Last week was indeed a hectic week which saw us covering almost 1,200 km of traveling route. Jeff Ramsey, the Director for Imbabazi accompanied by his assistant director, Devon were here on a field trip to see my work. They intend to invite me over to Rwanda to conduct a feasibility study on a beekeeping project. They were eager to find the way forward.
Within a 5 days span, we moved from South where Timothy Centre is located and Gulu, where my commercial beekeepers are. The main highlight for the trip was meeting up with Carol Higgins from Otino Waa Orphanage, Lira. Meeting Carol would be a very good yardstick for them to understand what to expect.
Over the weekend, I was invited to Village of Hope, in Masindi to assist in removing a colony of bees that had built its nest inside a rooftop of one of the building. The colony arrived at a bad time because Mike and his team were supposed to have the place fully operational by end of this coming week for inspection. Luckily the colony had been there for only about two weeks and they had not reached its full force yet. If not, it will be more difficult to handle them.
I was glad Mike did not chose the easy way out, which was to get a pest controller to terminate the colony. Life was already tough enough for these bees, we tried not to make it any tougher for them. If we were to take a step back and look at the bigger picture, we were actually intruding into their habitat. Although many felt that we humans are the most superior being amongst animal and insects, we should still stay humbled and learn to live with nature in a more peaceful way. What goes around, comes around.
After dinner, we decided to let the bees get to know us. We had to do this at night for we need to wait for the foragers to return. In case we needed to transfer them down, we would not miss out the foragers.
When Bosco started to pry open the bottom plank of the roof, they started buzzing, showing their unhappiness. My initial plan was to see whether I could avoid using the smoker. Soon from trickling movement, I could sensed that they will pour themselves out within the next few seconds. Immediately we have to move back and activate plan B, using the smoker.
Smoking simulates forest fire. Bees fear forest fire. Smoking the bees is not as simple as it looks. One must fully understand why, when and how to introduce smoke to the bees. It will then be effective.
Too little smoke, there will be no effect on them. Too much smoke, they will turn aggressive. They will start flying in all directions, making it very difficult to contain them.
It took us about 20 minutes before we can proceed with the opening of the bottom panel.
The view was breathtaking! It was indeed a strong colony as they had already built up to 8 combs with some having brood while other having honey stored.
The situation looked calm and we decided that we should not make things ugly by having to dislodge the colony. Moreover, we were not equipped with any empty hive to contain them and to relocate them if we were to bring them down.
So our plan of action was to destroy part of the combs, making them feel that this was no longer a safe place to stay anymore. They would find another location and leave this nest the next morning. Our main objective for this decision was that we do not want any confrontation resulting in casualties on both sides. Patience will make us arrive to an amicable solution.
Comes next morning, we went to observe the bees, they were very still. This shows that they were waiting for the queen’s instruction what to do next. Meanwhile Mike shared with me his plight, that he had a deadline to meet. We do not know know long before this colony will find another location to nest.
So we decided to help them hasten their decision by creating a bigger smoke just below the hive so that they have no choice but to abscond and leave the nest immediately.
Bosco ignited the drum of wood shavings, the smoke and heat started to rise. Within 10 minutes, the queen took flight, stopping at a nearby tree. The whole colony started to follow, forming a large dark cloud. The whole area was buzzing and bees were seen flying in all directions. Those who are not accustomed to this scene will tend to be wary of being attack by them. Usually they would not disturb anyone because they are focusing on joining their queen.
By 10am, everything had quiet down with saw the colony clustering on the tree top. This was where we moved in to clear the remaining combs, painted it with wood varnish demolishing all traces of smells from a previous nest. No other colony will choose this location again.
My first impression of the village when I arrived was a, “YES”! I was impressed with the way things are developing if an orphanage was to take place. The feeling I got was very down to earth, very real. This beautiful family, Mike, Janelle and Jenna, had done a wonderful job, transforming a barren piece of wilderness into a productive, positive haven for these children to move ahead with their lives.
Having such a setup which is very close to the way life should be in Northern Uganda, the orphans are able to grow steadily physically, mentally and spiritually, not having that vast paradigm shift, not taking things for granted. They will learn how to appreciate the changes and opportunities given to them to start life afresh. I can say that the focus right now for the orphans is really their needs and not our wants. The need of a good home, the need of medical attentions, the need for proper education and the need to identify the importance of sustainability. I had seen one too many. Without that portion of self sustainability, projects will not last.
We chatted and had lunch on Sunday before I took off to Gulu to see my bee farmers. We shared many common objectives. Well done! Mike, Janelle and Jenna!
For the last 5 years, we had been supplying our honey to Switzerland and East Africa region. Slowly but surely it is gaining popularity through word of mouth from those that came and visited me from Asia and orders are coming from Singapore, Malaysia and Japan now. We have decided to launch our honey on a bigger scale with this new packaging. Due to the cost of freight, it is more economical to airfreight the honey on a bigger volume of 1.4kg.
I guess people now are getting more affluent and particular when come to honey consumption. The feedback I got from my buyers are that they are beginning to appreciate honey coming from bees that are resilient to viruses which are affecting honeybees in most part of the world. We do not treat our bees with antibiotic or mite removal solutions. Sometime back, Europe banned some honey importers because they found traces of antibiotic in their honey. We are glad that our honey met all EU honey quality legislations.
Uganda is one of the last frontier where the bees are still resilient to viruses and diseases. We allow the bees to live as naturally as possible with minimum human intervention to maintain this blessed status. It could be this reason that the bees here are not succumb to viruses and diseases. They are protected by mother nature.
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.
Another batch of honey on its way to Zurich. Yeh! Next honey harvesting season will be sometime late April and May.
went to check on my snail mail today and was surprised to receive a couple of books relating to beekeeping so quickly. its from a fellow beekeeper friend from spain. i posted a request for old or used books that are related to beekeeping last week. I am in the process of setting up a library of books specially to cater for beekeepers in northern uganda. thanks pal!