After working out the kinks of the top bar hive frame construction in week one, our team of builders including myself, my brother Cien Keilty-Lucas, our long time friend Madeleine Ruegg, Tolera Kumsa, and our two local hired hands Tameskin Alemu and Mengestu, we started off the week with a mass production line Ethiopia has only seen far and few between.
When the Medula women’s group began to collaborate on the construction of their hives on Wednesday, it also didn’t take them long to get the bamboo weaving underway.
The work could easily be seen as tedious, yet the women found a way to drown out the monotony with a fair bit of chatter, song and laughing.
It was another informative and empowering week of class and a busy one of building, but in the end all participants were satisfied in the construction of their very own Top Bar beehive.
The second week of our Education program took place in Medula Town. A dust filled city center of about 10 thousand people, though many more are surly scattered in its surrounding area. The Sunday leading up to the training we once again held a meeting with all interested members, only this time the pre requisite was that they needed to be a participant in one of Weema Internationals self help groups for community women.
Divided into 6 groups of 20, the women have been taught skills in entrepreneurship and work together to save funds which can later be invested into new marketable opportunities. About 50 participants showed up to our meeting and after identifying those with previous beekeeping experience, we asked that the groups decide amongst themselves whom would be the best representative to participate in our beekeeper training program. Chatter ensued for over 20 minutes while groups organized themselves and after coming together to finalize class times. Class began the following day.
This past week sure would have been different had we gifted all our program participants pre-made beehives following the completion of their coursework. Yeah it would have been easier and more efficient in the eyes of many, but for the sake of the projects sustainability we took the time to stand next to each group member as they constructed their own hive.
With frames sourced from young Eucalyptus trees, side walls woven from a mix of bamboo and sorgum, and lastly lined with a layer of a mud/straw plaster all hive materials are readily available to the community.
A bow saw, hammer, and nails are necessary for the hive foundation work, followed by a bit of wire in all the corners for reinforcement. Rope is then tied to 4 of the vertical supports on 3 of the 4 sides and used to fasten the bamboo/sorgum side walls.
Top bars for the bees to hang their honeycomb are cut to their precise measurment (3.2 cm) and a protective roof is shaped out of more eucalyptus, before being covered with a waterproof covering.
Doing so, all participants spent all daylight hours outside of “classtime” spread out over the community school yard.
Lucky for us, school was out this week and we had all the time we needed.
Kembata Tembaro Beekeepers have not changed the manner in which they multiply their hives for over 500 years. Men climb the branches of tall eucalyptus and accacia trees and hang their long cylinder baskets in their branches. Leading up to the height of the strong nectar flow season when the bees population outgrow their home, 1/3 of the bees take their queen and leave the hive in search for a new one. Knowing this, beekeepers place their empty hives in close proximity to their existing ones. Amazingly, as we were told in our community meeting, here in Kembata Tembaro, there is a 100% success rate in filling those hives. This is called swarm catching.
Working with this success rate is not only the best way for beekeepers too expand their apiary but also a good way for new beekeepers to start up with their first colonies.
So while we are introducing transitional style beehives we are also introducing similarly designed swarm catchers. Sharing the same dimension yet one third of the volume, these hives are designed to make the age old traditions just a bit more efficient.
Rather than having to harshly break newly constructed honeycombs killing many bees in the process, using a bit of local technology, after 2 months of a new colonies presence, beekeepers can simply lift the top bar from the swarm catcher and slide it into the full sized hive.
We’ve demonstrated the construction of these new locally sourced swarm catchers here on the ground and local beekeepers seem excited about their possibilities. As the rains accumulate and bee populations expand, their use and success rate could make swarm catching and hive multiplication more efficient for both the the beekeeper as well as the honey bee.
Welcome to the Kololo village. Or better yet Ambakuna as Im getting to know the broader areas’ residents.
2 year ago my brother Cien Keilty-Lucas lived in this quiet little jungle town while organizing the construction of this beautiful school in the background. He slept, ate, worked, and drank coffee with the community for 8 months while getting to know them and now hes back for another round. Just this time, we are beekeeping.
The area has a long history of the trade and the 82 village members we met with on Sunday afternoon acounted for over 300 beehives. They are mainly traditional hives, long cyclinder baskets covered with dried leaves, and produce about 10 kilos of honey a year.
So this time around, instead of building schools my brothers been helping me get our BeeFreeApiaries beekeepers education program off the ground.
After holding a lottery sunday afternoon to select 18 men and 18 women at random to participate in the program we began on monday with a bit of theoretical work.
Thanks to Tolera Kumsa, from the Holetta Bee research center, the students have been engaged and excited from the start. They are eager in asking questions and already understand the benefits of switching to transitional hives.
We’re only getting started and definitly have our work cut out for us, but its looking to be a promising start to an evergrowing program.