Expert shares tips on modern beekeeping
Many potential bee keepers struggle with harvesting good honey that flies off the shelves. Dr Michael Lattorff, senior scientist, environment health at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology shares vital lessons.
- The right kind of equipment is a big factor for quality honey. Tell us more...
You are right. There are three types of bee hives. We have the traditional or loghive, the Kenya Top Bar Hive and modern beehive with moveable frames also known as Langstroth hive. The first two are a bit cumbersome to use because the honeycombs have to be cut out to extract the honey but for the modern one the frame containing the honeycomb is extracted and returned into the hive and can be re-used. Given its design and features, Langstroth is less disruptive to bees during inspections and its better yields in terms of honey production.
2. Talk to us about honey harvesting...
Honey harvesting is an art. The first thing you need to do is wear protective gear to avoid being stung by bees. Once armed, remove combs from the colony. Depending on the bee hive you can either squeeze the honey out or extract it from the extractor. Extractor makes the process easier and less messy leading to better honey, which has less dirt, debris, wax residue, pollen, brood. One should harvest only ripe honey, which has less moisture content( below 21 per cent). Honey is a natural product and hence there should be no additives like sugar syrup or molasses. There should be no heating. Some farmers heat up honey to liquify it in case it crystallizes. Once harvested, fill the honey in clean and sterile containers. The whole process should be done under the hygienic conditions.
3. Extractor is a key component in harvesting, tell us how the honey extractor works...
The honey extractor works like a centrifuge (a machine with a rapidly rotating container that applies centrifugal force to its contents, typically to separate fluids of different densities).
4. How about the portable refractometer commonly used by small scale bee farmers.
This is used to measure moisture of the honey to know whether it is ripe. When the moisture is too high, the harvested honey is unripe. Like I said, the best honey has a moisture content of less than 21 per cent. This prevents honey from fermentation due to the growth of bacteria and moulds. In good honey these microorganisms can’t thrive. Quality honey can last for years.
5. How can you tell between fake and pure honey?
Fake honey is also known as impure, artificial or adulterated. It has other additives like glucose, dextrose, molasses, sugar syrup, invert sugar and other things other than floral nectar. One can differentiate based on stickiness, thickness and taste. Fake honey is fairly sticky and ‘lightish’. There is an easy test you can do:
-Let a single drop land on a table, quality honey stays in shape while fake honey will spread,
-Quality honey will burn with a very small flame (best seen in the dark) while fake is not burning at all. These things can be easily done at home. There are more videos on YouTube to test this.
6. How does the weather influence quality of honey?
The weather influences the overall collection of food by a bee colony. Under good weather conditions, the bees fly out to forage for food. The quality of honey depends on the plants the bees used to forage for nectar. Different nectar originating from different plants shows differences in the chemical composition.
7. As Icipe what are some of the bee keeping trends you have seen?
We at Icipe have found that Kenyan honey has good biological activity (medicinal effects) especially the anti-oxidant and anti-microbial. Honey from Kakamega and Coastal region has these strong properties. We also have honey from stingless bees, which has an even higher medicinal value. However, it is not available in most supermarkets because it has not been recognised by Kenya Bureau of Standards. Stingless bee honey is thrice more expensive than that from the other bees.
8. Some people believe that honey from Western is not as sweet as that from dry areas like UKAMBANI. Is that so?
Actually, the sweetness of honey depends on the plants and where the bees collected the nectar. In dry areas like Eastern and Baringo there are a lot of Acacia trees, which bees love. Western Kenya is less suited for bees because of the plants there.
9. There has been a drop in honey production in the country, why?
From our end, we cannot confirm that conclusively. If that is indeed the case, there are a number of reasons why. First, it can be the environment of the bees, which is becoming more reduced due to transformation of land into agricultural areas. It is worth noting that bees can’t survive with a crop that has a short flowering period. The remaining time of the year bees need food as well, but the resources are often destroyed or not provided to bees. Another factor that may have contributed to a decline is increased use of pesticides which are harmful to bees. For example insecticides, especially neonicotinoids leads to death of the bees.
10. Many people see beekeeping as a business you can start with minimal capital, is that so?
Beekeeping is seen as side business that can be done without any investment. But that is not completely true, as bees require time and attention. If you want to produce volumes of quality honey for sale, you need to take good care of the bees. You need to strategically place them in a good environment that is supporting bee colonies, check on them at least once a month, to detect any kind of pest or pathogen and to see whether the queen is still well and laying eggs. Investing in more and more beehives will not help to increase production. Sustainable harvest that is not destroying the colony especially the queen is also crucial. Often the training of beekeepers is not sufficient. The beekeepers do the best they can based on the knowledge they have, but sometimes this is not sufficient for an increase in production. Often basic knowledge is missing, for instance information like bees need water which is to be provided very close to the colony (less than 100 m). Water helps to regulate the temperature inside of the hive.
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