multiplies there and interferes with the bee's respiration. It also derives nourishment from the host's blood. The bee's flying ability is greatly hampered; it begins to crawl, and finally dies. The disease may not kill a whole colony in one year; the trouble can remain in a colony for several years, causing little damage, but combined with other diseases and/or poor bee seasons due to poor environmental conditions, it can so weaken the colony that it dies.
Since acarine disease can be transferred from one bee to another, it can be transported into another colony by robber or drifting bees. The mite is present in practically every beekeeping country in the world.
Measures against spreading bee diseases
The beekeeper and the honeybee are the two main agents that spread diseases among bees and between colonies and apiaries. Dead larvae, spores and dried scales transported for removal by the worker are sometimes dragged along the combs before they are disposed overboard. The beekeeper removes combs from a weaker colony and exchanges them with combs from a stronger colony. Sick and weak colonies are united. This transfer of bees and combs sometimes takes place from one apiary to another, thereby spreading diseases.
Further, honey contaminated with spores and parasites may be fed to a healthy colony, or the beekeeper may drop such contaminated honey-combs and bee products where they will be robbed by bees. Drones and workers straying into other colonies are also guilty of spreading diseases. The beekeeper must watch these thieves carefully and act in the interest of his own business. The following points are worth noting when there is an outbreak of disease:
1. The apiary must be kept clean. Honeycombs, wax, propolis and other hive products must not be thrown away near the apiary.
2. The beekeeper must not transfer infected combs from hive to hive or from apiary to apiary. Combs must be exchanged with great care.
3. Old hive parts, as well as used apiary equipment bought or acquired from doubtful sources, must be disinfected.
4. Unknown swarms should never be accepted when there is an outbreak of a bee disease. The beekeeper should set up a quarantine apiary four kilometres away from the nearest apiary, and make sure the swarm is disease-free before transporting it to the apiary.
5. Bees should never be fed with honey from a doubtful source.
6. If a colony dies of unknown causes, the hive should be closed pending an examination of a sample comb. The remaining stores in the hive should be protected from robber bees.
7. Robbing must be prevented. Place syrup or food for a colony inside the hive or in a properly designed feeder to prevent robbing.
8. Brood combs should be regularly inspected for signs of disease.
9. Hives should be spaced reasonably far apart. The beekeeper should try to arrange his hives so that it will be easy for every bee in the apiary to find its way into its own colony. This will help minimize drifting.
Chapter 10 Queen-rearing
This chapter introduces the beekeeper to simple techniques for inducing bees to rear queen bees, in order to replace failing queens and expand his operations. It can easily lead him into commercial queen-raising -something which does not exist at the moment in tropical Africa, owing to the tedious nature of the operation and the tendency of the tropical bee to abscond when disturbed.
Commercial queen-raising involves working with several colonies and disturbing the bees almost every day, but African bees resent such harassment and therefore tend to abandon the hive. Therefore, the beekeeper who wants to develop a successful commercial queen-raising business must proceed tactfully and gently, minimizing colony disturbance by working during the cooler hours of the day or when most of the insects have left the hive for foraging, smoking them gently and avoiding any activity that will involve crushing bees or otherwise disturbing the colony.
In Chapter 2, it was seen that a queen can be reared from any female larva younger than three days old, but the worker bees will never rear a queen when they do not need one. The old queen will be maintained as long as she continues to function and maintains the accepted standard of egg-laying. But the workers will rear queens if the queen fails or disappoints them, if she dies (queenlessness), or if the colony is preparing to swarm.
Supersedure queen cells
Failure of the queen bee to distribute pheromones and lay the necessary number of eggs may lead worker bees to supersede (replace) her. For this, they build one, two or three queen cells, called supersedure, or replacement, cells, at intervals of a few days. The queen lays an egg in each queen cell. After the first queen emerges, the remaining queen cells are destoyed. The young queen may live in peace with the old one, even for several months, until the old queen dies.
Emergency queen cells
When the queen dies or is killed, the workers reconstruct several worker cells into queen cells, normally on comb areas containing brood, around larvae younger than three days. The larvae are fed with royal jelly throughout the whole larval period.
Swarming queen cells
Under the swarming impulse, several queen cells are constructed at the sides of the comb (in a top-bar hive) or at the base of the comb (in a frame hive). The queen lays eggs in such cells at intervals during a period of several days.
Nature's method of disposing of an old, impotent or ineffective queen and the bees' swarming impulse can be used at any time to rear several queens for the hive. A beekeeper who needs one or many queen bees can stir the worker bees' impulse to rear queens by artificially creating the situations mentioned above. To do this some preparation is needed. The beekeeper should first choose a breeder queen of high quality, that is, one with the desired traits. A beekeeper who needs to work with friendly, docile colonies will obviously choose to breed from such a hive, while one who needs "killer bees" to defend his property will breed from aggressive colonies. In all cases, a selection of the desired breeding stock is very important because however competent the rearing technique, the resulting queens will be inferior if the stock is poor.
Using emergency queen cells
If a laying queen is removed from her nest or killed, her absence will be felt, and the workers will be goaded into constructing emergency queen cells. After one week, these cells will be capped. Two days later, the capped queen cells can be removed with a knife and transplanted to queenless colonies.
On the other hand, very few beekeepers have the courage to kill their good queens in this way. An alternative is to build a hive smaller than the normal beehive and form a nucleus comprising worker bees, pupae, young larvae and eggs, plus one or two honeycombs and a comb with some pollen. The bees in such a queenless colony will build emergency queen cells and rear queens. The procedure is as follows:
1. Construct a number of small beehives, called nucleus hives, large enough to contain not more than five or six top-bars or frames. The hives must accommodate the same top-bars, frames and combs as the beeyard, so that combs can easily be transferred between hives.
2. Insert a quantity of bees into one nucleus hive along with one brood comb with old pupae, one or two brood combs containing some young larvae and possibly eggs, and one or two combs containing honey and pollen. Place the brood combs in the centre and the honey and pollen combs side by side. (Note that brood combs must always be kept warm by placing them in the warmest section of the hive.)
3. If the hive is installed near the parent hive, the older bees in the nucleus hive will rejoin their former colony. This may not create a problem, but if most of the bees leave the nucleus hive, the exercise may not be successful. To ensure success, install the nucleus at least three kilometres away from the old nest.
4. On the sixth day, visit the hive and count the number of well-developed capped queen cells on the comb containing young larvae and eggs.
5. Prepare as many nuclei as there are capped queen cells, using bees and capped pupae, and ignoring young larvae and eggs. Insert honeycombs or food for the bees. These nucleus boxes are called mating hives or nuc boxes.
6. On the tenth day (day 13 from egg-laying) use a knife to remove all capped queen cells. Handle them with great care because the wings of the queen are now forming. If they are carelessly handled, the wings may be deformed and the queen will not be able to make her mating flight.
7. Transplant one queen cell into each nuc box by attaching it gently to the waxy section of one of the combs in the warmest section of the hive, making sure that the tip hangs freely downwards. The cell must be free from any obstacle. This will enable the young queen to emerge freely with little or no assistance from the workers.
8. Two weeks after transplanting, visit the hive to ensure that the queen has emerged. Inspect the empty combs to ensure that she has started laying. If so, then she is ready to be used in a breeding programme.
9. When the queen cells have been removed, the workers' urge to rear a new queen will still be present, but by this time there will be no young larvae below the age of three days in the queenless hive. It is therefore necessary to restock the hive with young larvae and eggs. The workers will then rear queens, and at the appropriate time these can be removed for development in boxes. In this way a succession of excellent queen cells can be raised, provided there is a reliable supply of food and of eggs, larvae, pupae, and workers of all ages.
Maintaining the cycle
From the foregoing description, it should be clear that there is a need to maintain a continuous cycle which, if ignored, can cause the exercise to fail. The cycle requires -
- a good laying queen in a strong colony, who only needs (and should be supplied with) an empty worker comb in which to lay eggs;The operator must ensure that there is the right stock of bees, combs, etc., in each beehive or nucleus hive at all times. Once a stage is neglected, the operation's continuity will be jeopardized.
- young worker brood, containing eggs and larvae less than three days old;
- worker and drone pupae nearly hatched, to strengthen the position of the bees in the queenless hive;
- worker bees not over 10 days old that can produce royal jelly to feed young brood and young queens;
- a number of older (field) bees to carry pollen, nectar, water and all the physiological requirements of the hive;
- drones to mate with the young queen.
The cycle requires three apiaries for comb rotation:
- a queen-right strong colony or colonies from which young larvae are always taken,Obtaining fresh eggs and larvae
- a number of queenless colonies in which young larvae are turned into queens, and
- a number of nucleus mating boxes in which young queens are developed and mated.
A good, vigorous queen will always search for empty cells in which to lay eggs, preferring clean new cells. The beekeeper may therefore insert an empty comb into the warmest mid-section of the brood chamber, where the temperature is about 35°C. On the fourth day, the comb can be removed, inspected and sent to the appropriate location. Empty combs can always be collected from the empty sides of the hive. Where no such combs are available, incomplete comb can be positioned in the midsection of the brood chamber; the bees will continue to build it quickly so that the queen can lay eggs into it.
Utilizing swarming queen cells
Swarming queen cells can also be utilized by breaking them from the comb and inserting them into nucleus hives as described above. It should be recognized, however, that bees propagated by this method have a strong tendency to swarm.
Appendix: Some honeybee forage plants in the tropics and sub-tropics
Adansonia digitata (baobab)
Allium L.spp. (onion, leek, garlic, etc.)
Anacardium occidentale (cashew)
Asparagus officinalis (asparagus)
Avicennia marina (mangrove)
Azadirachta indica (neem)
Brachystegia bentham spp.
Carica papaya (papaya)
Ceiba pentandra (silk-cotton tree)
Citrus aurantium (orange)
Citrus bergamia (bergamot)
Citrus grandis (grapefruit)
Citrus limon (lemon)
Citrus medica (lime, citron)
Citrus reticulata (mandarine)
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm)
Coffea arabica (coffee)
Cola nitida (cola)
Combretum L. spp.
Croton L. spp. (croton)
Dalbergia sissoo (sissoo)
Diospyros mespiliformis (Zanzibar ebony)
Diospyros virginiana (persimmon)
Durio zibethinus (durian)
Dyschoriste Nees spp.
Elaeis guineensis (African oil palm)
Eriobotrya japonica (loquat)
Eucalyptus albens (white box)
Eucalyptus camaldulensis (red gum)
Eucalyptus citriodora (lemon gum)
Eucalyptus cladocalyx (sugar gum)
Eucalyptus maculata (spotted gum)
Eucalyptus melliodora (yellow box)
Eucalyptus paniculata (grey ironbark)
Eucalyptus robusta (swamp mahogany)
Euphoria longana (longan)
Gleditsia triacanthos (honey locust)
Gossypium hirsutum (cotton)
Grevillea robusta (grevillea)
Haematoxylon campechianum L. (campeche, logwood )
Helianthus annuus L. (sunflower)
Hypoestes Solant spp.
Impatiens Riv. ex L. spp. (balsam)
Impatiens glandulifera Royle (Himalayan balsam)
Khaya senegalensis (African mahogany)
Mangifera indica (mango)
Melicocca bijuga (honeyberry, genip)
Moringa oleifera (teen nut tree)
Musa L. spp. (banana, plantain)
Nepeta L. spp.
Nephelium lappaceum (rambutan)
Nephelium litchi (litchi)
Nyssa ogeche (Ogeechee lime)
Ocimum L. spp. (basil)
Parkinsonia aculeata (Jerusalem thorn)
Persea americana (avocado)
Phaseolus L. spp. (bean)
Pistacia vera L. (pistachio)
Polygonum L. spp. (bistort)
Prosopis glandulosa (mesquite, honey mesquite )
Prosopis pubescens (screw bean)
Protea L. spp. (honey flower, etc.)
Psidium guajava (guava)
Ricinus communis L. (castor)
Robinia pseudacacia (black locust)
Roystonea regia (royal palm)
Salix L. spp. (willow)
Sesamum indicum (sesame)
Syzygium aromaticum (clove)
Syzygium jambos (rose apple)
Tamarindus indica (tamarind)
Terminalia ivorensis (framiré)
Terminalia superba (limba)
Toona ciliata (toon, Indian mahogany)
Trifolium spp. (clover)
Vaccinium L. spp. (bilberry, blueberry, etc.)
Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree)
Zizyphus spina-christi (Christ's thorn)
Table of equivalencies
1 centimetre (cm) = 0.4 inch
1 inch (in.) = 2.54 cm
1 metre (m) = 39.37 inches
1 foot (ft.) = 30.48 cm
1 kilometre (km) = 0.62 mile
1 mile (mi.) = 1.61 km
1 cm2 = 0.155 sq. in.
1 sq. in. = 6.45 cm2
1 m2 = 10.76 sq. ft.
1 sq. ft. = 929 cm2
1 hectare (ha) = 2.47 acres
1 acre = 0.4 ha
1 cm2 = 0.06 cu. in.
1 cu. in. = 16.39 cm2
1 litre (1) = 0.22 gallon UK 1 gallon (gal.) UK = 4.541
1 litre (1) = 0.26 gallon US
1 gal. US. = 3.78 1
1 gramme (g) = 0.035 ounce
1 ounce (oz.) = 28.35 g
1 kilogramme (kg) = 2.2 pounds
1 pound (lb.) = 453.6 g
(1° Celsius (C) = 1.8° Fahrenheit (F.))
(1° Fahrenheit (F.) = 0.56° Celsius (C))
0° C = 32° F.
20° C = 68° F.
30° C = 86° F.
100° C = 212° F.