06 January 2006

Beekeeping African Style

Several months ago the thought came to me that with all of the trees that we have on this campus that we might be able to make a go of raising bees in the hopes of harvesting a small bit of honey. Of course any of you reading this and who have raised bees and done the honey collection dance in the more temperate zones might find our methods a little curious at best. However, there are several reasons for why we do the honey business as we do here and perhaps the most compeling reason has do do with the bees themeselves, the apis mellifera adansonni, which are said to be aggressive.

While in Germany we had a chance to talk to former colleagues of Angelika, Arnold & Marie-Louise Vogt who used to work with SIM in Burkina Faso. They had been working in agricultural development for several years and he had helped the church leaders in the Fada-N’Gourma region understand the importance of bees and the honey industry. He worked to help them become self sufficient and competative as well. He had concluded that the best kind of hive to use was what is called the “Kenyan Top Bar Hive”.

Arnold introduced me to a little know book written by Stephen Adjare from Ghana called “The Golden Insect,” ©1984. Adjare had drawn the same concusion while raising honey in the Kumasi district of Ghana and working for the University at Kumasi in the Technology Consultancy Center. This little book of 105 pages is rich with simple instructions and advice on how to raise honey in West Africa.

Adjare begins by explaining how in most countries in West Africa the honey collector kills bees to get the honey. The notion that one can actually harvest honey and not kill the bees is a rather foreign one in this part of the world. So it was that I have taken on trying to do as Stephan Adjare has outlined in his book and raise honey. My main objective is to try to spread the idea that bees are good and can be managed for a profit as well as harvest some good tasting honey.

So it was last night that I harvested honey for the second time in the past two months from our first hive. To do this one really should have a smoker, which I do not yet have, and a bee suit, which I have after a fashion. As I found out last night, the pockets of the pants I was wearing are excellent places for bees to go and remind you that the honey you are taking is not really yours to take after all. That said, I was able to ignore the pain of the moment and finish the job but several bees died in the process. Of course without smoke these bees were rather posessive of their honey. It would seem that the experts are right when they say that the apis mellifera adansonni are aggressive.

In Côte d'Ivoire most honey is all of the juices of a hive squeezed out of the wax by hand or melted out by putting the honey ladden comb on screens and dumping hot coals on top which melts the wax and lets the honey run through the screen giving the honey a smokey taste. Of course the brood cells also get mixed in with the honey changing its taste. This means that most honey purchased along side the road is very inferior honey if it can be called that. Unfortunately this “honey” often has water added to increase the volume and to augment the purchase gain.

With these kinds of practices going on it is no wonder that good honey is in high demand. At this point I have hived three colonies of bees. I am working with Keho, a Senoufo from the Boundiali area who has experience with traditional bee keeping (which involves killing the bees to harvest the honey). He has shown me a number of techiques to attract the bees to the hives that seems to work fairly well.

First of all we take cow manure and spread a thin coat all over the interior of the hive using a hand full of citronella grass on all of the exposed wood. After letting it dry we then burn some tiama (redhead tree) pods (see photos) and turn each hive over placing it upside-down over the smoking pods. The sweet smoke from the tiama is very agreable to the bees and they are attracted to the risidual smell left in the box after a good smoking.

Once the smoking if each hive is finished and the top bars are put back in place the hive is ready to place in a tree where the bees are likely to come and look for lodging. So far I have found that hiving a hive is best done by moving an older inhabited hive a short distance away and placing a new hive in its place. Smearing cushed wax with honey on the inside of the hive also helps greatly in attracting new swarms.

In Adjare’s discription of the honey bee I could not help but think that it is a small picture of how the Body of Christ should work together, each on doing his part for the good of the hive and for its growth. It would be too much to go into detail here but there are some amazing paralles that we would do well to imulate in the church. Continue to pray for us as we try to make a difference in our part of this big world.