When is honey ready to harvest?

When is honey ready to harvest?

Both classroom time and field time were spent this past Saturday and Sunday with community beekeepers in order to better answer what might seam like a simple question. Though some beekeepers have already harvested honey twice since establishing  their newly constructed transitional hives 8 months ago, questions of their products quality is a big concern. 

IMG_4593 .

We started Saturday morning in Kololo by identifying the area’s nectar flow calender. By compiling a list of bee forage trees and plants and the months in which they flower, beekeepers can better prepare for their hives to be in full force as well as harvest the honey to make room for the next round. However, not just any honey can be taken.

After making hundreds of foraging trips to fill just one wax cell with nectar. bees must provide enough ventilation within their honeycomb for the nectars’ humidity level to drop below 20%. Once this is achieved, bees finish the preservation process by covering it with a thin layer of wax. By acquiring this low humidity level, not only will the nectar keep without spoiling but the honeys’ micro septic properties make it impossible for bacteria to grow thus preserving it’s quality  Only at this point is the honey ready to keep until needed by the bees and therefor ready for the beekeeper to harvest.

Upon completion of our theoretical review beekeepers gathered at Worku Ochemo’s home and we put our newly acquired knowledge to the test.


 We prepared our smoker, put on our protective gears and as the sun went down we began our practical session with the transitional beehive.


We opened the hive and were happy to see that the bees had so positively taken to their new homes.


Bees don’t work for nothing, and their wax production and extension of the honey comb not only shows the quality of the hive design but of the bees ability and desire to fill it with food.


As the bees gently buzzed acknowledging our presence and under the light of a simple headlamp and torch beekeepers looked on as we identified and explained each of the combs. The above panel filled with pollen was excitedly distinguished, 


from this one, of ripe honey.


Ambakuna Hive Tours

Ambakuna Hive Tours

We began our time in Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia touring as many of our recently trained beekeepers homes as one day allows.


Friday morning was spent in Medula,


where beekeepers proudly demonstrated their established transitional beehives, recently acquired swarms awaiting transferring, and their newly constructed coverings protecting their hives against rain and sun.


Beekeepers took the time to explain how beneficial the hives were in comparison to the old and not only were the bees able to produce more honey but the beekeepers noticed that they were happier in their cleaner home.



We spent time asking questions about bee forage and harvest times, and no beekeeper hesitated in identifying the plethora off nectar and pollen plants surrounding their homes.



                                 The afternoon took us back to Kololo, 


where beekeepers once again, welcomed us into their homes.


They were excited to show us their growing apiary and all the new transitional hives they’ve built since our last workshop only 8 months ago.




Following our February 2014 workshop, beekeepers had already harvested honey twice,


and were very eager for us to sample.




Not only was it a joy to visit the homes of more than 10  new and old beekeepers but there commitment and enthusiasm showed through their generosity, 



and it was all just a taste of the beautiful experiences to come.


WEEMA Honey phase 2!

WEEMA Honey phase 2!

As I gaze out my balcony window here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, my view of the empty concrete tower foregrounded by the shimmering blue swimming pool reflecting  the hazy November sky offers me the opportunity to think about the “Development Work” I too have engaged myself in.



Far too often and more and more common, development work, or the concept of providing forward progress relies on copying buildings, systems or markets which seam to be successful in their birthplace and copy and paste them every where else around the world. Materials are gathered, machinery is sourced, and people are given labor.  Yet, this one size fits all scope doesn’t work; though shinny and pretty, no one’s swimming in the pool and I  wander how many even know how to swim.

Though the tourism and urban planning sectors are distinct from that of beekeeping development, many lessons can be learned and mistakes associated with hopes for fast growth can be avoided.


8 months following the active formation of 70 Kembata Tembaro community members in our WEEMA Honey beekeeping development program last February,  as of 1 AM this morning I am back in Ethiopia and am excited as ever to begin the next phase of our program.

In partnership with the local agriculture office our program and the WEEMA Honey team will begin this Friday and commence with apiary site visits at the homes of our phase one beneficiaries. Saturday and Sunday we will hold a pair of  full day advanced beekeeper workshops for the most committed beneficiaries in  each group and  in the evening hold a  practical honey harvest workshop with the entirety of both. Monday and Tuesday will be spent introducing the new honey press and assisting trainees in the healthy and hygienic harvest of honey goods. Throughout the 5 days visit a large focus will be spent surveying program participants in order to to better understand the short term impact, benefits  and areas for improvement of our program.


As the swimming pool construction lot view reminds me, slow growth and consistency based in  education which allow time for adaptation and incorporation will offer our program the sustainability it can later be based and expanded on.

So thank you everyone for your support and to WEEMA International for making this all happen!


Bee Free Madrid!

Bee Free Madrid!





Seams that Bee Free urban bee hives may soon become a a reality.

The Madrid Town hall recently met with the Media Lab Urban beekeeping team to work out the details on what it will mean to keep hives here in the city.

In order to keep the ball rolling, I´ll be holding a hands on beehive building information session and workshop this Friday afternoon from 5 pm to 9pm and Saturday from 12-3pm at the MediaLab Prado  in Madrid, España. The 2 day workshop is free of charge and orientated to both new and veteran beekeepers interested and eager to participate in the beginning of the Urban Beekeeping movement  in Madrid.

I will be sure to include a fair share of basic knowledge on the happenings of the hive,  though the majority of the time will be spent on design and collaborative construction.  

So if you are in town or know anyone who is, come on by and say Hi, otherwise once again, wish me luck, and BeeFree Madrid!

For more information follow the link!


Palet Wood’s New Future

Palet Wood’s New Future

 4 days of construction, an excited and motivated team of assistants and a non stop flow of ideas helped bring the Bee Free Urban Beehive to life.   A big thanks to the Media-Lab Prado for organizing the event and providing the space for many of us beekeepers and those interested in beekeeping in Madrid to come together.  Many new contacts were made and collaborations in the future are sure to continue.

Though the future of legal beehives in Madrid is still unclear, the potential for their success is. Conversations held between regional beekeeper associations and city code officials came to the common agreement that the presence of  beehives in Madrid can  act as positive promotion for the entire beekeeping sector. Focus was placed on the educated consumption of local honey products and all representatives felt that familiarizing urban dwellers with beehives would be a great step.  Fellow project participants even compiled a mellifera plant map of Madrid , which identified nectar and pollen producing plants, trees and flowers 10 months a years, more so than many other surrounding rural areas.

I will be sure to stay tuned to the initiative as it continues to develop and meanwhile  I am planning on taking my prototype to the farm and fill it with bees!

Here are a few photos of the building process as well as the close to finished product which I presented to a curious eyed crowd yesterday afternoon.


I began the building process with a cardboard model, both to work out the construction kinks and better explain the over all idea.

2 cm thick palet pine boards were sourced and dismounted before being transformed into a beehive.

2 cm thick palet pine boards were sourced and dismounted before being transformed into a beehive.

Thanks to my wonderful helpers for all the collaboration!

Thanks to my wonderful helpers for all the collaboration!

We decided to include a translucent acrylic window for colony observation purposes without having to open the hive and disrupt the regulated temperatures.

We decided to include a translucent acrylic window for colony observation purposes without having to open the hive and disrupt the regulated temperatures.

Elvira sands down the half sized honey super out on the Media Lab Patio

Elvira sands down the half sized honey super out on the Media Lab Patio

The 5 star urban beehive chateau; removable sanitary floor, main hive brood observation window, honey super and rain poof pitched roof are all prepared for their final beeswax and linseed oil finish.

The 5 star urban beehive chateau; removable sanitary floor, main hive brood observation window, honey super and rain poof pitched roof are all prepared for their final beeswax and linseed oil finish.

Bee Free Urban Bee Hive

Bee Free Urban Bee Hive

2 Weeks ago, here in Madrid,  friends from our neighborhood sent me a link for an urban beehive project call. Sponsored by the Media Lab associated with the Prado Museum in Madrid the initiative is organized between Beekeepers, scientists, and grafic designers. Its also sponsored by a big time bank and seams to have some legit backing. So, I followed the link and informed myself and though I only had 24 hours to prepare a project proposal I figured It was worth the shot.

As the initiative is based off of a select fews desire to introduce bees into the urban environment of Madrid, the project focuses on using the low profile presence of bees in the urban environment as an indicator of the natural environment millions of people call home. Among other things in the project description, I found it very interesting that Madrid has the highest percentage of trees per square kilometer when compared to all other European cities. Even more so, the majority of indigenous trees including sycamores and poplars are fantastic sources of propolis.

Lastly,  keeping in mind the limited space of the urban environment the project asked that local resources be used. Hives will potentially be kept as they are in other cities and urban spaces on roof tops, public parks and as part of restaurant facilities.

As the initiative has already taken place in other European and US cities I filtered through previous projects and found them all quite futuristic. Space hives, 20 feet off the ground, printable hives and even one fabricated out of plastic. All are to be mounted with computer monitoring devices which take into account air quality, temperatures and hive weight and are then presented in chart formats shifting over time. Strange but interesting at the least.

Partnered with science and art, the project simultaneously aims to educate the general public on the necessity of bee populations for pollination purposes. Bad information is the worst type of education and in Madrid where bees and wasps are thought to be the same by the majority of the population,  a positive light on our much needed pollinating friend is the first step to success. 

In the 24 hours I had to enter a description and design of an urban hive I decided to present an adaption of the Top bar hives we recently constructed in Africa. Half the length and constructed out of shipping pallet wood with the option of adding a honey super once the brood has fully developed, the Bee Free urban hive focuses on the presence of propolis within the hive to assure a heightened immune system of the colony. By joining strips of pallet wood at the 4 corners of the trapezoidal hive, bees are likely to smooth out the gaps between their joining with the sticky substance they collect from nearby trees. More propolis= better defense system= healthier more disease resilient bees.

Just when I was beginning to move on to new projects, I received an email last week saying that my project was selected.

As you can see from the attached hive plan my carpentry drawings skills are a bit shaky, but as the platform begins tomorrow I figured pen and paper would do the trick. But as its a collaborative project, and teams are made in the creation of the prototypes, until I meet a graphic designer/carpenter I think it will do.

The convention begins tomorrow, Wednesday morning with a 15 minute presentation of each of the 6 projects selected and will be recorded and streamed live…

Along with describing this new design Im planning on publicizing a bit of our work in Ethiopia.

As we the platform, seminars and construction workshops continues through the weekend and should provide for plenty of great new experiences.

Wish me luck!

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Beautiful Beehives

Beautiful Beehives

   In Ambakuna Ethiopia, tucked between the flowering Eucalyptus, Acacia, mangos and avocado trees,the 70 beekeepers we trained in February and their newly established transitional top bar hives are showing promise. 


Liz Mcgovern, Corey Van Hove and the WEEMA Team recently visited with a few of our newly trained beekeepers and were impressed with what they they saw. Beekeepers seam to be picking up on the new technologies quickly and through the reproduction of hives on their own accord  are showing faith in the transitional top bar bee hive´s potential.  

Mehran bees



 Though we  won´t know the full capacity of the top bars honey production until the August and September honey harvest time, with our on the ground beekeeping staff and international team of support we will be sure to maximize their output. Bee Free Apiaries, WEEMA and our Ambakuna community beekeepers are all excited for the programs continued success.