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Lockdown turned me from MC to bee keeper

Bee Keeper, Jason Runo inspecting his bee hives

People usually come up with business ideas after having discussions with friends or family, or while having an alone moment, sometimes picking someone else’s idea and try to make it better. But that is not how Jason Runo, a beekeeper came up with the idea.

During the early days of the pandemic when most people were locked indoors, the only dreams that the subconscious mind could create were of the pandemic.

But Runo, whose source of incoming from the entertainment business had dried up, had a unique dream.

“In my dream, a bee spoke to me and told me that everything would be okay and that it would take care of me, so I thought the dream meant I should sell honey. I did that for a while before deciding to learn more about where the honey comes from,” he says 

Runo adds that learning more about bees fascinated him.

“One of the most important things every business person needs to have is product knowledge. My passion is more about the bees, and I believe that when you take care of the insect, they will actually return the favour,” he says. 

"Bees are responsible for up to 33 per cent of the food we eat, and if we get rid of all our bees, humanity will have less than four years to survive."

Runo says that if a farmer becomes a bee keeper they automatically become a conservationist, because a bee farmer will always plant trees, make sure there are flowers around and reduce or stop the use of pesticides.

“If you have crops or flowers that have pesticides, it means that you are also making contaminated honey. Bees go to the flowers collect nectar come back to the comb and regurgitate that. In a lay man’s language, honey is bees vomit,” he says          

Runo built an apiary in Murang’a County. He has 30 bee hives.

“Each hive can give 10 kilos of honey per harvest. You can harvest four times a year but I have met farmers who harvest monthly, because they intentionally bring a lot of stuff for the bees to forage,” he says

His beehives are in different attractive colours, blue, green, yellow and one made of concrete but painted in African art.   

Isaac Thuo wearing a Beesuit demonstrates how to harvest honey. [Lydiah Nyawira, Standard]

Is there poisonous honey?

On August 26, 2022, two children died while 19 other people were hospitalised after consuming what is believed to be poisonous honey in Tharaka Nithi County. Is there poisonous honey?

Runo says that when you taste honey you are tasting your environment, if you have bees on a sunflower farm the honey will taste of sunflowers. If bees were foraging on acacia trees, then that’s where you see acacia honey it’s not that it is flavored with acacia.

“When it comes to honey you are literary eating your environment, so what could have happened in Meru, two scenarios might have been on play, either the flowers that the bees made honey from had excessive pesticides or the plant itself was a poisonous plant,” he says

Runo adds that places like Nepal in Asia, have hallucinogenic honey. You take a spoon and you start to hallucinate. This is because there’s a particular flower that has the hallucinogenic component and is found twice in a year.

What you can get from bees apart from honey?

According to Runo, honey is the cheapest of all bee products since it is the most consistent it is well known. Other products include:

  • Propolis - Boosts immune system
  • Bee venom - For anti-venom.
  • Royal jelly - harvested from the queen cells in the beehives, enhances collagen production (Collagen provides structure, support or strength to the skin, muscles, bones and connective tissues), ease premenstrual and postmenopausal symptoms.
  • Wax.

Runo says that bees can be kept for pollination purposes. In the US, farmers, especially fruit farmers, hire bee farmers to bring bees into their farms for pollination purposes. 

Low production of honey

According to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), Kenya produces about 11,000 metric tonnes of honey and 1-3 tonnes of beeswax annually.

KALRO attributes the low production to lack of appropriate technologies, poor beekeeping practices, and low uptake of improved technologies, poor policy guidelines and marketing skills.

Runo says that the country is under producing. “Last time I checked, we were producing only 15 per cent of what we consume. We import a lot of honey. During the cold season bees don’t leave the hives, and people are getting the flu. The demand goes up but the supply is low.”

According to The Apiculture Platform of Kenya (APK), approximately one third of all our food requires pollinating by bees or other pollinators.

APK encourages hobby beekeeping as an important factor in rebuilding populations and encouraging species health and diversity, following the decline of native bees population that has been caused by environmental stress and various pests.

How to move bees to a new colony?                            

Runo says that they set up the hives in a way that is attractive to the bees. When the worker bees who are female bees are out looking for the food, they are always looking out for spaces. When they find a perfect place, they go back to give the message and move the whole colony.

The male bees do nothing but mate and then die. The female bees do all the work, look for food, defend the colony, make the honey. They are also the ones that sting, and after that, they die.

“The last thing a bee wants to do is to sting you, it’s just how you approach them. So we are very big on signage,” he says.

Benefits of bee stings       

Unless one is allergic, bee stings are very healthy.

  • Bee venom has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and may benefit the health of your skin and immune system.
  • Treating inflammation.
  • Given as a shot for rheumatoid arthritis, nerve pain (neuralgia), and multiple sclerosis.

 “In the West, bee sting therapy is a thing. Even in Malindi there’s a clinic that does bee sting therapy. Experts are also looking into using bee stings as facelift or botox,” says Runo.

Types of Bees 

Queen - A colony has one queen; her main function is reproduction. Has a lifespan of 2-3 years.

“The queen lays about 1500-2000 eggs every day, in a situation where the queen has died and the hive is not producing enough eggs, one of the worker bees will be fed royal jelly to make it queen. It’s also another business in the bee keeping space where farmers are just rearing queen bees,” says Runo.

The queens body is usually longer than the other bees. 

Worker - The smallest but big in numbers, sexually under developed and they do not lay eggs. They protect the queen, clean and polish the cells, feed the brood, remove debris, handle incoming nectar, build beeswax combs, guard the entrance, and air-condition and ventilate the hive during their initial few weeks as adults.

Drone - They have no stinger, pollen baskets, or wax glands. Their main function is to fertilise the queen, they become sexually mature about a week after emerging and die instantly after mating.

Types of Beehives

Kenya Top Bar Hive (KTBH) 

It is made in Kenya and has top bars that bees build the comb on. 

[Lydiah Nyawira, Standard]

According to Apiservices.biz, the hive can be built using scrap or rough lumber, may be woven from cane or reeds, formed from cement blocks or adobe, or may even employ old, discarded oil drums for the hive bodies.

Runo says that the KTBH is partitioned in two. After seven bars, a wire known as the queen excluder is placed.

“The worker bees can fit through the mesh but the queen does not because of the size. So that means on the queen’s side, you will have corns that have eggs what we call the brood, then on the other side we have just pure honey. So we never harvest from the brood side. It gives around 15-20 kilos,” he says.

Kenya Top Bar Hive Pros and Cons

Ranges from Sh5,000

Easy to manage and the bees are less stressed.

Harvesting of the combs is easier because there’s no movement of boxes like the Langstroth hive.

Bees move in a systematic way filling up the bars with comb. There’s also no need for a queen excluder, as the bees will organise themselves since it’s one storey. 

The set up of the top bar hive is not complex -- a box, bars and a top. A beekeeper can use kitchen equipment to harvest honey.

Top bar hives allow bees to build comb in a natural way. 

 Cons

Top bar hives are less productive

No room to add on to the hives and therefore, the hive cannot grow very big.

Concrete Bee Hive

Runo says that the concrete hive is suitable in hot areas; it is cooler inside and a lot more comfortable for the bees. It is also better than wood hives that decompose after a while. It gives 5 kilos of honey.

Langstroth Bee Hive

Has 3 sections (Comprised from perfectbee.com)

Lower section: Where boxes rest includes a bottom board, featuring an entrance through which bees can come and go.

Boxes: Where the action happens inside the hive. Brood, honey, pollen, propolis and, bees are all housed inside one or more boxes.

Upper section: The top of the hive comprises an inner cover, sitting on top of the uppermost box, plus a top cover to cap the entire structure.

Langstroth Hive Pros and Cons

Ranges from Sh5,000 to Sh7,000.

Benefits honey sellers since it has many boxes hence more honey.

You don’t need to harvest honey to make more space for the hive; you just add another box on top.

With frames, you are able to give the bees their wax back. This means they don’t have to spend any extra energy rebuilding their comb.

Cons

It becomes stressful for the bees when inspecting the lower bars since the farmer has to remove the top boxes. 


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