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1. Preface | 2. Bees and Humans | 3. Project Planning | 4. Bee Basics | 5. The Essence of Beekeeping | 6. The Bee Space and Beehives | 7. Intermediate Technology Beekeeping | 8. Getting Started | 9. Management Part 1/2 | 10. Management Part 2/2 | 11. High-Tech Beekeeping | 12. Hive Products | 13. Diseases, Pests and Insecticides | 14. Plans | Online Books Home | Admin

7. Intermediate Technology Beekeeping

The modern moveable-frame hive maximizes honey production. It is a beekeeping system that allows for the interchanging of combs both within and between colonies. It offers a wide range of management options, but it is relatively expensive. Moreover, its optimum utilization depends on inputs that are often difficult for small farmers to obtain.

To fully exploit the range of management options and to realize the potential production of a moveable frame system, a relatively high degree of expertise or experience and timing are needed.

Small-scale beekeeping projects are sometimes started with moveable-frame hives but without readily available follow-up inputs or technical assistance. This can result in the situation where a relatively high investment is made in equipment which allows for a high return, but the technical ability to operate this equipment and realize its potential is lacking.

Economically speaking, a cheaper and simpler system would be better. Such an alternative may not allow for some sophisticated management options, but this does not matter if the beekeeper does not know of or use such management techniques. This is the essence of appropriate technology.

Intermediate technology beekeeping systems offer a cheap system for bee-killers and bee-havers who use fixed-comb hives to make the transition to beekeeping. They provide a relatively simple beekeeping system that is more within the economic and technological reach of most small-scale projects, while still allowing the user to employ the most current beekeeping knowledge. Most intermediate systems sacrifice some honey production for wax production, but wax too is a valuable product.

These beekeeping systems give the user more control over the construction of the hive and limit the need for other equipment. Intermediate technology hives give small farmers an affordable opportunity to learn about bees and beekeeping and to develop the needed expertise and capital to make use of a moveable frame system later.

The use of an intermediate technology system in a beekeeping development program is not incompatible with "high-tech" beekeeping. Both have their place. it is the job of the program planner to determine the nature of the bee-human relationship and the cultural and economic realities of the area. From this, the planner can suggest the type of equipment to use in the program. In some areas, the use of both types may be justified. The beekeepers themselves should make the final decision.

The moveable-frame system ("high-tech" beekeeping) is the ultimate in beekeeping development. Nevertheless, such a system will remain economically and technologically out of reach of many people who might like to improve their methods of honey or wax production. Until they accrue the necessary capital and expertise to engage in beekeeping with moveable frame equipment, an intermediate technology system can serve their needs.

Some Considerations before Starting

Bee stings are a concern of all beekeepers. Although they can be minimized by protective clothing and good work habits, an occasional sting is inevitable. Accepting this is part of the mental attitude which characterizes a beekeeper. Most people from rural settings who work with bees are more accepting of the idea that they will get stung than the development worker who comes from a "bug-free" urban environment.

Avoid perfumes and scented lotions when working with bees. Strong scents attract bees and incite them to sting.

Slow, careful, deliberate movements when working with the colonies are also important in minimizing bee stings. Bees are more attracted to quick movements. Working carefully when manipulating the hive also minimizes the risk of mashed bees. Mashed bees release an alarm pheromone or odor which alerts and incites other workers to defend the colony. (Using the smoker properly helps mask the alarm pheromone.)

If a colony becomes out of control while working it, close it up as quickly as possible and move away. If the bees give chase, create a smoke cloud with the smoker and move slowly away through bushes and branches. Moving through these objects confuses the bees.

When a bee gets inside the veil or inside clothing, the best remedy is to mash it as quickly as possible before it can sting. Trying to release it usually leads to getting stung anyway.

Bees sometimes sting through clothing, especially where it is pulled tightly around the shoulders. Such a sting rarely has the full effect, and is called a "false sting."

Removing a Sting

When a worker bee stings, the barbed sting works its way into the victim. As the bee pulls away, the sting apparatus usually tears out of the bee's body. This apparatus consists of the sting, the poison sac, and associated venom glands. The worker ultimately dies. The muscles associated with the poison sac continue to contract and pump venom into the victim after the worker has pulled away. Therefore to minimize the amount of venom injected, remove the sting as soon as possible.

Remove the sting by scraping it out along the surface of the skin with a fingernail, knife, or hive tool. Grasping the poison sac to pull the sting out only forces more venom into the skin. A puff of smoke over the area will help mask the alarm pheromone released by the sting apparatus.

Remain calm when stung. Dropping the comb or knocking the hive only incites more bees to sting.

Local tenderness and swelling is a normal reaction after a bee sting. Swelling may be rather severe if the person has not been stung for a while. Swelling usually becomes less severe as the beekeeper's body develops an immunity to bee venom, though the initial "pin-point" pain of a sting will always be felt.

This type of reaction, no matter how severe the swelling, is a local allergic reaction. A more severe allergic response to a bee sting is a systemic reaction. This is a total body response (anaphylactic shock), with symptoms occurring away from the sting site. Symptoms of a systemic reaction may include: hives; swelling of lips, tongue, or eyelids; tightness in the chest with difficulty breathing or swallowing; abdominal pain; nausea and vomiting; dizziness; weakness or confusion; death.

These symptoms after a bee sting call for medical attention. They are treated with antihistamines or adrenaline. individuals with a hypersensitivity to bee stings should not try to become beekeepers.

Reaction to a sting will also vary depending on the age of the bee (development of sting glands), and the physiological condition of the beekeeper, whose body chemistry can be affected by drugs used (especially antihistamines) or by different emotional states.

As the venom is already injected into the skin, there is no "cure" for a bee sting. Lotions, ice packs, and other things may be used to soothe the afflicted area, but the only "cure" is time. There are many folk remedies to soothe the effects of bee sting. Whatever is used, the swelling will disappear in a day or so, and, then there may be a brief period of intense itching at the site.

Apiary sites are often limited for a small-scale beekeeping venture. Choosing a site involves balancing the needs of the bees against those sites available.

Besides nearby nectar and pollen sources, there should be a nearby source of clean water. This reduces the effort needed by the colony in foraging for water.

Hives should not be in direct sunlight during the hot periods of the day, nor should they be in constant heavy shade. The ideal site would receive sun in the morning so that the bees start to fly early, and shade in the afternoon so that the number of bees ventilating the colony and foraging for water is minimized.

The apiary site should also allow for good air circulation so that it does not remain damp for long periods after wet weather. Avoid areas that flood during rainy periods. Areas under high trees often provide good apiary sites because they dry out quickly after rains and are not excessively shady.

Avoid areas of constant high wind for apiary sites. Such winds hinder the bees from flying. If there are no natural windbreaks, they can be planted. Again, melliferous plants can serve a double purpose. Such living fences can also serve to keep livestock away from the hives.

Things to consider in choosing an apiary site:

nectar and pollen sources
water source
sufficient shade
air circulation
wind breaks
protextion of nearby people and livestock
protection from fire and flood
easy access for the beekeeper
nearby insecticide usage

Thatch shelters can be constructed for the apiary in treeless areas, or shade covers of thatch or other material can be placed over each hive. Quick-growing trees or shrubs can be planted around the apiary to shade the hives. Melliferous plants should be chosen for this whenever possible. In many areas, castor bean is a good plant to use.

For a small-scale project, it is often difficult to avoid sites near dwellings and neighbors. This can be a limiting factor to beekeeping, especially with the more defensive strains of bees. Unfortunate accidents can occur in which people and livestock may be severely stung. Deaths due to allergic reactions to bee stings can occur. This factor should be considered in areas where projects will be carried on with African races of the western honey bee.

Shrub rows that separate the hives both from each other and from dwellings can help minimize stinging incidents. if the bees are particularly defensive, it may help to work the colonies at dusk or at night. Also, a periodic gift of honey can reduce the neighbors objections to stinging incidents.

Getting Started - The Hives

Moveable-comb hives were probably first used by the ancient Greeks. Hives that are most likely similar to those used by Aristotle to keep bees can be found in rural Greece today. These hives are made of baskets with tapering sides which are sometimes plastered with mud. Top bars cut to a width to provide the bee space between combs are placed across the top opening of the basket.

Ancient Greek Hive

Such hives are the forerunners of the modern moveable-frame hive. They are also the forerunners of intermediate technology hives that have been developed in recent years for use in beekeeping development programs in areas where frame equipment is not economical

The Kenya Top Bar Hive (KTBH) is a popular type of intermediate technology hive. It was developed for use in Kenya in the 1970's and has been extensively used in a beekeeping development effort directed by a group from the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

This is a practical hive to use in small-farmer beekeeping projects. There are other intermediate technology hives, but the KTBH offers a relatively large number of management options when compared with some other intermediate technology hives. Its simple design also allows for the use of a wide range of materials.

The KTBH is used in this manual to demonstrate management operations. These manipulations are similar in whatever moveable-comb hive system is used.

There are two important factors in the construction of the KTBH:

1. It is important that the width of the top bars be correct so that the bees will construct only one comb per bar. For African races of the western hive bee, the width should be 32 mm. For European races, it should be 35 mm

2. The sides of the hive should be inclined at an angle of 120 degrees to the bottom. This minimizes the combs being stuck to the sides as it follows the similar form in which bees naturally construct their comb.

The hive can be made of any quality lumber, straw, woven reeds or bamboo covered with mud, or metal containers. Selection of materials should be based on cost, balanced against how long the availability and hive will last in the climate of the area. Several types of material can be used for demonstration hives, and local beekeepers can choose what is most appropriate for them.

Straw Hive

Mud Hive

Drum Hive

The top bars themselves are best made of strong straight-grained wood. For easier control of more defensive strains of bees, it is important that they fit tightly together? Thus, good wood and good carpentry are important for the top bars.

The advantages of the KTBH system over a high-tech system for small-scale beekeeping are:

The number of criticaldimension areas in the KTBH is far less than in a Langstroth system.Thus, the hive is easy to build with local level carpentry skills andequipment. Expertise in carpentry isnecessary to build the hive. Careful attention to detail for a numberof important dimensions is required, which often involves expensivecarpentry equipment.
The wood used in theconstruction of the KTBH does not have to be of high quality. The KTBHcan even be built of reed matting, straw, or old oil barrels. The hive must beconstructed from fairly good lumber to meet the above criteria. Suchlumber is expensive and often hard to obtain.
An extractor is not neededfor the KTBH system. Only equipment found in any kitchen is needed toharvest hive products. An extractor is necessaryto make a Langstroth hive system economically viable. This is a veryexpensive piece of equipment. A good transportation network canalleviate this problem since many beekeepers can use a regionallylocated extractor, but such a network is seldom available tosmall-scale beekeepers.
Sheets of pressedfoundation wax are not needed. For a Langstroth system towork optimally, sheets of pressed wax foundation are necessary. Unlessthese are made locally, the village beekeeper becomes dependent on anoutside supplier who may not always be reliable.
As no frames are used,wire is not needed. To work optimally, theframes should have wire strung in them for more support. Wire involvesanother expense, and is not always available.
Because of its low costand design, it is economical to use with simple management techniquesto achieve moderate increases in honey yield. To make a Langstrothsystem economically viable, a relatively high level of beekeepingexpertise and sense of timing in management operations are needed.These are generally lacking in the beginning beekeeper.
The KTBH was designedspecifically for the characteristics of the African bee. There arefewer spaces for bees to pass through when the hive is being worked,thus the beekeeper can more easily control the colony. The nature of the Africanbee itself makes the application of many high-level managementoperations with Langstroth hives difficult even for well trainedbeekeepers. The African bee will soon be present in most lowlandregions of the American tropics as well as in its traditional habitat.
The storage of combs isnot necessary with the KTBH system, eliminating the need for storagefacilities and chemical inputs. Proper management of aLangstroth system calls for the storage of frames with combs duringdearth periods. Suitable storage space for small farmers is oftennon-existent. Because of damage caused by the wax moth, this storagemust be done under controlled conditions and with chemical fumigants.This is not practical for most small farmers.
The KTBH system producesmore wax than the Langstroth system. However, in most areas thebeekeeper's income does not suffer from this. Beeswax is a marketableproduct, too. Accruing a beeswax store may also be of long terminterest for development of a beekeeping industry. It is needed forpressed wax foundation when conversion is made to a Langstroth system. The Langstroth systemmaximizes honey production over production of beeswax. This may notnecessarily be a financial advantage for the beekeeper in most regions,however, since local markets for beeswax either already exist or can becreated.
Since the bee colonyexpands in a horizontal plane in the KTBH, queen excluders (see Chapter7) are not necessary to achieve brood free combs for harvest. Thiseliminates the need for an expensive and hard-to-obtain piece ofequipment. Often because of itsintroduction as part of a "package" of equipment for moveable-framebeekeeping, a queen excluder is believed to be indispensable. This isan expensive piece of equipment when a few relatively simple managementoperations alleviate the need for it. It is not necessary to use aqueen excluder to achieve the goal of brood-free honey supers. Theintroduction of queen excludes to low management-oriented beekeepersestablishes a strong felt need for them. Bee projects can sometimes bestymied by the lack of this unnecessary input.

Other intermediate technology hives are used in some areas.

The Johnson hive which is used in Uganda is an "improved" fixed-comb hive. It provides for a separation of honey combs from brood combs by using a piece of five-mesh (five holes per 2.54 cm) hardware cloth (called coffee wire in East Africa). The workers can pass through the wire while the queen cannot, thus the comb constructed on the side of the hive opposite the queen contains only honey. Removeable sides on the hive make the harvesting of honey comb easy. This is a bee-having system since there is no possibility of managing the brood nest.

Most other intermediate technology hives are either variations of the KTBH theme or are hybrids between a moveable-comb and a moveable-frame hive. one such hive is used in East Africa. Top bars are used in the lower box, and the queen is confined there since passages to the upper box are only on the outer sides. The outer combs in the lower box are used for honey storage by the bees, and the queen will not pass the honey barrier. The bees use the upper box for honey storage. Either top bars or frames are used in the upper box.

The East African hive is also a system for beehaving, though it could be managed and thus used for beekeeping. It does not allow for easy management of the brood nest, however. its design is a bit more complicated than the KTBH as it uses two boxes.

Since the KTBH is simpler and more easily managed, it is probably best for most beekeeping development efforts. Management, however minimal, is a goal in any development effort. The KTBH offers a good balance between simple design and management possibility.

Does the flower make the honeybee or the honeybee the flower?