Go out and get a few stings first

2014-06-19 00:00

IN the first two parts of this series, we looked at the ferocity of our local indigenous honeybee, the importance of pollination and the relaxation engendered from beekeeping.

Part three has to do with starting beekeeping. It’s not something done lightly; think of it perhaps in the same light as buying a pitbull pup or a horse. It requires forethought and planning.

The big difference with bees is that you don’t feed them, they feed you. And they don’t require daily attention as other pets might. So, time and expense are not big factors.

South Africa desperately needs new beekeepers. We import more than 50% of our honey now, despite having very hard-working and disease-resistant bees, and plentiful fodder for the bees. We need them, and you, mainly for their pollination services; no bees equals much smaller crop yields, so the price goes up. Local honey is divine.

So you would like to keep a few beehives in your garden. The first thing to face is whether this is just a romantic notion; a beehive in the garden along with nine bean rows? Or have you thought it through? Ever donned a veil and gloves and peered into the innards of a beehive? How badly do you and your family react when stung? A bee sting always hurts but does it make you start itching all over? Swelling around the eyes and neck? Just one sting can kill sensitive people. So go out and get a few stings first.

Next, do you have a secluded spot in the garden? It must be north-facing, and in full sun, protected from both your home and the neighbours; this is paramount. Without it, don’t even think about bees.

Beehives and honey are heavy, so do you have a strong back? You are going to need it. A full super of honey might contain 20 500 g jars, plus the weight of the frames and box. A beehive full of bees and honey can weigh 70 kg.

You could in theory learn beekeeping from a book, but far better would be to get alongside a local beekeeper by joining the KZN Bee Farmers’ Association. Google them; it costs R150 per year and worth every cent. A beehive costs around R700, and with luck you’ll get it all back in the first season in honey. Make sure it’s been hot dipped in waxol. Then you’ll need an oversized white overall with a zip, a veil and gloves and a smoker. A local firm, S.M. McGladdery, manufactures beehives and equipment for the whole country, and has been for nearly 70 years.

Take your hive and place it on a strong hive for about a week. Then move it onto a tree stump or water tank somewhere in the Midlands where there are plenty of gum trees.

The swarming season starts in March and is nearly over. So, you have a whole six months to scour the Internet, talk to people, attend beekeeping meetings and assemble your first hive. Make sure you are ready by March.

I have deliberately posted this late in the season so you have a plenty of time to plan. It’s been the hobby of my life, but don’t get into it unless you are committed. Three to five hives is a sensible number. Safe beekeeping is the word and if it’s for you, you and your family will love it.

• http://www.bernard-preston.com/HOW-TO-START-BEEKEEPING.html

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