Anito Alemu

Anito Alemu

The guy largely responsible for the continued success of our Beekeeper Education Program in Ethiopia is Anito Alemu, better known by his community and the Bee Free Apiaries team as Tameskin. Aside from investing the time money and energy of our project into the 2 week long training programs, bee hives and beekeeping materials, we continue to invest in the follow through of the project through the hiring of Tameskin as our on the ground beekeeper support point man. 


Tameskin proudly stands next to his ready for placement swarm catcher hive.


Trained as a skilled laborer and carpenter Tameskin not only assisted us in the fabrication of the hives but also in the translation of our entire curriculum into the local language of Tembarenya. He never expected to build modernized hives and teach beekeeping skills to his fellow fellow community members but he did so well we asked him to spend the next 2 months following up with all trainees in order to assist them in the transferring and establishment of their new hives. Though his beekeeping experience up until our program was limited to assisting his established beekeeping father in times of the honey harvest where he held the light, started the smoker and helped move the heavy baskets, after already performing more than 50 hive transfers since our departure within his community, Tameskin is quickly building up his experience.  


Tameskin translates as the first of our hive transfers take place back in February.

The continued success of our program would not be possible without an on the ground community leader and program support staff member. By training Tameskin in the skills of modern beekeeping, hive construction,  bee management and transferring techniques the sustainability and growth of our program is positively moving forward.

3382 Miles and 2000 feet

3382 Miles and 2000 feet

3382 miles northwest and 5000 feet closer to sea level than Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia, Bee Free Apiaries is back in full spring here in the outskirts of Madrid, Spain. The April sun manages to beat down just, if not stronger than Africa, and in alliance with generous spring showers, flowers are blooming and the early nectar and pollen is flowing.

Our continued collaboration with a local beekeeper and the association he heads continues to  benefit our apiary and in big thanks to the swarm control unit of the Madrid fire Department our apiary is happily expanding.  Julian kindly handed us down a van full of old boxes and equipment he had in his shed and after a few days of a bit of scraping and sanding the hives were ready for the new swarms.


Come sun down Thursday night, after all the foraging bees returned to their honey comb, the fire department’s temporary cardboard hives were closed up in their public park of residence and brought over to our apiary. Using the light of the van, we placed each of the 6 swarm boxes on top of their future homes and opened their hives in order to let them breath and ventilate.

Friday morning, when the temperature warmed up, Julian returned and together we transferred the bees to their new boxes.


Fireman may not be beekeepers but they do know how to put a colony into a box, and sometimes even include a few surprises.


After picking out the trash and kitchen scraps, each of the wax laid panels is simply carried over to their new hive.


With plenty of wax to stretch out in preparation for the queens egg laying the hard working bees are kept very busy.


Julian observes the newly relocated bees, and pays special attention to the swarms tail movements as an indication of the whereabouts of the Queen.


All brood cells, or panels filled with larva are gently placed in the middle of the hives to insure they receive a constant temperature in their development

We gave each of the colonies 2 or 3 more wax lined panels to keep busy for the next few weeks and once all the hives were transferred and placed into their new hive,we stepped back and watched as the bees flew abuzz in their acclimation process.

Beekeeping Astronauts

Beekeeping Astronauts

Beekeeping is done at night in Ethiopia, as the cooler weather requires that the bees maintain the colony’s temperature rather than sting it’s intruders. This at least is theory. Under the illumination of a flashlight, the first step in transferring bees from a traditional hive to a transitional hive is to shake them from their home onto a clean plastic sheet.


From this point on,  every action must be done delicately, special attention must be paid to the presence of the queen for if she is lost throughout the process the colony will not succeed.


Fresh smelling nectar filled the air as panel by panel the honey combs were removed.


Brood combs, or freshly capped larva cells are what we are specifically after for transfer purposes.


Using a wet strip of coffee bark, 2 of the biggest and most consistently laid  brood combs are sown and hung from the top bars, and then placed into the entrance side of the colonies new transitional hive.


With the brood cells in place, the mass of honey bees previously shaken from the old traditional hive are carefully guided into their new home with the use of a plastic tarp. 


Watching the bees behavior helps to indicate the presence and locality of the Queen. As the Queen is the  essence of the colony,  their tendency is to surround her in one giant mass. A constant vibrating sound will also indicate the queens presence while  a fluttering vibration can indicate her loss.


Once the majority of bees are inside their new hive, the hive is carried to its permanent location and with the use of a soft bristled “bee brush”, the outlying bees attached to the outside of the hive are brushed into their new home.

Hive Transfers in Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia

Hive Transfers in Kembata-Tembaro Ethiopia

 Transferring bees from traditional basket style hives to our newly constructed mud finished top bar hives was a very exciting part of our training sessions held in the Ambakuna and Medula beekeeper communities.


Our exemplary hive transfers took place with each of the respective groups at the homes of a volunteer participant Friday and Saturday evening.   Participants gathered in their newly furbished protective bee gear and we began the session with demonstrations on the use of the hive smokers.


This alone was a worthwhile lesson. As in the past hive smoking was performed with the use of a free smoking ceramic basin, the presence of modern smokers allow beekeepers to control not only the amount of smoke they disperse but therefore they can better control the aggressive African bees they deal with.


Once demonstrated, trainees were gathered into an open space out of view from the existing hives. As soon as the sun went down, the basket hive and colony identified for transferring was carried to the work space, filled with smoke and from Amharic to Tembarenya trainees began an indispendable hands on lesson.

Beehive Building in Medula

Beehive Building in Medula

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.


Medula Women

Medula Women

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. 

Building Beehives

Building Beehives

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.