The demand for good quality honey has been on the rise in Kenya. Bee keeping has been practised in Kenya for a long time now. Hives and methods of bee keeping have improved greatly in modern times which allow harvesting of honey while preserving the bee colonies. Bees are also plant pollinator thus playing a pivotal role in food production globally.
Bees aid in pollination of crops thus increasing yields. The venture requires minimal space, low capital & labour input. The products have medicinal value. Moreover, different products can be manufactured for extra income.
What species of bees are available in Kenya?
a) Honey bees
This is the most common. There’re several races within this species. The races have distinguishing traits, aggressiveness, nesting behaviours and habitation areas
b) Stingless bees
These produce honey which is prized as medicine. They can be kept in small hives but are not commercially kept in Kenya as for now.
Types of bee hives
A hive is the box or other container where bees live. Hives are of 3 types:
A) Traditional (log) hives
These contribute over three quarters of total honey produced in Kenya and provide livelihoods to many in arid and semi-arid areas. They come as hollowed-out logs, discarded metal cans or drums, wooden boxes, baskets of straw and many others. Honeybees attach combs on the upper surfaces of the hive and to the sides. Advantages: construction materials are available, cheap or freely occurring, beeswax and propolis amount produced is relatively high. Disadvantage; it is impossible to remove or replace combs, scanty honey production, low honey quality, colony disturbance thus absconding and loss of brood at harvesting.
B) Kenya Top Bee Hives (KTBH)
The bees attach their combs to the bars but not the side of the hive, since the walls are slanted at an angle of at least 14 degrees thus allowing lifting of combs for examination out of the hives. KTBH is the most dominant and widely used due to: affordable price and simplicity. Advantages; the top bars are the only critical construction dimension, access to each comb individually, ease of brood inspection, exact time of harvesting can be judged without brood disturbance, better quality honey and beeswax. Disadvantage; combs are cut at harvesting and bees have to make new combs at every harvest.
C) Frame hives
The hive consists of precision-made rectangular boxes which fit one on top of the other. It has at least two boxes (supers) with the lower chamber called the brood chamber.
What equipment are required?
You will need a smoker, bee brush, hive tool and of course protective clothing such as hat, veil, special pants, goggles and gloves.
What should you consider when selecting the site for your hive?
Consider ease of access, safe from thieves, away from noise and human activities, nearness to a water source, near flowers or trees that produce flowers and safe from strong sun and winds.
Tips for Hive preparation and maintenance
Use plenty of bees wax around the inside of the hive and at the entrance and inspect hives regularly to check if bees have moved into them. If there are no bees check hives are clean and dry and that no pests, such as ants and spiders or snakes. The bees like odors of some leaves, which are always known locally and are sometimes used as extra baits. Add more wax bait if needed. The best time to colonize hives is when bees are swarming or migrating.
Some pests and predators:
Pests are termites, ants, wax moth, sugar ants and hive beetles, predators: honey badger and pirate wasp.
To control pests and predators: grease suspension wires, destroy infested combs, use appropriate entrance holes, wasp trap, hang hives high up, strengthen colonies.