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. 

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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, 

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from this one, of ripe honey.

 

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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. 

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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.  

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 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. 

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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Holeta Bee Research Center

Holeta Bee Research Center

More than a month ago, upon my arrival to Addis, Cien and I had the opportunity of attending a National Honey Board Association conference where we met some very important Ethiopian beekeepers as well as researchers. One of those key players is Desalegn Begna, the Senior Ethiopian Researcher, Advisor and President of the Ethiopian Beekeepers association. Having exchanged basic information over our current beekeeping endeavors at the meetings’ coffee break, we met up this past Monday in Addis to assess to the progress of our goals.

Having recently returned from Kembata-Tembaro I was eager to share with him the information I had gathered over our community meetings. As I have previously mentioned, beekeeping whether traditional or modern is very popular in Ethiopia, leading the country to be the largest honey producer in Africa and the third largest in the world. Wax production, although only fulfilling 15% of its full potential also ranks in the top 4 though out the world. Because of this success, beekeeping and production are heavily recorded across the country, yet the Kembata-Tembaro region of the southwest is statistically untouched. Therefore my general assessment of the Azedabo and Kololo villages is of great interest to the beekeeping community.

Over the bustling merchants of the sadist kilo coffee shop, I reiterated my interest in beekeeping for health and nutrition, both bee and human.  With a PhD in bee biology and years of experience with beekeeping for development work here in Ethiopia, Desalegn was enthusiastic to offer his support and assistance, as well as research supervision of my goals. Of greatest interest is my desire to collaborate with him and his colleagues at the Holeta Bee Research Center, where they investigate as well as develop community appropriate beekeeping methods. Eager to assist Desalegn picked up  the phone and arranged a tour at the center for the following day.

Tuesday April 23rd, Cien, Ashu, our trusted driver Getsh and I, rented a car and traveled 35 kilometers north to the Oromia Agriculture Research Institute where the Holeta Bee Research center is located. Founded as the Beekeeping Demonstration Station in 1965 and later changed to its current name, the center engages in full time research on improved management of beekeeping, bee product handling and processing, bee forage biology of local honeybees, bee health, socio-economic and extension research. Moreover the center has been producing skilled manpower in the fielded of beekeeping through training beekeeping experts, bee technicians and beekeepers of the country.

Upon our arrival we were greeted by our tour guide and bee management specialist Tolera Kumsa, and began our 2 hour introduction to the compound. I was again amazed at my good fortune of finding such a bee information goldmine and made sure to gather as much information as possible. However it wasn’t difficult as one of the center’s main goals is focused on transparency.

Planted for their year round bee forage benefits, the red bottle brush bushes line the walk ways around the center.

Planted for their year round bee forage benefits, the red bottle brush bushes line the walk ways around the center.

Research Areas fill the compound for various investigations taking place

Research Areas fill the compound for various investigations taking place.

With a Eucalyptus wood frame and bamboo in lays the construction of this hive is not only locally appropriate but very affordable.

With a Eucalyptus wood frame and bamboo in lays the construction of this hive is not only locally appropriate but very affordable.

No Bee Research center is complete without its wall of honey

No Bee Research center is complete without its wall of honey

From local Getame Trees, this honey was outstanding!

From local Getame Trees, this honey was outstanding!

Pollen was also on hand. Though known for its vitalizing qualities, the product is still locally unavailable on its own.

Pollen was also on hand. Though known for its vitalizing qualities, the product is still locally unavailable on its own.

Wax, Propolis and Pollen are all being harvested as well as researched upon at the center

Wax, Propolis and Pollen are all being harvested as well as researched upon at the center

Part of the center is devoted to Flora and Vegetation research Here your see a few of the endemic seeds in which they offer to beekeepers to enhance their nectar flow as well as crop pollination.

Part of the center is devoted to Flora and Vegetation research Here your see a few of the endemic seeds in which they offer to beekeepers to enhance their nectar flow as well as crop pollination.

Inlcuding the Element protecting roof, a hand ful of nails and metel wire for tension. the hive costs 100 Bir. That's less then 6 US dollars or just over 4 Euros

Inlcuding the Element protecting roof, a hand ful of nails and metel wire for tension. the hive costs 100 Bir. That’s less then 6 US dollars or just over 4 Euros

Modern beekeeping technology is also on hand for research work and we were again impressed by the ingenuity of locally available resources.

Modern beekeeping technology is also on hand for research work and we were again impressed by the ingenuity of locally available resources.

We finished the visit by visiting with collaborating researchers. All of whom are interested in assisting in our initiative in any way possible.

We finished the visit by visiting with collaborating researchers. All of whom are interested in assisting in our initiative in any way possible.