Questions and answers in beekeeping
In eastern Uganda the local NGO Mbale Coalition Against Poverty organised beekeepers’ exchange visits within their local area. New beekeepers visited established beekeepers and all shared experiences and good practices. This work was facilitated by the Welsh Government and Bees for Development.
Some farmers spray pesticides on their crops, I fear this harms my bees – what can I do?
One solution is to locate your apiary in a place away from where farmers use pesticides. However, this is not always possible. Another way is to ask your neighbours to tell you in advance when they are planning to spray: you can close the entrance of the hive the night before and leave it closed until the following evening. The danger is that bees can overheat and suffocate when contained inside a hive. To prevent this from happening use a wire mesh that allows air in, and cover the whole hive with a sack soaked in water to keep the colony cool. Ask your neighbours to avoid spraying pesticides when crops are in flower - it is better just before or just after flowering. This may reduce the incidence of honey bee poisoning (see page 13 top left).
This part of Uganda is heavily populated and it is hard to find a place for bees away from the village. How can I be sure that people and animals will not be stung?
Follow simples rules:
• Make sure children never throw stones or sticks at bees
• Make sure animals cannot knock into hives by accident
• Never tether animals near hives
• Check you know where the bees’ flight path is, and ensure it does not cross where people walk regularly
• Place the entrance facing a hedge, this way the bees are forced to fly high and out of harm’s way, as they exit.
I use top-bar hives. Should I use a queen excluder?
A top-bar hive should be as low-cost as possible – use of a queen excluder makes it much more expensive.
If used in a top-bar hive (and we do not recommend it) a queen excluder should never be nailed in one place, it must be moveable.
In frame hives a queen excluder provides an easy way for the beekeeper to ensure that the queen remains in the brood box and there is no brood in the honey combs. However, some colonies perceive the excluder as a wall and do not pass through; they are expensive; and some types of wire mesh are very harsh and damage worker bees’ wings.
I use top-bar hives and sometimes the bees build combs across from one bar to the next. What can I do?
This is a common situation – do not be surprised! If combs are built across the bars in a top-bar hive the bees will still live contentedly in the hive and produce honey. This is a problem for the beekeeper and not for the bees! However, it does mean that each comb is no longer moveable as a single unit. This undermines the principles of a top-bar hive. The best way to cope with this problem is to avoid it happening in the first place, as follows:
1. Make sure your top-bars are the correct width and all are the same (for African honey bees this is usually 32 mm).
2. Make sure there is a groove or ridge along the centre of the top bar as a guide for the bees, and best of all if this is rubbed with beeswax, or use starter strips of wax along the centre of each bar.
3. Take a straight comb (empty) from another top-bar hive and place this in the new hive. This also helps guide the bees.
4. If a new swarm are just getting going and they begin to build cross-ways, you can detach part of the comb and push it straight and re-attach it with string or grass. However, this is very difficult because fresh comb is soft and breaks easily.
I use local style hives. I have noticed that bees are not using the entrance but entering the hives through the ‘honey door’.
Local style hives seem simple to some people, however the best hives follow good design principles. The most important design features are:
1. The hive must be the correct volume for the colony, neither too large nor too small. Ask local beekeepers what is the best volume.
2. The entrance must be small so that guard bees can defend the entrance from predators: the problem with having many entrances is that the bees have to guard all of them.
3. The construction material must allow bees to keep warm in cold weather, and cool in hot weather.4. The hive must be protected from rain.
5. There must be a ‘honey door’ so that the beekeeper can access the honey without damaging the brood. The honey door must be sealed so that the bees cannot use it as an additional entrance. Sealing with clay, which can be removed during honey harvest, is one way to do this (see page 13 top right).
6. The hives should be strong enough so that they do not collapse as they get heavy with honey, and to avoid the beekeeper having to replace them too often.