There is always this misconception that low cost beehives do not produce good quality honey. This is not true. Honey from low cost beehives can be as good as those harvested from Kenya top bars or Langstroths. It is the lack of knowledge on when to harvest the honey, what to harvest in a hive.
Most traditional bee farmer will not hesitate to grab whatever they find in the hive during the flow season. Even before the honey ripens, they would had taken them out. Lack of knowledge had led to the harvesting of poor quality honey.
Below is a clip of one of our farmers inspecting his beehive. The honey inside this hive was not ready for harvesting.
Many bee farmers in Uganda are lacking the skills in hive management. Many were taught to simply place the hives out into the woods, wait for it to be colonized and hopefully when the honey season starts, go and harvest the honey. At times they would discover that the hives are empty. They will just wait for the next colony to come. African bees are quick in absconding and a mismanaged hive is one of the reason.
In one of our topics, we teach farmers the importance of hive management and to rectify any discrepancies. If the hive is not in good condition, eg wet or too many openings due to wood warping, they need to change the hive.
In this video below, you can see one of the lessons in hive management.
After 28 days of traveling around West Malaysia, visiting researchers, professors and bee keepers, I had finally reached the place where all things will take place, Kampung Temasek, Ulu Tiram, Johore.
Kampung Temasek is the main reason why I did this tedious feasibility study. Before we can ascertain that the project will take off on the right foot, we have to make sure that the potential of having a bee education centre and the introduction of beekeeping into the community will benefit all parties involved.
For those who are unfamiliar with this project, basically Kampung Temasek is about “The School of doing”.
Kampung Temasek, The School of Doing is an outdoor laboratory for schools to run their curriculum such as mathematics, science, geography, history and others in a natural environment. Schools can experiment programs and activities that they cannot usually do in Singapore. For example, students can spend one week from their academics semester to learn mathematics through build a solar oven by calculating how much energy is collected from the sun and the science involve in cooking an egg or they can walk into the forest to learn about the bio-diversity and how the eco-system work. Our aim is to reinforce the students’ learning through Doing. City schools can now access this outdoor learning platform in just 30 minutes after Singapore Customs, in Johor Bahru, Malaysia!
There will be many activities at the Kampung and my responsibility is to convert one of these houses into a educational centre where the younger generation or public will have an opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the most amazing insect, the honeybees. It will be a paradigm shift for them to overcome the fear and to learn to live these them harmoniously.
Other than serving as a bee education centre, it will also be a place for the local community or “Orang Asli” to come forward to be trained as bee farmer, to have another source of income to provide for their family. In fact we had already identified a village to begin with.
When everything is completed, Kampung Temasek will be a place where schools can bring the students to learn more about outdoors activities, closer to nature. Parents with their children, can explore on something more meaning, like understanding how trees, plants and insects help in balancing the ecological system instead of sitting in front of the computer 24/7.
Reaching home on 28th evening, I then realized that my whole body was aching from all the traveling. Somehow the biological clock inside me was telling me its time I need a break. I can feel my whole body crashing in with flu, cough and fatigue.
I am finally home.
I had an amazing time when I visited Azman, a bee farmer in Bangi, Kuala Lumpur. We started communicating some time last year this time and he knew I was heading to Malaysia this time of the year. He told me I must come visit his apiary and share with me his enthusiasm.
I was really impressed with his achievement and his apiary is the first that I came across that uses Africa beekeeping method, the Kenyan Top Bar hive system. I would not be surprised he is the first in this part of the world that applied top bar beekeeping.
This visit meant a lot to me because on this feasibility study, I wanted and needed to know how api cerana will react to top bar hive method of beekeeping. In Uganda, African honeybees do very well with KTB and I am very familiar with the method. I felt like I was back in Uganda when I approached Azman’s apiary. On top of that, I feel that top bar beekeeping is more economical for the local folks. They do not need to acquire expensive langstroth and to buy European bees to start this enterprise. By the way, the cost of 1 langstroth, comes with bees, cost RM1,800 (US$625). That package provides only the brood box, base board and cover. It does not include the queen-excluder and super. I don’t think many local villagers can afford that kind of money to start the business.
I was greeted by a large plantation of star fruit and I am confident that his bees would have no issues on nectar and pollen source. I saw the bees buzzing happily around the flowers only stopping for a moment when there were about to enter the flowers.
This was his first attempt in keeping bees and I can say that he was already doing it well although there were some pointers that he needed to look into. He had teamed up with his friend, Haniz and both are equally passionate about keeping bees.
They started only with one colony. By the time I visited them two days ago, they already had colonized 6 hives. The development of their apiary had set a good example for all. For a start, they did not spend money on buying bees or expensive equipment. They collected used wooden crates and palettes. With no prior experience and based on their own judgment, recycled these planks and palettes into smaller version of the top bar hives. Everything was going through trails and errors. Somehow the bees still found their way to these hives.
When Azman did his first hive, he wanted to see the activities within. He created a glass window on the side of the hive. This had became his observation hive. Very often he would simply open up the side panel to see these lovely ladies working hard.
Api cerana somehow has a bit of her distant cousins (api mellifera scutellata) behaviour. They can be aggressive at times if not handled properly. Azman and Haniz would have to spend more time with them to learn more about their behaviour and to overcome them.
Azman had always wondered how do we handle African honeybees without protective gear. I told him it would be much easier because api cerana or asian bees are not as aggressive as the African cousins. He was pleased when he saw the real thing after having seen my blog during our training program where most of the participants were trained to handle the African honeybees bare hands.
The bus ride from Kedah to Kuala Lumpur took almost 6 hours. I had a break in Kuala Lumpur before a friend of mine drove me another 2 hours further South to the thriving city of Malacca.
Extracted from Wikipedia - Malacca (dubbed The Historic State or Negeri Bersejarah among locals) is the third smallest Malaysian state, after Perlis and Penang. It is located in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula, on the Straits of Malacca. It borders Negeri Sembilan to the north and the state of Johor to the south. The capital is Malacca City, which is 148 km south east of Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur, 235 km north west to Johor’s largest city Johor Bahru and 95 km north west to Johor’s second largest city Batu Pahat. This historical city centre has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 7 July 2008.
Although it was the location of one of the earliest Malay sultanates, the monarchy was abolished when the Portuguese conquered it in 1511. The Yang di-Pertua Negeri or Governor, rather than a Sultan, acts as the head of state now.
Mr. Ong had been a beekeeper for the last 25 years and his bee farm could be considered one of the largest one in the whole of West Malaysia. He used to keep apis cerana in the seventies but after the introduction of European bees, apis italiana, Malaysia honey industry using apis cerana was completly wiped out due to the introduction of viruses by the European species as well.
Since then, the domestication of apis cerana had been unsuccessful until of late, many small scale farmers are beginning to use apis cerana again. it is a good sign that these species coming back.
Right now, Mr Ong had been keeping the European species after learning how to treat them. He does not have any of the asian species anymore but instead started to keep stingless bees. He found keeping stingless bees are very interesting too.
My third destination was Malaysia’s Federal Agriculture Marketing Authority or FAMA in Kuala Nerang, Kedah. FAMA is a marketing agency established by the Government under the Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry. As the Government’s marketing arm for agricultural products, FAMA is responsible for various marketing activities. Amongst its responsibilities are to set targets and product standards, monitor performance, as well as develop marketing strategies for Malaysian agricultural products. Their job role can be summarised into the following;
Market control and extension, Strategies, Development of national food terminal, Marketing contract, Entrepreneur development, Export manuals, Development of marketing infrastructure, Market information and Branding and promotion.
The setup was very professional and their marketing concept for Malaysia’s most popular honey, “Tualang honey” was very successful. I was really impressed with their presentation in the beginning. After a long discussion and exhange of ideas, my views changed.
There was a video presentation at their sales department. Eco-tourism was being promoted at the sales centre. It showed the beauty of Malaysia rain forest and the mesmerizing journey one can embark on to see the untouched virgin forest. You pay MYR400 to join the eco tour.
One of the main attraction were the sighting of the largest honeybees in the world, Apis Dorsata. You can see them colonizing on the tallest tree, the Tualang tree. You can even see these majestic colony from the ground. You get to see the harvesting of their honey during the night. Now here comes the sad part. In the video, I saw the destruction and killing of these incredible insect. These honey hunters climbed the tall trees to get to them. Once they were within range, they would use fire and smoke to chase and kill them in order to get to their honey. During the collection, many bees perished.
Being a bee keeper and a bee lover, I felt the pain when I saw the destruction during the harvesting process. Well I guess there is always this case where the market demand, supply have to be met.
Due to the demand created by the market force, these honey were harvested as soon as the bees place them into the combs, even though when they were still unripe. Api Dorsata are very aggressive when comes to protecting their nest. The only way these local folks knew were to destroy them in order to get to their honey.
The meeting ended with a tour to their honey processing plant. I left the place with a nice gift produced by FAMA.
GENEVA – THE UN on Thursday expressed alarm at a huge decline in bee colonies under a multiple onslaught of pests and pollution, urging an international effort to save the pollinators that are vital for food crops.
Much of the decline, ranging up to 85 per cent in some areas, is taking place in the industrialised northern hemisphere due to more than a dozen factors, according to a report by the UN’s environmental agency.
They include pesticides, air pollution, a lethal pinhead-sized parasite that only affects bee species in the northern hemisphere, mismanagement of the countryside, the loss of flowering plants and a decline in beekeepers in Europe. ‘
The way humanity manages or mismanages its nature-based assets, including pollinators, will in part define our collective future in the 21st century,’ said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner. ‘
The fact is that of the 100 crop species that provide 90 per cent of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees,’ he added.
Wild bees and especially honey bee colonies from hives are regarded as the most prolific pollinators of large fields or crops. — AFP Share
Past few days were spent running around town, getting all the documents prepared for the shipment. This morning finally saw the shipment ready for flight. The forwarder came on time to load the buckets up. Hopefully it will reach Switzerland safely and on time.
Logistic management in Uganda still has a long way to go. One of my previous shipment, one ton of my honey was left at Entebbe airport for 10 days and nobody notice all the buckets sitting there and going nowhere. Luckily honey is non perishable. If not I will be in deep trouble. My customers were very amazed that how come such things happened. How to compete with the rest of the World if Uganda is not going to look at these issues seriously.
Yesterday I was chatting with the Chief Veterinarian. He is the person that will approve and certify all agriculture export like coffee and in this case, honey. I was surprised when he mentioned that we were the only Company that is exporting honey to Switzerland. He told me that honey going into EU is very difficult because of the stringent quality test required. He was glad that ours are able to meet the EU standards and being exported out. How he wished there were more honey with the same quality in the market.
Dear Mr. Beekeeper Sir,
By the time you read this letter, probably I would have already left this World. You see, my life on this earth is only about 45 days. And it is only the last few days I was able to fly out to collect half a teaspoon of honey for everyone to share.
I was very sad and frightened when I saw this video clip of you and your method of taking honey away from us. I think I should say more of sad than frighten. For so many years, we had to be placed under lots of tests and experiment and cross breeding to develop a mutated species of honeybees that do not know how to protect ourselves the way God had wanted us.
When I was born, I heard from my sisters that our mother was not given the opportunity to find her own mates but instead sent to you, forced against her will to be inseminated according to your desire. And when you found out that our mother is no longer producing, you terminate her life prematurely.
You could not handle our natural aggressive behavior given by God’s to protect ourselves, you took nature into your own hands and made generations and generations of our siblings defenseless. You made us felt that as if the honey is rightly belonging to you and we are hindering your progress when you sell our honey.
You had made us so stressful that we had lost all our own defense system in order for you to take advantage of our docile behavior. Initially I thought it was for the best for both parties, but I was wrong. I thought being docile was a good thing so that we can work harmoniously but instead, you took our kindness as weakness. You abused our gentle friendship and treated us like slaves, without sparing a thought on how we feel. We are also living creatures like you and we do feel pain.
Look at the video clip. How did you mistreat our fellow sisters? My heart bled when I saw so many being crushed in between the box. They had done you no wrong except bringing honey for you to enjoy the fruit of their labor. When you had taken whatever you wanted from us, you simply trashed all of us on the ground, lost, confuse and stressed.
Now all of us are sick and many of us are slowly disappearing with no apparent reasons at all. Have you ever thought about the cause and effect? What is happening now is a vicious circle. Treating us with anti-biotic to prolong our lives is not the solution. Soon the anti biotic will be spilled over into the honey and end of the day, you will be eating contaminated honey from your own doing. In fact I knew this had already happened. But you chose to keep silent so that you can sell the honey. A piece of paper can never wrap a burning flame. That’s why some time back, honey from some Countries were banned because traces of anti-biotic were found in them.
Things had come full circle. If you were to see what is happening around, it will not last long. We used to be very resilient to all kinds of diseases and viruses but for the last decade, many of our siblings were succumbed to diseases and viruses that had always been living together, without interfering with our daily lives.
Look at my fellow sisters in Africa, with little or no human intervention. They had retained their natural aggressive instinct and till now, they are still resilient to viruses and diseases. They are still producing beautiful, natural honey, which is what it should be.
Dear Mr. Beekeeper Sir, I hope this letter will make you rethink how you should treat us and what will be the effect in the long run.
To you, it is just in a day’s work. To us, it matters life and death.
From a frightened little honeybee
5th July saw the second batch of trainees undergoing the program. The idea of having the interviews for selection before training was prudent because we saw serious farmers who were prepared to pay the price of hard work. If not we will not be able to see the results if committed farmers were not chosen.
The 6 days training also saw them spending most of the time in the field, hands-on. By the end of the training, we received very positive feedbacks especially having them recognizing the importance of real field experience rather than classroom lectures of honey farming throughout the course. We had a very interesting participant and we shall talk more about him later in the blog.
Our classes were kept to a maximum size of 12 and below. We do not want classes to be of any larger less it might cause stress to the bees if activities were to be conducted throughout the next 6 days. African bees are well known for its aggressive behaviour. The classes will not meet its objective if the farmers were unable to work on them when they turn aggressive.
The class started with the participants introducing themselves and sharing with all why did they decide to embark on beekeeping. This gesture is common here and I do find it is a good practice. It will somehow enable the participants to interact more freely and to share their experiences as we went along.
Most farmers are still unaware of the different types of bee hives that can be used for honey farming. The course provides the insight of the history of beekeeping, the different methods applied in different parts of the World, the advantages and disadvantages of the various hives used. Most important of all the migration of honey hunting to honey farming.
One of the first topic that we had touched on was sustainable beekeeping. It is pointless if we would just simply teach them about beekeeping without them realizing how to keep the business sustainable. We need to instill in their thoughts that the most productive method is the method that will suit them best, in terms of financial and skills.
Beekeeping is a full time job. We have to change their mindset that beekeeping is not easy and simple. You don’t simply put beehives out in the field and wait for the honey flow season to starts. After which you go and collect the honey and sell. All these have to go. When there are no interaction with the bees, you will see zero results.
When the time comes for harvesting, they would find the colony so aggressive, so much so that instead of harvesting honey, they would destroy and kill all the bees before they can to get to the honey.
The fear of these insects was always there and the only method they knew were to approach them during the night with fire to avoid stings. That was what they were taught from their parents and grand parents. The end results – beautiful honey destroyed and contaminated during harvesting.
They were quite skeptical in the beginning when we told them they will be moving into the apiary in the afternoon. We will work on the bees in broad daylight. Some did not believe it. In order for them to accept the fact that beekeeping can be done during the day, we went down to the apiary and let them have a feel of the bees busy flying in and out of their hives.
The following day, the team started early to begin their basic on apiary management. Previously some were taught that they were supposed to hide their beehives among tall grasses because bees loves to colonized in thick bushes. This is not true. In fact having all the tall grasses and thick bushes would hinder the mobility of the farmer. On top of that, farmers can even be injured or killed by snakes hiding or moving around. Thus we demonstrated why it is important to have a clean neat apiary for easy handling of the hives during apiary management.
Every batch will be taken to task to start an apiary from scratch. We allocated another part of the farm to have them clear the area to prepare the siting of their bee hives. This time round, they will be setting up 2 rattan hives, 4 Kenyan top bars and 1 log hive coming from Gulu.
After which, they were taught to bait all the hives before deploying them out into the field. Baiting is an important process for it will hasten the process of colonization. Many a times, farmers would use cassava flour or honey or even sugar, placed inside the hive to attract the bees. They did not realized that these items will also attract other insects like ants.
Below are some of the shots taken during the 6 days training.
Earlier in this blog, I mentioned that we had an interesting participant. his name is David Sengaali. He was born physically challenged. His left hand was born stunted but his determination of being a good beekeeper was admirable.
David started beekeeping when he was 9 year old and got his skill of honey hunting through his grandparent. He would move around with them and other beekeepers in his village whenever they went for honey hunting. At the tender age of 9, he was fascinated by these insect and wanted to know more. Soon the desire to keep them was so strong that he started to build his own hive and caught bees in places like abandoned ant hill and hollow logs. He would then transfer them into his hives.
Soon village folks around came to know about his passion and they started to buy honey from him. Honey is like medicine to these villagers. With that little source of income, he managed to send himself to school.
25 years had past and now he makes his living by making bee hives, smokers and bee suit for Organizations. His passion had turned into a business for him.
He chanced upon our project 2 months back and was curious when he saw our apiary. He wanted to know more about our operation and approached Karl. When he heard that we are conducting training, he requested to join in so that he is able to increase his knowledge in beekeeping. My interaction with him found out that his knowledge in beekeeping was good. He does have potential in this trade. I will be monitoring him from now and I believe he will be a good candidate to be a future bee trainer under our wing.
Below is a video of him making his own rattan hive during the training.
Photos by Lesster Leow, Aug 7, 2010
Finally the test report is out and we are able to introduce a new range for our boutique, Eucalyptus honey.
In our Mellisopalynology report, pollen count shows 95.8% belonging to the Myrtaceae family. Less than 3% consist of Mango, Combretaceae, Anacardiaceae, Senecio-group and Musa. Our Eucalyptus honey is thus considered Monofloral. The enzymes (Diastase) activities detected was found to be much higher than the recommended EU Honey Legislation in Europe. This shows that the honey was filtered raw and natural and has never been heat treated or had gone through UV lights or any forms of heat energy such as microwaves. Diastase, this enzyme is responsible for converting starch to dextrins and sugars and is introduced into the honey by the bees.
The moisture contents of our Eucalyptus Honey falls below 20% and this is one of the most important aspect when buying honey. According to the EU honey standards, honey having more than 20% in moisture content determines the rate of fermentation. Unripe honey harvested are usually having a moisture content of 23% or more. It will taste sourish.
Our Eucalyptus Honey is dark amber and has an intense and persistent peppermint after taste. It crystallizes much faster are usually preferred as an excellent accompaniment to cheeses, pastries and herbal teas.
In Uganda, villagers are often seen using Eucalyptus Honey as a home remedy for mild cough and cold.
Eucalyptus Grandis or E. Grandis is well known in Uganda, being first introduced around 1912. It is commonly planted for fuelwood and poles and is an important source of income for small farmers. As other sources dwindle, E. Grandis is increasingly being recognised as a valuable source of timber too. It is easy to raise from seed and coppices vigorously when cut. Many of the E. Grandis trees in Uganda have hybridised, however, and thus it is important to use only improved seed from tree breeding programmes (mainly in Southern Africa) for commercial plantations here.
In Uganda, E. Grandis is best suited to deep soils in the cooler, moist areas – particularly in the west – around Kabarole and Bushenyi, in the West Nile region and in the south-west (Kabale). On suitable sites and with good management, E. Grandis can grow extremely quickly: Mean Annual Increments of over 50 m3/ha/yr can be achieved in such areas, though an average of 25-35 m3/ha/yr is more likely. Rotations of 8-15 years are expected for the production of sawlogs and large poles.
Julius and Martin are my bee masters from Gulu. My work of sharing the importance of having to produce quality honey does not stop at the village. I will make effort to bring the leaders down occasionally to Kampala to show and explain why we need to pursue excellence in what we are doing.
Before I came, keeping bees in the the North is just to produce enough honey for their own consumption and many did not realized that it can be an income generating activity.
Bringing them to the city will somehow motivate them to realize the potential and many aspect of moving forward after being in insurgency for so many year, thinking that there is little or no hope for their future generations.
I had been working with them for three years now and I do feel their sense of wanting to progress. What amazed me was the speed in which they picked up the skill from honey hunting to honey farming.
Once that is achieved, they are able to pat themselves on their shoulders and showing the world that they can also be part of the world food chain by producing high quality honey for the world to embrace.
Their trip to the city this time included a short session on how to transfer bees from one location to another. According to them, this is the first time in Uganda beekeeping history that they are able to learn how to do that. They had done short distance transfer but never in their life ever thought that we can transfer bees 120km apart.
They will be part of the team to transfer the colonies to Timothy Centre within the next 3 weeks. It seems that we are unable to fulfill my planned schedule of completing the task before Christmas. Anyhow, the show must go on.
Timothy Centre will be the FIRST-ONE-OF-ITS-KIND apiary in Uganda where bee farmers coming for training will be able to understand the different kinds and methods of beekeeping around the world. They will then be able to fully understand what sort of method best suits them. Rather than just having to listen to others, always thinking that the most expensive and modern hives is the way to go.
For the time being hives that are going to be deployed at the Centre will be the Traditional Log Hives, Rattan Hives, Kenyan Top Bars and the Langstroths. Timothy Centre will also serves as an information Centre where NGOs who have beekeeping projects, wanting to introduce it as part of their curriculum, to have a better understanding on the way forward in initiating it to their farmers.
Modernization of beekeeping industry in the North takes time. The current situation requires a lot of effort, especially apiary management. Why the need for these farmers to learn how to relocate hives is that most of the hives were placed in an awkward position where it is so difficult to work on them safely and gently. Others had their beehives located too far apart between every hives, making it time consuming for farmers to work on them.
Our findings for the honey industry here is this – there is no such thing as whether modern bee hives produces better, higher quality honey compared to traditional log hives. All nectar collected from the bees and being converted to honey are good quality honey. It is the process of how the farmer approach the hive, handle the bees and extracting the combs. Most of our honey harvested are from the traditional log hives and yet they are able to meet EU honey legislations.
The other misconception about beekeeping in Uganda is that farmers were being told that it is one of the simplest form of income generating activity. They simply place a modern beehive on a tree, just wait for the bees to come and deposit honey and collect them during harvesting season. So many quickly jump onto the band wagon but later realized that it was not true, Finally giving it up totally losing their hard earned money to those who sold them the idea.
Too many hypes on modernization but little emphasis on sustainability.
Julius, 68 and Martin, 45, and the other 300 farmers that I am working with do faced many obstacles but somehow we are determined to face them one at a time.
The only time we failed is the last time we tried. We have not try the last time yet.
Three weeks with Jonathan passed by in a flash. Today we started to pick up where we had left off before he came. It rained quite a bit in the morning and our schedule was delayed a little. All the hives were soaking wet when we loaded them on the truck. Hopefully we are able to complete our work before Christmas and spend a relaxing festive season. Francis will be escorting the bee hives to Timothy Centre. Tomorrow he is getting married.
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?
Here is a sneak preview of my honey boutique. Eventually, it will house honey of different floral from different parts of Uganda.
This boutique will be the first in Uganda which sells honey that meets European Union Honey Quality Legislations. Every harvest, samples will be sent to University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart Germany for melissapalynology.
For a start, we shall be concentrating on honey, honey snacks for regular consumption. There will also be honey products that come in gift packaging for special events. Occasionally, we will have special “Comb Honey”.
In the future we will include by-products from honey like, bee pollen, royal jelly and propolis. All these takes time because it involve a lot of certification and testing. Once its approved, we shall then launch them. Meanwhile candles made out of beeswax are already on sale.
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.
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.
First part of the honey harvesting work is finally done! Hurrah! The next part – getting the honey extracted from the combs begins tomorrow. The journey of the honey from Gulu to Kampala took 10 hrs. By the time it reached Kampala, it was 2358hrs. This time round we had 2 more guys helping out in the transferring of the honey from the truck to the store. It took us 1 hrs to transfer them.
95% of all these honey were harvested from traditional log hives. Honey samples from this batch sent to Hohenheim for test has met EU honey quality parameters. Many young NGOs always feel that only modern honey farming is the way to go. I feel that they have to do more studies before they come to that conclusion. They are throwing away good money by not having a better understanding of this industry first.
All you can is all you can do, and all you can do is enough.
Honey harvesting season is over! Since early March, the farmers had been busy with the harvesting and they saw all their hardwork paying off. Was up in Gulu last few days to finalized the paperwork for the honey to come to Kampala. Am very pleased with the harvest and this year’s operation. The farmers were very co-operative and were also glad that they had found another source of income to supplement their livelihood, especially able to pay school fees for their children.
I was chatting with some of the farmers and asked them what they intend to do with this extra source of income. Some are going to reinvest in more beehives so that come next year, they will have more production. More production means more income. Others are thinking of buying some chicks to start a small poultry farm producing eggs for their local market. When I heard these, I was very proud of them. How I wish readers can be there to see the smiles on their faces. 22 years of insurgency had made them so wanting to get out of poverty. The Acholis, (people from Gulu), are really hardworking and serious with their work. Our honey production had increased 20% compared to last year. Ugandans with these kind of attitude are worth supporting. These farmers really impressed me.
The best news of the day was receiving a call from Professor telling me that the honey samples harvested from this season, which was sent to the University in early April had met European Union Honey Standards requirements again. (a pat on the shoulder)
Coming back to the collection centre, it’s taking shape and with this period having abundant rainfall, things are growing and the flowers and plants are developing nicely. Soon I will be able to stay there, saving money from staying in hotel and best of all, my great dane can travel with me.
The next task is to organize the whole lot to come to Kampala. Meanwhile, we have started packing for Shoprite Supermarket here in Kampala since I had brought a few buckets back with me during my last trip. The honey will be sold under “Kids Of Africa” brand. A portion of the proceeds will go to the orphanage.
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.
Honey harvesting season is coming to an end. To date, we have harvested about 2.5 tons of honey and would likely be able to hit our targeted 5 tons production by next week.
I’ve brought back a few hundred kilos of honey combs for the extraction of honey. Comb honey are the best way to acquire from local farmers. This ensures that we can inspect the honey in its original form. Very often, traders who buy honey directly from farmers, will likely to have the honey adulterated with mollasses or diluted with water to increase the volume before they sell them. So buying liquid honey from these traders is not ideal.
Our company’s policy is that we only acquire our honey from the farmers that we trained in beekeeping. The initial few harvest, farmers will extract the honey combs together with our beekeeping masters. A few more followups will be conducted to ensure that they handle the honey with our best practices recommendations. Afterwhich, these farmers will continue to harvest their honey independently with occassional observations by us. In order to make sure that the honey are still in its purest form, we only acquire raw honey combs from these farmers. We shall then process these honey combs back in Kampala.
To ensure the quality and hygiene of the honey , we use simple honey presses to extract the honey. Farmers would however usually extract them using only their hands. Since Uganda Honey is only a small scale production line, two honey presses suffice to meet our honey production capacity . After pressing, the honey are then settled in tanks, (stainless steel tanks infront of the honey press), for a few weeks to allow any small particles of beeswax to rise to the top and removed. Meanwhile, these honey will have to await the test results from Germany before they are sold to our customers overseas.
After moving up and down Gulu for the last two weeks, finally we are able to take a break on Easter Sunday and Easter. I am very glad to see that the farmers had improved on their harvesting skills and the quality of the honey thus had improved too. Collected some honey sample so that we can put them on a trip to Germany for melissopalynology test again. Every batch of honey harvested, samples from different part of the village must be sent to The University to make sure that they conform to the EU legislations in order for us to export them to the European Union. One important criteria for the test is to send comb honey instead of liquid honey. Comb honey is directly from the hive and it also prove that the honey is still in its original form and no heat is applied lest the combs melt. Another aspect is that comb honey also confirm that the honey has not been adulterated or mixed with honey from other parts of the world.
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.
An insightful article on Uganda Daily Monitor by Dorothy Nakaweesi on 9th February told the plight of the Uganda Honey beekeepers;
Here are a few excerpts,
Inefficiencies in honey supply chain, low capacity of producers to understand and negotiate markets, have continued to deny Uganda the opportunity to achieve its full potential in bringing income benefits to the poor.
Currently Uganda produces 3, 000 tonnes only but it has a capacity to produce over 200,000 tonnes if all issues are put together.
“However often many of the beekeepers receiving handouts from donors were not properly trained to be able to manage their apiaries or even harvest honey on their own. The denoted equipment was also left unattended and eventually destroyed by fire, weather, and termites or vandalized,”
Local hives have proved to be profitable than frame hive beekeeping and overlooking this fact has the opposite effect to the development of apiculture sector in Uganda.
“Commercialisation therefore is about being efficient cost –effective and raising income to alleviate poverty to many and has nothing to do with hive types. Therefore it is necessary to focus training on honey harvesting and handling rather than trying to transform beekeepers from using the local hives to frame-hive beekeepers,” the report said.
For the full article, please visit The Daily Monitor
The issues illustrated in the article was discussed previsouly in the entry Defining sustainable beekeeping.
Last week was kind of hectic. Needed to rush to the airport to do some adjustment on my products. By the way we have our honey products sold at the duty free shop at the Entebbe International Airport(EBB), the principal international airport of Uganda .
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.
Here you can see my collegue extracting honey from combs using a honey press. Honey in these form are as pure as they can be.
There are many people who want to help in alleviating poverty in third world countries. I know it is for a good cause. I admired that. Thus beekeeping is one of nature’s ways of providing a source of income opportunities for these farmers. Many Organizations will come in and give the villagers their entire high-end, expensive, complicated beekeeping equipments.
There are a few questions that always ponder in my mind. Is these kind of support sustainable? Is it really cost effective? Is it really that traditional beekeeping cannot sustain their livelihood. Is the honey produced from traditional beekeeping will be of bad quality like some always claimed? Is modernization of this industry the only way to go? Can the farmers keep up with the regular maintenance of the modern equipments?
All my honey are harvested from traditional beehives and yet they are still able to meet EU legislation when I sent them for testing in Germany. I wondered where did they get this idea that honey from traditional beehive will be of bad quality. All honey inside the beehive is good quality honey. The only time you get bad honey is when it is being harvested by the farmer without understanding the correct method of harvesting.
Recently I was reading some news about some NGOs giving funds and modern beehives again, (too many that I had lost count) for some communities and associations to start a modern beekeeping project because they feel that that is the way to move forward. In the article, they mentioned that bees are unlike poultry, where feeding is required. Bees find their own food. Is that really true? Has the Organization done any studies on this industry before helping to develop the industry? Have they really understood how the investment will lead to if the true picture is not visualized? Are they really sure that the initial investment can be recouped in one year and a farmer continues earning profits thereafter for more than 10 years, without additional capital investment or regular repairs of the beehives due to wear and tear? Are they painting a false picture that beekeeping is easy money? Will the farmers get disappointed if the whole thing turns out not to be what it seems?
Given the tough conditions of the environment, and the lack of good, precision carpentry equipments to produce the beehives, I really cannot see how the farmers are able to maintain the hives. Understanding where the farmers are coming from, in terms of the art of beekeeping passed down from generations, it will take a steep learning curve for them to handle bees in a modern langstroth beehive. It is not a one two-months kind of learning process. On the contrary, all the farmers that I am working with are so well versed with the traditional hives and the kenyan top bar hives.
I had worked with farmers with different types of beehives and langstroth is the only hive that they do not know how to handle the bees, especially the aggressiveness of the api melliferra scutellatas. In the article, the farmers were taught to put the langstroth beehive on a platform about two meters high! I was going…What!?? Langstroth two meters high above the ground? I wonder how are they going to inspect the honey chamber that is more than two meters high on a regular basis.
If the honey quality is not an issue, which I know, Lets us have a hypothetical scenerio to see the sustainability issue.
Cost of langstroth hive – Ush120,000
Honey harvested in a year as claimed - 25kg
Selling price of honey @ Ush4000 per kilo (as stated in the article) - Ush100,000
Gross loss for farmers for 1st year, excluding protective gears and other minor repair work of the beehive – Ush100,000 minus Ush120,000 = (Ush20,000). How can the farmer make profit in the first year?
Here is the cost of a traditional beehive investment….
Cost of traditional beehive – Ush5,000
Honey harvest in a year, according to my harvesting experience – 15kg
Selling price of honey @ Ush4,000 per kilo (using their statistic) - Ush60,000
Gross profit for farmers for 1st year, excluding protective gears and other minor repair work of the beehive – Ush60,000 minus Ush5,000 = Ush55,000.
Based on the cost of 10 langstroth beehive – Ush1,200,000, the farmer can acquire 240 traditional hive.
1 traditonal hive gives the farmer 15kg
Therefore for 240 hives, the farmer will get 240 X 15 X Ush4000 = Ush14,400,000.
I do not forsee all 240 hives colonized and producing honey. If we were to go according to Pareto’s principle, we will only have 20% of the work force producing, thus giving the total production income of only Ush2,880,000 – Ush1,200,000(cost of 240 tradtional hives) = Ush1.680,000 per household. This figure is more realistic and achiveable.
If you were to multiply the cost of the number of traditional beehives the farmer can get out of one langstroth beehive, you will be able to see that the farmer will be able to sustain much better with traditional beehives. By the way, with the high cost of beehives, how many langstroth beehives does the farmer need in order to make beekeeping business a viable business? Provided that the farmers has a centre to extract the honey, I cannot see how the farmer is going the get the money to buy all the expensive extracting equipments to get the honey out.
African honeybees produce a lot of propolis and the chances of breakage of the langstroth frames due to the difficulty of prying it out is great. I use to have langstroths but it never work because the need of precision work on these frames is almost impossible. On top of that, the frames require stainless steel wires to hold the wax foundation onto the frame. The cost of stainless steel wires is so expensive here and you might not even be able to get it. So if they were to use normal wires, the honey will subject to contamination due to rusting of the wires.
Recycling the empty combs after extracting the honey is not a good idea because that will lead to contamination again. There is this possibility of fungus growth on the combs after they had been taken out from the hives. It does not save much time for the bees to build again.
In short, actual beekeeping is not as simple as it seems. There are lots of unseen factors that many chose not to recognise. I can only concur with the last paragraph in the article. It says many people have tried beekeeping but without the required knowledge, commitment. You need good preparation, training and constant advise. Like any other venture, you need to do it right to harvest right. Other than this paragraph, there are open-end questions. It’s more like the project will end when the paperwork ends.
slowly but surely i am expanding my refinery. i am glad after all these years, people are beginning to appreciate the honey that we have. most of my customers now know how to identify good honey. many people are still looking for honey that are light and crystal clear. in europe, those who knows about honey will always go for honey that are cloudy. cloudy honey are rich in pollen. well anyway i have to get ready for April’s honey flow season now.
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.