After a week of rest, we went back to organize our first colony of bees for our relocation exercise. The process is tedious but it is better to be safe than sorry. The colony will be placed in a bee proof cage for double protection. The bee hive itself will also be sealed except a small portion which we will only cover it with wire mesh.
All this were being done the night before because we have to wait for the foragers to come back. If not, when morning comes, some of the foragers will be left behind. We try to relocate the whole colony if possible.
It will be a slow two and a half hours drive from Kampala to Masaka. Setting off at 5am, hopefully with no traffic jams, reaching Timothy Centre by 9am. We have to abide to the schedule in order that we can quickly release the bees when we reach our destination.
The next morning at 5am, the journey starts. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic. We need to get out of town as quickly as possible just in case if there were any mishap or the bees somehow escape. We will then be endangering the public. Keeping our fingers crossed all the way.
Due to the aggressive nature of Api Mellifera Scutellata, relocation of these species, great care must be taken. One cannot slack in any of the procedure. Most important aspect when handling these bees is to minimize as much direct contact with them. The amount of smoke being introduced must be just right. Many Ugandan bee farmers are still having this idea of smoking too much, thus aggravating and suffocating the bees.
Once the bees are settled in, we release them. As for the tapes, we shall remove them as we perform our regular hive management. We do not remove all the tapes immediately, if not we will experience the whole colony pouring out, attacking anything within 100m.
Soon all these colonies will be transported to Masaka to start the training school. We will have to do a pre flight check to make sure we understood the stucture of each and every one of the hive in order to have them transferred without any hiccups.
Helmut and I had been keeping bees in our garden in Kampala for the last 5 years. All good things must come to an end. He will be leaving Uganda soon and I had taken the task to adopt his bees. They will come in very handy for my training school at Timothy Centre, Masaka.
An amazing friend that shared the same passion as I. In fact his experience in beekeeping is far more greater than mine for he has been based in a few African countries and he had always kept bees.
We went to his place around 1930hrs but the rain had disrupted our schedule and finally at around 2045hrs, the sky managed to clear and we proceed on with the checks.
Francis, my bee master, who will be the overall in charge of the training school at Timothy’s, assisted me is making my rounds. So far I am very pleased with his performance and the way he handles the bees, although there are still a lot of rooms for improvement.
We had to perform our harvest and check in the night because Kampala is really saturated with residential housing and we do not want the bees to disturb the neighbors should they became cranky.
There are a few reasons why we are harvesting some of the honey. When the volume of honey is reduced, the bees tend to be less aggressive because they have less honey to protect. At the same time, the hive will be much lighter for us to transport them for the 2 hrs drive.
Comb honey is highly in demand from the expatriates community because these “Muzungus” honey lover truly appreciate fresh comb honey harvested directly from the hive without going through any processing or filtering. Honey at its purest!
The fascinating sight of having the comb honey being sliced open, watching the liquid gold flowing down onto the platter, makes one wonder how nature had created such a small yet dynamic insect, being able to interact socially amongst themselves without a single conflict.
Although African bees are known to be very aggressive, they still do display its gentle side, provided we as human being, listen to them more attentively and not try to force ourselves onto them during harvesting. No clashes will occur.
The result – beautiful comb honey with little or no casualties on both parties. Many a times, bee farmers are too eager to get the job done. They approached the hive with only one intention…… get the honey and go. Whether the bees are destroy or not is secondary. To me, this is honey hunting.
Whenever I harvest honey, I will always think of this friend of mine, Joanna Yue. We used to play squash together back home occasionally and will always share her squash knowledge when we played. She once told me that in order to play good squash, I have to think of the process, not the outcome. So long as I set the process right, the outcome will be right.
In beekeeping, I applied the same principle. Thinking of the process, by listening to the bees, observing their movement and behaviour, practicing patience. The outcome will see me having that beautiful comb taken out from the hive successfully with little or no stings. I do feel a great sense of achievement whenever I managed to harvest fresh comb honey without agitating the bees and being able to keep their temperament at bay.
Every road that we walked, every path that we take, it’s all about life experiences. It’s just a matter of how one adapt to the situation and environment. Even a young lady nearly half my age, had shared a life skill so valuable that I am applying it now.
Anyone care to have a taste of fresh comb honey?
Last year was a year of filming. After the media team from Singapore left, another TV media crew from Japan came and did a documentary. I was invited to assist them in calming the bees before the filming. They had no idea that the African bees were so aggressive. The camera man got stung and he nearly fainted. He applied insect repellent prior to the filming without checking with me, thinking that would repel the bees. On the contrary, bees hate scents. We had to go around the villages a few time to identify a suitable colony for filming. By the time the shoot was over, it was coming to 11pm.
The main objective for this filming is to showcase the possibilities of bees by-product, beeswax. After the harvesting of beeswax, the crew proceed to an orphanage in the North which was funded by Japanese NGO. The orphans were taught how to use beeswax to make crayons.
I had to leave them for other commitment after making sure that they were not injured during the engagement with the bees.
Many had seen honey in jars. Some had seen honey stored by bees kept in modern beehives. But few had really seen how does a traditional local beehive with bees keep their honey. Here we bring you as close as when we are harvesting the honey from a traditional beehive. Noticed the smoke that is hovering around the entrance of the beehive. We used smoke to break the communication amongst the bees. Unity is strength. So long as the bees could not interact with each other, they tend to be less aggressive, instead they will try and find its way back to the queen to wait for instructions.
Smoking the surrounding of the hives simulates a forest fire. Their instinctive reaction is to first see what’s the queen’s decision, to stay or flee. If they find that the smoke is not that threatening, it could be just some smoke coming from a faraway fire, they will stay. But if they sense that the smoke is getting unbearable and the heat getting stronger, they will turn aggressive and flee or abscond the hive. Smoking bees takes years of experience in order to understand how much is not too much.
I find beekeeping with traditional hives is much better when comes to farmers’ beekeeping knowledge and skills. They have more confident in handling the bees as compared to the modern way of keeping bees in “Langstroth hives”. One thing I had witnessed was that there were less destruction and casualties to the bees during harvesting.
Here is a footage of us inspecting a colony in a traditional local rattan beehive. Observed how calm the bees were even when the hive is fully opened. African bees are considered the most ferocious species of honeybees, but with understanding and careful way of approach and handling them, it can be achieved.
Every approach is a challenge. African bees when annoyed will turn aggressive within 4 seconds. In this instance, we would have to close the cover quickly and move away as fast as our legs can carry us and move on to the next hive. We will only return to the same hive in the next few days. Cranky little ladies
So as you can see, the joy we have in putting that teaspoon of honey in your cereals
This clip was taken in 2001. This was my first colony I captured myself. I have to thank a Ugandan beekeeper. His attitude made me determined to get my own colony. He was supposed to be a very good beekeeper. He was just too arrogant to share. In the beginning, my work was very tough. Most Ugandans are unwilling to share. They worried that people will be better than them. I guess these are their setbacks.
I wanted a colony to study and request him to teach me. I will pay for it. Days turn to weeks and weeks turn to months. Everytime I asked him when I can start the lesson, he kept telling me to wait. In fact, he took my money but did not make any effort to arrange for the training.
Finally when Professor Horn came, the first thing I asked was to teach me was how to capture my own colony. It was exciting when I got this first colony which I called my own.
The view was breathtaking when they entered the hive. I was in my room when I heard a loud humming sound. When I look through the window, I saw a black mass approaching my backyard where my hive was situated. Without a second thought, I grabbed my video camera as I know they are coming. I was so excited that I did not ask myself was it dangerous to get myself in the flight path of a swarming colony. That I forgot to ask the Professor.
I simply stood in front of them, capturing them while they are entering the hive. I guess they did not mind me there. After 30 mins, the whole swarming process was over and everything quiet down as if nothing had happened.
Another productive Saturday. I had a very fruitful discussion with Mr. Ray Sutton, the Executive Director of Pacific Academy Outreach Society, Canada. Timothy Centre is one of the many projects that he oversees. Its another one of his babies.
Our discussion touches on the development of agriculture products that will be exported to Canada and North America once Timothy Centre has fully develop the sector.
Meanwhile, honey products is already underway and this time round Ray will be introducing honey and beeswax candles into Canada and North America market. Following suit will be coffee and passion fruit as discussed with Karl earlier.
As our discussion took us further regarding the development of Timothy Centre, we concurred that we should also develop the eco-tourism sector where tourists can experience farmstay feeling. Waking up in the morning, strolling into farm, getting fresh vegetables and fruits, harvesting fresh raw honey for breakfast.
When I left Ray and his team in the evening, this thoughts came to my mind. In this fast pace society, Uganda should not be looking at production level only. Quality plays a vital role as well. This is where I feel financial institution can come in to assist the farmers financially in getting, not the most expensive equipment or tools but the RIGHT and appropriate equipment and tools, where the farmers are more adaptable and able to handle. We should help them with what they are familiar with and fine-tune from there, rather than giving them what we want them to have. Sadly enough, some financial institutions who engaged in such assistance got burned because they were not given the proper direction by the right people, ending up with bad debts. Those giving out the monies do not even understand a single bit of what is on the ground. They just simply wore their grey suit, sitting behind their grey desk, inside their grey office under the grey sky, waiting for their grey papers to be laid on their grey table. They only know how to engage PAPER, they don’t engage PEOPLE.
Many a times when I moved around the villages, I do come across a lot of “Signboard Projects”. The signboards are there but you don’t see any projects. One reason it could be that the project had ended, so are the equipment. The locals do not know how to use them but since it is free, might as well take it. After which the tools and equipment might had found its way to a nearby market.
Uganda should also start picking up ideas on value adding in order to be more competitive with the rest of the World. Once I met an old man and he shared this with me, “The earth is always revolving forward. We have to keep pace with time and not to stand still. If we were to do that, we are in fact moving backwards”. Interesting analogy.
I felt that I am very blessed to be invited to work with Timothy Centre. It is well organized with an achievable and amazing vision. I can foresee Timothy Centre will be one of the most talk about destination in Uganda once it is fully developed.
“Global Servants in Christian Education”
Finally the dry spell is over. The weather is getting cooler and the rainy season is coming. Its that time of the year where the villagers start to plant crops again. Going up Gulu with Fischer last two days was refreshing. Same time we look at the progress of the refinery and collection centre. Hopefully it will be ready when the next season comes in April 2010.
This Centre will serve as a meeting point for all the bee farmers around the region. All future honey harvested from our selected bee farmers whom had gone thru our training will be sent to this centre for processing. Come next year I will see myself being split between Timothy Centre which is in the South and Gulu, in the North. I hope I can have the strength to see it thru.
Yesterday took a trip to look at the development of Timothy Centre. Karl told me that the fences are up. The next thing will be to clear the land further and start to identify the locations for the bee colonies before we transport and deploy them at the apiary. As usual my “bodyguard”, Yang accompanied me on this trip
This time round I had brought my farm Manager, Francis, to show him how I wanted to do up the bee farm. Francis had been with me for the last 2 years and so far he seems promising. The last 2 field operation staffs got fired because they were caught stealing honey from my farm, selling them and pocketing the sales proceeds themselves. In Uganda, one will have to be on their toes. If you slack in monitoring the people, they will try to be funny. This is one of the many challenges you face working in Africa.
Karl’s staff had done a great job with the fencing. It is made from eucalyptus poles coated with used engine oil and paint to prevent termites from eating on them. Eucalyptus trees are abundant in Uganda. It reproduces itself very quickly and there are no shortage. Its a good form of renewable energy.
Timothy Centre is busy getting the rest of buildings up. So far a few guest houses is underway so that the management / operation team will be relocated there to see things through.
Following closely will be the construction of the honey refinery and the training cum resource centre. The training centre will be used not only for training bee farmers, it will also be used for other agricultural activities. The main objective with the resource centre is to establish a basic test centre for testing the quality of the honey before we send samples to The University of Hohenheim for a more detailed Melissopalynology test. It will also be used to develop more by-products from honey farming for example, propolis, bee pollen and beeswax.
I guess the most important aspect of working in Uganda or any Africa or Third World Countries. one must be prepared to give your 100% to make sure the project will be a success and after which able to train the locals to take over the whole operation with you taking a backseat just overlooking the whole project. It is pointless to give so much to the community without giving a second thoughts of the repercussions of what will become of the project if fundings are stopped due to the economy crunches or we are no longer able to run the projects. With all the expensive equipment hanging around with no extra funds to maintain, it will then become “White Elephants” or be sold as scrap metals.
My working relationship with Timothy Centre is mutual and we shared the same philosophy. We believe by dumping money into a project and buying the most expensive equipment to make the place look glamorous is not the way to go. Becoming a comfortable and motivating place the Ugandans to work in is important but not becoming a haven where they think it is a place that they can simply take things for granted. Project must include entrepreneurial skills in order for the project to reach self sustainability at the shortest possible time. Timothy Centre is taking that step by complementing our private business solutions to the community. This way, the project will not have to rely only on donors funds……..for ever in order to keep the project going.
Recently I visited one project and the set up was fantastic! The equipment they used was like “WOW”! When I asked the in charge, when are they going to let the locals run, they told me that they are still waiting??? I was wondering are they waiting for the locals to run or are they still waiting for more funds. In fact, I don’t see much locals but too many volunteers from overseas. To me, I find that they are just babysitting the project. Once the overseas management leaves, I know the project will fall apart. The locals and the benefactors will never be able to blend themselves back into the society after being “pampered” by this wonderful lifestyles. Sometimes I wonder does the donors really know how the money were spent. They are doing a disservice instead.
I guess this happens everywhere. Donors just donate without first understanding what is on the ground or how the funds will be utilised. I recalled the recent incident in Singapore where a charitable Organization will perform stunts to entice the public to donate. Later it was found out that the people that are running the Organization is using the money otherwise.
I really hope these donors do look into their contributions so that they do not create an “economy” that is unrealistic for the benefactors. Once the Organizations leave, no one will buy their produce at that luxurious price because the real market will never pay that price. That will lead the farmers back to square one, crying out that there are no market for their produces after they had been taught to grow.
PARIS – STRANGE as it may seem, bees get a better buzz from the urban Paris jungle than from the countryside. There are all sorts of flowers only short flights away, and little risk of death by pesticide.
Some live in penthouse hives atop historically prestigious monuments – the spectacular steel and glass domed Grand Palais exhibition hall by the banks of the Seine, for instance. ‘Honeybees are happy in town, they have everything they need,’ said Grand Palais director Sebastien de Gasquet.
Collecting pollen and nectar is no sweat with the Tuileries gardens lying only a short distance away, ‘not to mention the Grand Palais’ own flowerbeds’, he said.
The two beehives set on the edge of the building’s huge glass dome last May are rooms with a view of the Eiffel tower and Notre-Dame cathedral. Three or four extra hives are to be added to bring production up to half a ton of honey a year.
City bees, said Nicolas Geant, the beekeeper behind the Grand Palais scheme, nowadays produce four to five times more honey than their country cousins. ‘In agricultural areas you can produce around 10 to 20 kg of honey per year per hive while in cities you can get between 80 and 100 kg’ he said. And his idea of placing beehives at the Grand Palais – Paris’s Garnier Opera house has had its own beehives for years – is aimed at illustrating the paradox.
In rural areas close to farms, there are fewer and fewer hedges, trees and flowers. But in the city ‘there are a myriad of small flowers in parks and on balconies, as well as a wide variety of trees along streets and in public gardens – acacia, lime and chestnut trees – that are nectar to the bees.’ While Paris is polluted, notably from car exhaust fumes, ‘this bears no comparison with agricultural areas where pesticides, fungicides and fertilisers kill massive numbers of bees,’ he said.
France’s Union of Apiarists (UNAF) has signalled high mortality rates near corn, sunflower and rapeseed fields, while bee deaths across Europe have been 30 to 35 per cent higher than average since the 1980s thanks to a number of factors, including the use of pesticides.
‘There are practically no pesticides in the city,’ said Jean Lacube, the beekeeper in charge of eight hives at another Paris building in the city’s chic 7th district.
City bees also thrive in a town’s more temperate climate, he added, and are safe from attacks by the deadly Asian hornet that has decimated bees in the south-west part of France in previous years.
There are some 300 beehives in Paris, Mr Lacube said. ‘But beekeeping in a city is a luxury,’ he added. ‘Beekeeping should be in the countryside, the future is not in the cities.’ — AFP
A few months back I posted this question in some forum regarding urban beekeeping in Singapore. Some of the replies were concerned about the danger of having bees around residential areas. Others feel that it is a good idea because the bee helps in pollination and its environmental friendly. On top of that with proper education and know how, one can have their own honey produce behind their backyard. Beekeeping in urban areas are very common in other parts of the World. Singapore has always been regarded as “A Garden City”. Can honeybees strive in this “Garden City”? What do you think?
Was at the University beginning of this year conducting a feasibility study on rural beekeeping in Chiangdao, North of Chiangmai, Thailand. Here is a video footage while I was at the University observing some bees and having a discussion with the Professor. The honey bees they are using is a very docile species. Apis Mellifera Italiana. That is why it was not necessary for me to don on my beesuit. But when it comes to African bees, Apis Mellifera Scutellata, I will definitely have my suit put on with the veil flipped back. If they became aggressive, I will then fully cover myself.
Development of the beekeeping resource centre at Timothy Centre is underway. In order for Karl and Arleen to have a better understanding on how the resource centre is going to be, I brought them to Otino-Waa in Lira. 4 years ago we did a honey farming project with this orphanage and the project was successfully implemented. Today Otino-Waa is producing EU quality honey for the market. Otino-Waa in Luo, means “Our Children”. The orphanage is run by an American couple, Bob and Carol Higgins, that has painstakenly built from ground zero a couple of years back. Now the place has turned into a haven for these lost children.
When I first met Bob and Carol 5 years ago, they came to my house with 12 kids aged between 14 to 17 and they wanted to learn how to start an apiary so that they can have honey produced from their own farm. We had a 6 days “Introduction to beekeeping” course which saw the children learning how to set up an apiary and getting acquainted with the bees. Of course there is Douglas, a 40 years old Ugandan who will be basically be in charge of these children when comes to the real management of the bee project in Otino-Waa. The orphanage now has 250 orphans from different parts of Northern Uganda. Some were rescued from the jungle when they were abducted by the “Lord Resistance Army” while others had lost both their parents from AIDS. There are some who were abandoned by young parents who left them at the hospitals or police stations.
Bob and Carol did a great job transforming these children from street kids and urchins into fine young boys and girls. The girls are learning home economics and tailoring while the boys embark on carpentry and catering and beekeeping.
Great effort were made by Carol to teach the children to be independent and self-reliant. This gift shop has become a talking piece in Lira. Most of the gifts, art and crafts were done by the orphans. Not forgetting the bee centre, The boys had harvested honey from the farm and were sold at the gift shop as well. In fact soon after the bee centre was setup, it has attracted bee farmers in the community to bring their honey to the centre to sell. Bob and Douglas will make sure that the farmers acquired the basic requirement of the quality they wanted. Those who are not familiar with the requirements will be taught on how to observe the quality parameters.
After having our lunch, Bob brought Karl and Arleen to visit the orphanage and the bee centre. The bee centre is Bob pride and joy. Every single brick layed and every drop of paint was his hardwork.
All the beesuits at the centre were made by the students in the tailoring department. We even saw some very innovative beesuit that Carol and the children had thought up. You can literally feel their sense of achievement when you hold the suit close to you. I felt so proud of them when I saw the development. It was just like yesterday when I agreed to train the children. 5 years on and it was a dream come true for Bob and Carol. Their determination and passion had paid off.
Tough times never last………….. tough people do.
I admire their philosophy in life. Although these children were deprived with a lot of things, Bob and Carol make sure that they are not spoon fed but given the right directions and way forward in becoming a good person. The moral education which they instilled into them is fantastic! Although they were given the best, but they also make sure that these children are not pampered to the extend that they cannot blend themselves back into the society when the time comes. A luxury once enjoyed, becomes a necessity.
All the fittings and furnitures were done in-house, with local materials. Nothing comes easy for them. This way, the children will then appreciate what they have because they have to work hard for it. There are still many in Uganda think that money falls from the sky. Many organizations made them think this way because of the way they splurge on them without understanding the repercussions.
Being successful in projects do not mean that everything have to be most expensive or with the most modern and updated equipments. Take these local beehives made at the orphanage for example. They are very basic but yet, they produce results. In fact, the results from these hives are more positive than other modern beekeeping methods.
Karl and Arleen realised that Bob and Carol had so much in common. They shared the same philosophy. They were happy to see such a successful project being developed in the North. A new friendship had established and indeed, there are so much things we can learn from each other. Life experiences in Uganda is much more important than implementing own experiences based on the environment we grew up on.
*There are no strangers in our lives………..it is only friends that we have not met yet.
Bob and Carol’s project was so successful that U.S. Embassy recognized their hardwork and supported their work for the last three years. I am very proud of their success!
Once in a while I would get some invitation to do talks on honey and bees. Last Wednesday, we had a small group of 10 families wanting to know more about bees and honey. It was more of a friendly get together with children running around waiting for the honey eating session.
Many people are still unaware how does honey looks like when it is still in the bee hive. So the night before the talk, I harvested 2 fresh combs for the folks to see.
When we arrived the next morning, most of the children were already sitting at the playground with their parents. I realized that this session would not be much of a talk but more of getting the children to see where does honey comes from and how does it look like before being sold at the supermarket. Anyway, it was a good start. The children enjoyed the honey and the parents were very appreciative and that was what matters most.
I remembered once a friend of mine from Singapore told me that when they asked some of the kids in Singapore where does the chicken come from, some gave the answers as, “coming from NTUC Supermarket”. I was even more surprised that some children doesn’t even know that chicken has feathers. Sometimes I wondered whether has modernization made us took a step backwards towards nature. My nephew grew up sitting in front of the computer 24/7 playing games. Playing marbles, catching spiders, flying kites are childhood activities long forgotten.
I am glad that parents now are making effort to find education materials related to nature to empower their children at an early age. These early childhood development activities are very healthy for them. Education are no longer confined to classrooms. Creative methods and techniques are deployed to make learning much more interesting and exciting. I am glad I am part of it.
Uganda has come a long way. With the Country experiencing peace and prosperity, with all these activities going, it is a sign that the society is ready to move forward and the thirst for knowledge had increased. In no time, I believe Uganda will be one of the most aspiring and affluent place to visit in Africa!
That brings me to an article which I found when I was here for the first time in 2001. It was titled, “The Africa Pearl” by Sir Winson Churchill. It goes like this;
The African Pearl
My Journey is at an end, the Tale is told and the reader who has followed so faithfully and so far has a right to ask what message I bring back. It can be stated in these words – concentrate upon Uganda
“But it is alive by its’ self. It is vital! And in my view in spite of its insects and its diseases. It ought in the course of time to become the most prosperous of all our East and Central African possessions and perhaps the “financial diving wheel of all this part of the world”
My counsel plainly is concentrate upon Uganda! Nowhere else in Africa will a little money go so far. Nowhere else will the results be more brilliant, more substantial or more rapidly realized.
Uganda is from end to end one “beautiful garden” where the” staple food” of the people grows almost without labour. Does it not sound like a paradise on earth?
It is “the pearl of Africa “
From my Africa Journey by Winston .S. Churchill 1908, Uganda
Two weeks ago, we placed a test/trial beehive at Timothy Centre [see post] to see how good is the proposed land to start the apiary. Usually setting up a single beehive to trap the bees is the first thing to do. We will observe the trial hive to see whether the place is suitable for beekeeping. Yesterday afternoon, I received a call from Karl. He told me the hive was colonized on the same morning. He was very excited because he witnessed the colonizing process. The process is breathtaking. You can literally see the whole colony following the queen into the beehive. The photo below was sent to me by Karl after the bees had settled in.
The next move is to visit the hive at Timothy Centre to assess the strength of the colony to decide what is the way forward.
Here’s an extract
We have been exploiting honeybees for thousands of years by systematically robbing them of their honey. The least we can do is take proper care of these wondrous creatures. Instead we are killing them off in their billions through our befouling of their environment. The honeybee brain has only a million or so neurons, several orders of magnitude less than ours. It is a moot point as to whether humans or honeybees make the best use of their neuronalresource.
Honey season is over. I will be embarking on my next project – Timothy Centre in Masaka. Karl and I had known each other since 2005 and we had always been keeping in touch, discussing beekeeping.
When he was given the task to develop a girls’ school in Masaka, he approached me to see whether would I be interested to join force and start a beekeeping project at this new centre. This is exciting for me for it will be another challenge in Uganda. Honey will never be enough for me because of the demand I am facing. Many challenges awaits me and the most difficult challenge I have to face is to instill proper handling of bees and honey onto the farmers.
Timothy Centre is still at its infant stage and it is Karl and Arleen’s baby from now on. I hope with this apiary being setup, it will benefit all, including farmers around the centre. We will conduct beekeeping training for the farmers so that they will acquire another skill to improve their source of income.
Setting up an apiary is not that easy as it seems. There are a lot of preparation and also understanding the environment and surrounding. Once the apiary is properly sited, and when the bees colonized, it will be very difficult to change the location later on. Hopefully this trial beehive will enable us to do an analysis to see whether beekeeping is suitable here.
If it is successful, I can forsee that this beekeeping project could well be my biggest project ever in my 8 years stay here. We had some indepth brainstorming session and the developing ideas we had is really exciting. I shall keep our plans for the time being until everything is concrete and finalized.
7 weeks of concrete jungle and now I am back to true blue nature! Going into the second year working with the bee farmers in Gulu. While traveling up to meet them, I had to stop to take this breath taking view, a beautiful tree with her branches spreading over a radius of nearly twenty metres. I just stood there and admired the tree. Thinking out loud, how this tree had seen twenty two years of insurgency and I believed she also felt the pain and suffering the villagers had gone thru. Now that Gulu is at peace once more, when I looked at this tree, it does gives me a sense of serenity, peace and tranquility.
Honey flow season had begun and we are preparing for the first harvest for the year. Odong, one of my beemaster and I went round a few villages last week to meet up with the bee farmers and refreshing them with some pointers on getting better quality honey thru proper handling of the bees and honey.
05/03/2009 – I was very lucky and the timing was so right that I was able to meet up with a very experienced Professor in Entomology from America at Chiangmai Univeristy. He is Professor Michael Burgett, Emeritus Professor of Entomology, Department of Horticulture, Oregon State University. He had been going to Chiangmai for the last 27 years, researching on mellifera and cerenas. His presence sped up my learning curve. In my course, I was contemplating whether should I introduce Api Cerena or Api Mellifera. Both have its advantages and disadvantages. After having a long discussion with him, we come to a conclusion that we should explore the possibility of introducing cerenas instead. Professor is also keen to explore the possibilty of using KTB, Kenya Top Bars, which I am using for my African Honeybees.
Api cerena, commonly known as “Jungle Honeybees” here, are easily available all over Chiang Dao. The advantage of this species is that the villagers can learn to trap them for free. Whereas for the mellifera species, they were introduced in Thailand sometime back and they are bred commercially. My main concern was, if the villagers were to start beekeeping, we have to look into the sustainability with the farmers. The cost of a starter pack of mellifera bees will cost the farmers between Bht1500 – Bht3000, depends on when they are buying them. If the sale is much closer to the honey flow season, which is around this time, the bee starter pack will be more expensive. We had a good lunch and bade goodbye before I set off back to Chiang Dao to start a “get-to-know” session with a few of the villager’s representative. They will then disseminate the information to the rest of the villagers. Its more productive this way. But anyway, The first message I sent across during the session was to let the farmers choose which type of bees they prefer to work with. This way they can decide what’s good for them.
4/3/2009 – Made my first stop at Chiangmai University, Entomology Department, Faculty of Agriculture. Had a very good insight of the beekeeping industry, thanks to Assistant Professor Pichai Kongpitak. His passion for developing this industry in Thailand made me feel much more confident that if I were to start honey farming here, I will not be lost.
I had the privilege to be able to see some of his work.
This part of my fact findings had given me more confident in crystalizing the direction for the bee farmers in Chiang Dao. The main issue lies in the sensitizing of the farmers and to guide them in making the correct decision for themselves. Let see what turn up next.
Finally I managed to get my hands on the right adaptor to power up my laptop and to surf after 3 days! Computer is so part and parcel of my life that I will suffer from withdrawal syndrome if I do not work on my computer. Anyway, this was really a sudden pleasant surprise for me to be invited to Chiang Dao (70km North of Chiang Mai). This could be a new journey for my beekeeping life. I am supposed to visit this province to explore on the viabilty in developing a beekeeping industry with the villagers.
Left Singapore for Thailand on 1st March. I had to postpone my trip back to Uganda till 15th March. As usual, landed in Thailand at 2035hrs and got stuck in traffic for about 2hrs before reaching my friend’s house at Charan Sanit.
Morning comes and we started off the 10hrs drive from Bangkok to Chiang Dao. To make the long trip an interesting one, we stopped at quite a few places for breaks and snacks and to experience some interesting happenings.
We passed Ayutharad and visited a model agricultural farm set up by the Queen to cater for the farmers. Villagers can come to this farm to learn more about agriculture.
We discovered we cannot stop anymore if not we will not be able to make it before midnight in Chiang Dao. Beautiful and smooth 10 hrs drive, not like Uganda roads.
03/03/09 – Today first visit is to a bee farmer who has about 100 beehives in Chiang Dao. He told me he deployed his colonies in Lampun, about 120km from his home. What we did was to inspect his bees in his garden and had a good discussion with him.
I was taught how to attract and capture a colony of feral bees. This was one of my first lesson when I became a beekeeper.
Watch how a colony enters the beehive and follow the queen into the entrance. Prior to 2004, all my hives were Langstroth hive. Initially I thought using modern beehives was the way to go. I was wrong. It was only in 2005 that I started to keep bees in Kenya topbar hives and traditional log hives, and results start showing for itself. Do read my previous blog, ‘Traditional beekeeping in Uganda‘, for the reason why Kenya top bar hives and traditional log hives work better.
This footage was done in 2002. Professor Horn was observing the health of the African honeybees. I was his understudy then. We discovered that the bees in Uganda are free from any diseases or virus. No medication is required. Almost the whole beekeeping industry in the New World are succumbed to some diseases or virus. Not in Uganda. There are no traces of American Foul Brood, European Foul Brood or Varroa Mites,which are very common in other parts of the World.
Modern beekeeping had changed the way human interact with the honeybees. It’s sad to see man intervention on the way bees should live their life. So much so that the beautiful art of beekeeping and the natural way honey being produced were long forgotten. All over the world, a lot of good quality honey were being adulterated just to increase the volume to increase sales. Yet consumers just simply buy honey without even knowing what they are buying. What goes around, comes around. End of the day, it is us human will suffer the consequences if we do not pause a while and reflect what we had done to the honeybees.
But why the shortage of honey in the world demand? During my trip to South Africa in 2001 for a conference, there was already a world shortage of honey of 700,000 tons annually. And recent years the industry was faced with a “Colony Collapse Disorder”. Bees just simply flies out of their hives in the morning and never return. Where did they go? Nobody knows.
A very simple approach to the above equation is this; shortage of honey = shortage of bees. Period. If there is an opportunity to ask many commercial beekeepers, you will be able to know the answers. Hopefully they can pick up the courage to tell you what they do to the queen when they feel she is not productive anymore. How they mutilate her wings just to prevent her from ordering the whole colony to flee. I for one will feel so sad knowing how much they need to suffer to cater for humans.
Uganda is one of the last frontiers that the bees are still resilient to bee viruses. The honey that were harvested are indeed in its purest form, It is so much more rewarding to work inline with nature rather than working against it for man conveniences. Bees are handled in its own natural way, no destroying of unproductive queen, no mutilation of wings, no introduction of antibiotic or medication.
I know it is not easy to visit these kind of beekeeping especially in the Northern part of Uganda. I hope I can bring you closer to see traditional beekeeping with my blog.
Below you will be able to see one of my beekeeper working on a traditional hive. This traditional hive is made from natural rattan wooven together. The outer surface is covered with mud, Mother Earth. This natural way of keeping bees does give the bees a natural feel as if they had found an empty crevice in the wild. You can see the bees moving around the honey combs.
The next time when you visit a supermarket to look for honey, simply ask how the honey was harvested. Exactly where is the honey coming from.
My leaking roof had been bothering me for the last three years and finally I can get it changed. My bees have to find a new home because if I were to leave them out in my garden while the roof is being fixed, they will become aggressive with all the banging. So for the last few nights I have to caged them up and transfer them to one of my apiary 16kms from my home. This is the final hive that I need to transfer and boy was it heavy! There are about 60,000 bees inside this beehive. One false move, they can kill.
enough is enough. this morning one of my colonies had decided to split. this is part and parcel of the lives of honeybees. when a colony becomes too large for the beehive or the exsiting queen is no longer that productive, the colony will have a family conference on deciding who will be the next queen. they will then identify a few young larvae to feed them with royal jelly. after 16 days, new queen will start emerging. the first new queen that comes out from the cell will try to prevent the other young queen from breaking out from the cell. the old queen will have two choices, either she try to retain her position or gracefully bring part of the colony away to find a new home. so this colony in the photo shows that the queen had taken the graceful way by leaving the hive with some of her loyal subjects. well that’s life!
honey harvesting is round the corner again. we will be preparing for the dry season to come in gulu. i have discovered a lot of people are into raw, pure honey nowadays. but in actual fact have you ever seen how pure, raw honey looks like? the above picture shows me holding a comb of honey that had just been pulled out from the bee hive. pure honey do not go thru any processing. we simply uncapped the wax that is sealing the honey. after which we will simply let the honey drip thru a filter over night. well this is honey in its purest form.