A must-have starters’ guide to beekeeping

Friday February 5 2016

A group of youth harvest honey in Ukambani.

A group of youth harvest honey in Ukambani. FILE | NATION  

By FELIX OPINYA
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Bees are the most interesting insects to keep. Apart from honey, they give other products like wax, propolis and royal jelly, besides pollinating crops.

Beekeeping is a fantastic way to venture into livestock farming, and still earn some extra money elsewhere as the insects are easier to maintain. Here is a guide for starters.

STARTER KITS
To begin with, a strong and durable beehive is necessary to house your bees, and keeping them safe from predators and harsh weather. Langstroth Hive, Kenya Top Bar Hive and the traditional log hive are the common beehives around.

The best hive should be easy to maintain, have a simple design of the top covers and supers, have ample space between brood chambers and supers, removable frames for easy hive inspection and a hive stand. For these reasons, the Langstroth hive is the most preferred for commercial purposes.

A pair of gloves is another apparatus you need, preferably one made of leather but very flexible to use. Bee wax is also necessary for the colony to occupy. Look for a smoker that burns for longer periods, preserves fuel and has a nozzle that will perfectly guide the smoke accurately.

An uncapping fork is effective for removing comb caps without damaging the comb. During hive inspection, a bee brush with soft thistles is of great help to clear bees from the comb without making them aggressive.

Of great importance too is the hive tool to aid you move frames and clean propolis. A bee suit is also a must-have. This should include the head veil to offer you maximum protection from bee stings. Be careful when putting on the bee suit.

It should always be worn over or on top of a pair of gumboots; if you tuck in the suit into your gumboots, bees will sting you. When you harvest honey, you will need a clean honey extractor and a sieve.

BEST LOCATION

Once you have all those gadgets, you need to set up your apiary. Look for a place that is less disturbed, far from noise or human activities. This place should be well-drained lest the bees abscond due to high humidity. Avoid fields frequently sprayed with chemical pesticides to reduce bee poisoning and honey contamination; thus, if a must, use bee friendly pesticides.

The apiary should also be close to water and nectar sources. Set the hives under trees or away from direct sunlight, flooded places or areas with strong winds. If your site is exposed, erect a small shade above the hives. Leave enough space – 1.2-1.5m – to give you a working area. Where space is limited, pair up the hives.

Place all the hives at a height that you will find comfortable to work. If placed on wooden stands or wire suspensions, paint the stands and wires using used oil to drive away crawling ants. If resources allow, fence your apiary to protect it from vandals and predators like honey badgers, humans and monkeys.
Best plants for bees
The nearby plants should be producing high quality nectar. Bees love wild flowers, berries, flowering herbs and a variety of flowering fruits and vegetables. You can plant agricultural crops yielding abundant nectar such as sunflower, coffee, legumes, trees, bananas, lavender, strawberries, cucumbers, tomato, squash, pumpkins, watermelons, flowering broccoli, tulips and clovers.

Fruit trees also make perfect forage materials, with trees such as acacia producing good nectar for sweet honey.
Some institutions sell stingless bees, which you can go for. Some hives, however, get stocked readily with the African bees that forage around and then they make their queen bee. To stock the hives easily, spray it with sugar syrup or hang sugar syrups around. Also, smear with melted bees wax or site the hives where bees have lived before. A catcher box can also be used to trap bees and transport them to the new hive.
ABSCONDING

Once the bees are in the hive, they can forage from the nearby plants. During dry seasons, however, supplement the bees with food. This is very important to avoid absconding; a case where bees leave the hive completely, not considering your heavy investment.

Absconding is caused by several factors that include lack of food and water. Offer the bees sugar syrup or provide little honey and water during drought. Frequent attacks by pests are also dangerous to a colony. Careless handling also frustrates bees and may make them abscond.

This include breaking combs, excess hive smoking, banging the hive, clumsiness and roughness. Excess heat in the hive or excess cold also causes absconding. To control these, position hives in a shaded place when hot or in a sunny position with minimal shade.

You will always come in contact with bees during hive inspection or honey harvesting. During these times, wear a full bee suit and avoid woollen clothes that bees stick on. Do not visit the site when smelling alcohol, strong scent perfumes or soaps, which may smell sweet to the bees and make them follow you. Always start with the least aggressive colonies to give you adequate time to handle the pleasant colonies first.

Bees are best handled in the cool evenings. Remain confident and don’t crush the insects. If by mistake they get into you, walk away and remove them plus the stings by scraping off using your nails. Do not squeeze lest the venom spread into your body.

When done with handling, don’t walk home straight, pass through plantations of maize or trees to rub off the bees from you. One bee sting is not dangerous, in most cases it will be beneficial while in a few people it may cause allergy.

Egerton University offers training on beekeeping that equip one with requisite skills, confidence and competence when dealing with the insects.

The writer is based at the Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University.