Beekeeping and Bee Farming in Kenya

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Traditionally honey in Kenya was collected from wild bees in forests. Honey has been very popular with many people in Kenya. This has necessitated beekeeping. The science of bee farming is known as apiculture.

A 2007 study  in northern Kenya found that honey production is expanding in Kenya, but data on production trends, processing and marketing is fragmented. Annual production is estimated at 700 metric tonnes . The arid and semi-arid lands yield only crudely processed honey for urban markets.

Introduction of better technology hives can significantly improve the yields and quality of bee products. Local marketing systems should be strengthened through organization of traders and bee-keepers. To enhance the market competitiveness, honey requires improved processing and quality assurances.

To reduce costs, processed honey should be packaged in bulk using plastic jerry cans. To improve quality and price, traders should blend crude (and uniformly ripe) honey from sources with similar viscosity, colour, and nector source plants.

Bee Farming in Kenya is done for the following reasons:

(a) Production of honey which is:

  • A high energy feed.
  • Sweetener for beverage and soft drinks.
  • Medicinal, as it is used to dress fresh wounds.

(b) The honey and the beeswax are sold to earn income for the farmer.

(c) They require little capital and land to keep.

(d) Bees are good pollinators for many crops.

Types of Bees in Kenya

There are mainly two types of bees, namely the African wild bee and the European bee.

The most  important bee species found in Africa from Morocco to South Africa which has the following characteristics:

  • Well adapted to local weather conditions such as high temperatures.
  • It has high flying power and hence can fly for long distances.
  • It is more active  in the search of food and water and also protection of the hive.
  • lt is fairly resistant to the diseases that attack bees such as acarive and American foul brood digging
  • it  is vicious if manhandled

European bee has the following characteristics:

  • It is more gentle and larger than the African bee.
  • active and vicious than the African bee.
  • It is susceptible to diseases that attack bees.

Bee Colony

A bee is a social insect which lives in a colony. The bee colony is made up of 3 types of bees as follows:

The Queen

In bee colony there is only one queen whose function in the hive is to:

Lay fertile eggs — The queen can lay about 1,500 — 2,000 eggs per day. The eggs are laid only when conditions are favourable and after being mated by the drone. Mating takes place in the air and about 5-7 drones are required. The queen stores the sperms in a spermatheca and hence requires mating only once in her life time.

Keeping the colony together by production of a pheromone known as queen substance for identification.

The Drones

are usually about 300 in number in a colony. Their function in the are:

To fertilise the queen.

To control the temperature or to cool the hive. This they do, by flapping their wide wings at a very high speed.

The drones are killed by the worker bees after fertilising the queen.

The Worker Bees

In a colony the worker bees are about 60,000 in number. They are the soldiers and are normally female bees. Their functions in the hive are to;

  1. Feed the queen, the drones and the brood (young bees).
  2. Protect the hive from intruders.
  3. Collect nectar, pollen, trees resins, gums and water.
  4. Build combs and seal the cracks and crevices in the hive.
  5. Clean the hive.
  6. Make honey and beeswax.

Life Cycle and Work of a Bee

In the development of bees the following takes place:

Fertilised queen moves from one cell to another laying an egg in each. The  warmth and moisture generated by a cluster of worker bees, causes eggs hatch after three days.

Larvae are fed by nurse bees on special pulp, then on a mixture of pollen and honey. Each larva spins a cocoon and after two days moults into a pupa.

The pupa becomes a young bee after ten days and emerges from the cocoon.

Eggs, larvae and pupa form what is called the brood. In this development, it takes twenty-one days to produce a worker bee, twenty-four to produce a drone and fifteen to produce a queen from the brood.

Siting the Apiary .

An apiary is a place where beehives are laid. In siting the apiary the following factors are considered:

  • Availability of water — Where water is not available in a 3 km radius, sugar solution or syrup is placed close to the hives in containers.
  • Availability of flowers.
  • A sheltered place – The bee hives should be protected from strong sun and wind.
  • A place which is free from noise and other disturbances.
  • Away from human beings and livestock. The apiary should be sited away from homesteads, pastures and busy roads.

Types of Beehives

Log Hive

This is made of log. The log is split into two parts one being larger than  the other. The larger pan is made into a trough-shaped structure by removing the inner tissues of the stem using a sharp chisel. Holes are drilled on the sides of the larger pan. The smaller part forms the floor board.

The two parts are tied together using wires. Bees attach their combs only on the topside. The lower piece (floor board) can then be removed without damaging the combs and brood. The hive is suspended by means of wires from a tree or a pole.

Box Hive

This is made of sown timber cut to a length of one metre. The best size for u box hive is up to one metre long with the inner area measuring 11x 30 cm. The top side and end board are nailed together while the bottom board is attached by means of wires or supported by four small pieces of timber, which are easily detached. For ventilation and entrance of bees, holes are drilled in the bottom board; two near the ends and one the centre.

Kenya Top Bar Hive (KTBH)

This is a movable frame hive which was designed after the Greek basket hive. The Kenya Top Bar Hive has a series of bars arranged to form the top of the hive. The bees attach their combs to the bars which can be removed for examination. These bars are known as top bars, and hence the name of the hive. They are normally 27 in number but if the bees are to be fed, a feeder box replaces one of the top bars to leave about 26.

Again another top bar can be replaced with the queen excluder to restrict the queen from laying eggs on all the top bars, thus ensuring high quality honey which is not mixed with brood.

The top bars contain a strip of beeswax starter along the centre to guide the bees to build their combs straight so that they do not touch each other. Naturally built combs are round in shape with sloping sides and a rounded bottom. This means that the sides of the hive should be sloping at an angle of 110°— 120° almost the same angle as the comb, thus the bees will not attach their combs to the hive walls. This allows inspection of each top-bar separately

Parts of The Kenya Top Bar Hive

The Kenya top bar hive is composed of the following parts:

  1. 26 -27 top bars — 3.2 cm wide x 48 cm long.
  2.  Wooden end pieces — Two in number for both sides, measuring 48 cm wide at the top, 23 cm at the base and 30 cm high (48 x 23 x 30) cm.
  3. Side pieces — Two in number, measuring 30 cm wide and 90 cm long. The side pieces bear holes that serve as entrance to the hive.
  4. Bottom piece — Only one measuring 30 cm wide and 92 cm long.
  5. Top cover — Made of corrugated iron sheets with wooden rim. Measuring 96 cm x 55 cm.
  6. Wire loops on both sides to suspend the hive above the ground.

Advantages of the Top Bar Hive

  1. The top bar can be removed for inspection of the combs and replaced.
  2. Honey combs can be removed without disturbing the brood.
  3. Honey of high quality as it is harvested without brood combs.
  4. More wax is harvested as combs are not returned to the hive.
  5. The hive is easy to construct and repair.
  6. The hive is cheap to build and does not require expensive equipment to extract honey.
  7. A queen excluder can be used in the centre of the hive to separate honey from the brood. It further increases the quality of the honey.

The Langstroth Hive

Bee hive but designed with separate chambers for the brood .This is like wax and the honey. Each chamber is a separate box and can be placed on top of the brood of each other to form a storey of many chambers. To separate chamber from the honey chamber a queen excluder 1S placed in between  as a roof for the two chambers. There is a top board of the  whole structure. Likewise a bottom board acts as the floor of the hive.

Stocking the Hive

This is the act of encouraging bees to enter an empty hive or actually putting them in it. There are a number of methods used to stock hives.

(i) Use of Swarm Net — This is made by fixing a strong wire ring to a bamboo pole. A piece of mosquito netting is sewn onto the ring. Such a net is used for catching a swarm high up on a tree, telephone Poles.

The bees which have been caught up by darkness or cold weather during swarming form a nesting swarm by hanging from a tree branch. These can be trapped using a swarm net when inactive and unlikely to sting. Trapped bees are then transferred to a hive.

(ii)Use of a Catcher Box - A catcher box is a small hive which is movable. It is kept where it is likely to attract bees. In it, there are old combs and wax to attract bees. A week after bees have occupied it, they are transferred to the main hive. Placing a hive in a permanent place and waiting for swarming bees to occupy it. Some old combs, wax and sheep sorrel are placed near and in the hive to attract the swarming bees.

In transferring bees from the net or box after catching them, it is important to know that on a sloping surface, they always move upward. The hive is placed at a higher position than the box containing the swarm and the two are connected by a sloping board.

A few puffs of smoke towards the swarm makes bees move towards the hive on their own. Alternatively the roof of the hive is opened and the swarm shaken into the hive. This is followed by returning the roof to cover the hive.

Materials Collected by Bees

(i) Nectar — This is juice collected from flowers. It is used as their main food and in making honey. Worker bees swallow it into their stomach where it is acted upon by enzymes then regurgitated back and stored in the cells of the comb. Here moisture is reduced to about l7 -21% and then sealed with a thin waxy membrane.

(ii) Pollen — This is collected from the flowers. It is collected in special “pollen baskets” found on the feet of the bee. It is then brushed off into the empty cells. It contains 30% proteins and is used by the bees to feed the brood and the queen. People eat it when mixed with spices.

(iii) Propolis—This is a bee product which is collected from trees and is used to fill in cracks and crevices in the hives. It is black spongy product from gums and tree resins. It has some medicinal properties and has been used to cure such diseases such as Arthritis in human beings.

(iv) Water— This is essential for the survival of bees. Water is put in a container and placed near the hive. To prevent bees from drowning, pieces of sticks or bark are floated on the water or stone islands are provided.

Feeding Bees in Kenya

Bees feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. When flowers are not available, they are fed on sugar made into syrup with water at a ratio of 1:1 by volume. The jar containing syrup is placed about ten metres from the hive and should be cleaned regularly to avoid fermentation of sugar.

Reasons for Feeding Bees

  • To maintain the colony. Well fed bees do not have the tendency to swarm or leave the hive.
  • To encourage multiplication. A well fed queen breeds regularly.
  • To supplement what bees get from flowers. This is done during dry seasons when flowers are fewer.

Pests, Diseases and Their Control

The various pests that attack bees are: the hive when there is a plant touching the hive. They make the hive which allow water into the hives and causes rotting. A or rotten hive allows honey badgers into the hive which destroy and bees.

Avoid contact between a plant and the hive. Suspend the hive with wires between poles. The wire and posts should be coated with old engine oil to keep off the ants.

 (ii) Wax Moth

Larvae of wax moth hatch from eggs laid in cracks in the hive. They protect themselves with a greyish web. They make tunnels in the combs and contaminate honey with their excreta.

Control

Remove and burn all infected combs.

Old combs or wax left after harvesting honey should immediately be melted.

 (iii) Bee Louse

This is a parasite of bees. The larvae are hatched in the wax and spoil the

combs. The adult louse is found on the thorax of bees. Several can be seen on the queen.

Control

Smoke out the hive using a smoker that has some creosote to control the pest.

(iv) Honey Badgers

These are small strong animals which spoil hives and eat honey. To control them, hung hives with wires so that they swing when the badgers climb on them. This makes the badgers to fall therefore discouraging them.

Diseases

Acarive and American foul Brood are the two common diseases of bees that seldom attack the African bees. These diseases are controlled through proper feeding of bees and proper construction of the hives to prevent damp conditions in the hive.

Swarming of Bees

A swarm of bees is a colony or part of it that is in flight. Bees swarm because of the following reasons:

  • Shortage of food and water in their surroundings.
  • Outbreak of diseases and parasites.
  • Damage of brood combs.
  • Lack of adequate ventilation.
  • Dampness and bad smells.
  • Sick or infertile queen.
  • Overcrowding.

After leaving the hive, bees alight on some branch and await the return of a scout or messenger bee. The type of dance the messenger bee displays indicates the condition of the area surveyed. It leads the cluster towards the area where they are going to settle.

Swarming may take place with or without the queen. When a new queen is prepared, a cluster of bees take the queen and the drone for the first flight. During this flight the queen moves vertically followed by the drone and mating takes place. The first flight when mating takes place is known as the nuptial flight. Sometimes a cluster of bees decide to leave the hive because of unfavourable conditions. This is referred to as absconding.

Handling Bees

In handling bees, it is necessary to remember the following:

  • Bees should not be frightened as doing so makes them wild and sting.
  • Beehives should not be approached from the front.
  • A smoker must be used properly. Two or three puffs are first blown round the hive. After a few minutes smoke out directly through the entrance holes.
  • Bees should not be crushed during handling. This makes the whole colony excited.
  • Movement towards the hive should be made quietly to avoid alerting them.
  • If stung, the beekeeper should not run away or throw the combs down.
  • A bee sting should not be rubbed. A sharp nail or a razorblade should be used to scrape it off. Pressing causes the poison bag of the sting to release more poison.
  • In handling bees, always wear protective clothing. These are a veil, an overall, glove and gumboots.

Honey Harvesting

Honey is harvested early in the morning or late in the evening when bees are less active. When harvesting honey, the following steps are followed:

  • Approach the hive quietly and blow smoke around the hive and later through the entrance holes using a smoker. The smoke makes the bees to start eating honey thus becoming heavy and inactive.
  • Lower the hive to the ground.
  • Cut the combs from each top bar three centimetres from the surface and put them in a clean container rubbing off the bees using a twig.
  • The 3 cm of the comb left is for attachment of new combs.
  • Place back the bars and do not disturb the brood.
  • Retum the hive to its position.

Equipment used in Harvesting Honey

(i) Protective gear.

(ii) A honey container with a tight cover — This can be a pail or a bucket which is used to hold the honey combs as they are being harvested. The tight cover prevents the bees from entering the container and continue eating the honey.

(iii) A hive tool —A piece of iron flattened and sharpened at one end to look like a screwdriver. It is used to scrape away the propolis holding the top bars together, thus separating them. It is also used to cut off the honey comb into the honey container, when harvesting honey.

(vi) Bee brush — This is an ordinary brush with a long handle to brush off the bees from the honey comb before cutting into the container. The bees are brushed back into the hive.

Processing

There are three common methods of extracting honey from the combs include:

  • Using heat to melt the honey.
  • Crushing and straining.
  • Using a centrifugal extractor.

Method

Procedure  in this method is as follows:

  • Heat some water in a sufuria.
  • Put honey combs in an enamel basin or any other container which is not made of iron.
  • Put the container with honey combs on the boiling water.
  • Heat until most of the honey melts.
  • Separate the melted honey from the combs by straining through a muslin cloth.
  • Keep honey in a container to cool down.
  • Remove the wax layer that may form on the surface of the honey.

Crushing and Straining Method

This is the method that produces the highest quality honey. In this method the following should be done:

Honey combs are crushed and strained using a muslin cloth into the enamel basin.

The scum formed is removed with a wooden spoon

Honey is put in a suitable container (plastic or glass jars) that is tightly closed.

Using a Centrifugal Extractor

A centrifugal extractor is used in large scale production. The combs are decapped and placed in the extractor. The rotary motion forces out honey and combs are left clean.

Beeswax

Wax is secreted by a pair of glands in the abdomen of the worker bee. It is used by the worker bees to make the combs which are used to raise the young brood and store honey. When wax is processed it is used:

  1. To manufacture creams, ointments, candles, shoe and floor polish.
  2. In dentistry, it is used to make teeth impressions for filling and replacement.
  3.  In laboratories, it is used in the dissection of small insects.
  4. In pharmaceuticals it is used to make pill coatings.

Wax Processing

The procedure for processing wax is as follows:

  • Put combs whose honey has been extracted into a basin.
  • Add water to the basin.
  • Heat the mixture until the wax melts.
  • Sieve the mixture through a muslin cloth.
  • Squeeze the residue strongly to force the wax out.
  • Cool the mixture overnight.
  • Drain the water and remove any foreign particles.
  • Re-melt the wax over a water bath and put it in a clean container.

Market of Honey and Wax

Honey is sold locally or exported; for direct consumption or domestic ,industrial use.

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