Bee keeping (or apiculture, from latin apis, bee) is the maintenance of honey bee colonies, commonly in hives, by humans for the purpose of producing honey and wax. In other words, bee-keeping is the art and science of domesticating bees (insects) for production of products such as honey and wax. Bee-keeping is an important part of small-scale integrated farming systems and works particularly well near natural forests or on integrated farms with abundant water and flowers.
A bee-keeper (or apiarist) keeps bees in order to collect honey, and other products of the hive (including bees wax, propolis, pollen, and royal jelly), to pollinate crops, or to produce bees for sale to other bee keepers. A location where bees are kept is called apiary or “bee-yard“.
There are two major types of bees. These are indigenous bees and exotic bees:
- Indigenous Bees: These are local bees commonly found in local environment. They are majorly of African origin. They have smaller body size, height, low productive ability, lower growth rate, lower honey and wax production. They are not very economical in terms of commercial production of honey and wax. Example is the African black bees.
- Exotic Bees: These are bees imported from other countries to West Africa. These species are capable of interbreeding and hybridizing. Many bee breeding companies strive to selectively breed and hybridize varieties to produce desireable qualities such as disease and parasite resistance, good honey production, swarming behaviour reduction, prolific breeding and mild disposition. Some of these hybrids are marketed under specific brand names, such as the Buckfast bee or midnite bee.
Some examples of exotic bees include:
- Western honey bee (Apis millifera).
- Italian bee (Apis mellifera ligustica).
- European dark bee (Apis mellifera mellifera).
- Carniolan honey bee (Apis mellifera carnica).
- Meditterenean bee (Apis cerana).
IMPORTANCE OF BEE-KEEPING
Bee-keeping by farmers is of great importance and such benefits include:
- Income generation: The sales of honey and other products do generate income for farmers when offer for sale or export.
- Provision of food: Honey which is the main products derived from bee-keeping is consume locally as food.
- Employment: Bee-keeping is a source of employment as it generate income to many people from production to marketing of the products.
- Industrial purpose: Honey is used for many industrial purposes e.g. production of cosmetics etc.
- Production of wax: Bee-keeping also help to produce a special substance called wax. Wax is very important for the production of candles.
- Medicinal purposes: Honey and other associated products are also known to be use in the preparation of medical items that are useful to humans.
- Production of crops: Honey bees cross pollinate flowers to produce fruits and seeds for growing crops. To farmers, the honey bees are worth billions of naira. In fact, farmers rent honey bee colonies from the apiculturist for these purpose.
PIONEERS OF PRACTICAL AND COMMERCIAL BEE-KEEPING
The 19th century produced an explosion of innovators and inventors who perfected the design and production of bee hives, system of management and husbandry, stock improvement by selective breeding, honey extraction and marketing.
Prominent among these innovators were:
- Jan Dzierzon: He was the “father of modern apiology and apiculture” All modern bee hives are descendants of the design.
- Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth: He is referred to as the “father of American apiculture” no other individual has influenced modern bee keeping practice more than this man. His classic book “The Hive and Honey bee” was published in 1853.
- Moses Quinby: He is often called “the father of commercial bee keeping” in the United State. He is the author of a book called “Mysteries of Bee-keeping”.
- Amos Root: He is the author of a book called the “ABC of Bee Culture“. He pioneered the manufacture of hives and the distribution of bee-packages in the United States.
- A.J. Cook: He authored the book called “The Bee-keepings‘ Guide or manual of the Apiary”
- Dr. C. C. Miller: He was one of the earliest entrepreneur to make a living from apiculture where he mad? bee keeping his sole business activity. He author a book called “Fifty years Among the Bees“
- Major Francesco De Hruschka: He was an Italian military officer who invented a simple machine for extracting honey from the comb by means of centrifugal force.
- Walter T. Kelly: Hewas an American who pioneered modern bee keeping by manufacturing beekeeping equipment and clothing. He authored a book called “How to keep Bees and sell Honey“.
METHODS OF BEE KEEPING
There are two major methods of Bee-keeping. These are the traditional method and modern methods.
1) Traditional method of bee-keeping: In this methods, honey bees are allowed to remain in their natural habitats. The natural home for a honey bee colony isa hollow tree, log or cave. Honey bee build a nest only in locations which are dry and protected from the wind and sunlight.
These bees are less selective and may nest in hollowed-out termite mounds, rock piles and locations which are less well protected. The management of this method is very low as the bees are left to fend for themselves.
Gathering or harvesting honey from the wild bee colonies is usually done by subduing the bees with smoke and breaking open the tree or rocks where the colony is located, often resulting in the physical destruction of the nest. Production of honey under this system is very low.
2) Modern bee keeping: This is the method commonly used in today apiculture. Exotic breeds which ensure high production of honey and other products are used or reared. Scientific bee keeping started in 1851 when an America . L.L Langstroth discovered bee space and the movable frame hive. Bee space is the open space which is about 0.4 in (1cm) wide and this space is maintained around and between the combs in any hive or natural nest and in which the bees walk. If this space is smaller or larger than 0.4 in (1cm), the bee will join the combs. Under this condition, when the combs are stuck together, the hive is not movable, and it is not possible for bee-keepers to manipulate a colony or to examine a brood nest. This was later corrected as the bees could be forced to build a straight comb in a wooden frame by given them a piece of wax called foundation, on which the bases of the cells were already embossed. Bee now use these bases to build honey comb, the cells of which are used for both rearing brood and. for storing honey. When a hive of bees is given a foundation, they are forced to build the comb where the bee keeper want it and not where they might otherwise be inclined to build it.
In this method, the honey can be harvested or removed from the comb by placing a comb full of honey in centrifugal force machine called an extractor. If the bee keeper can return an intact comb to a hive after removing the honey from it, the bees are saved from the time and trouble of building a new comb and the honey harvest is increased under this method of bee keeping.
COMPOSITION OF HONEY
The honey which bee keepers harvest is made from nectar, a sweet sap or sugar syrup produced by special glands in flowers collected from both wild and cultivated plants. Nectar, the honey bees source of sugar or carbohydrate, and pollen, their source of protein and fat, make up their entire diet. Nectar contain 50-90% water, 10-50% sugar (mainly sucrose) and 1-4% aromatic substance; colouring materials and minerals. To transform nectar into honey, bees reduce it moisture content, so that the final honey produce contains between 14-19% water and also add two enzymes which they produced in their body.
CASTES IN BEE COLONIES
A colony of bees consist of three castes of bees. These are:
- A queen bee: This is the only breeding female in the colony. The queen is the only sexually mature female in the hive and all the female worker bees and male chromes are her offspring. The queen may live for up to three years or more and may be capable of laying half a million eggs or more in her life times. The queen is raised from a normal worker egg, but is fed a larger amount of royal jelly than a normal worker bee, resulting in a radically different growth and metamorphosis. The queen influences the colony by the production and dissemination of a variety of “pheromones” or “queen substance“. One of these chemicals suppresses the development of ovaries in all the female worker bees in the hive and prevent them from laying eggs.
- Female worker bees: Almost all the bees in a hive numbering between 30,00050,000 in number are female worker bees. They build the hive, look for food, feed the younger ones as well as the queen and their life span may just be 0-16 weeks.
- The Drones: (Male bees) Drones are the largest bees in the hive (except the queen) at-least twice the size of the worker bee. They do not work, do not forage for pollen or nectar and have no other known function than to mate with new queens and fertilise them on their mating flight.
PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES IN BEE-KEEPING
There are certain precautionary measures that must be taken to prevent hazards especially during the management and harvesting of honey bees. These precautionary measure includes:
- Location of apiaries far from human dwellings: This is done to ensure that bees do not sting people regularly. It also ensure that honey production are not disturbed from time to time.
- Putting warning symbols near apiaries: The apiarist must ensure that warning symbols are placed in strategic location few distance to the apiaries. This is to ensure that people do not run into bees that can sting them.
- Wearing of protective clothing: Bee keepers often wear protective clothing to protect themselves from stings. Some of the items that are use as protective clothing include a good quality bee keeping suit, sturdy gloves and a hat with accompanying veil to cover the face.
- Use of smokers: Bee keepers always use “smokers” during the management of the colony including harvesting of honey. A smoker is a device designed to generated smoke from the incomplete combustion of various fuels. Smoke calm bees, it initiate a feeding response in anticipation of possible hive abandonment due to fire. The ensuring confusion creates an opportunity for the beekeeper to open the hive and work without any disturbance from the honey bees.