How beekeeping is made easy for farmers

Apiary: Experts offer tips on the dos and donts while establishing a beehive site

What you need to know:

  • The site selected should be free from dry leaves and should be cleaned before starting bee farming so as to avoid accidental fire.
  • The land should be far away from power stations, train tracks etc.

Maintaining bee colonies in man-made hives is called bee-keeping. The practice of bee-keeping is termed technically as ‘apiculture’ and the location where these man-made hives are maintained is called an ‘apiary’. 
Bees are generally farmed for their honey and other products such as bee wax, propolis, flower pollen, royal jelly and bee pollen among others.
This practice also produces bees which are sold by the beekeepers for income generation. 
It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 species of wild bee species around the world. Bee farming is practiced with the social species of honey bee variety, which live in colonies. Two widely known varieties of bees from the Apis genus are Apis mellifera and Apis cerana. 
Types of farming 
There are two major ways in which these bees are farmed, they are: the traditional bee keeping way such as the fixed comb hives and the modern bee keeping techniques such as the top-bar hives, horizontal frame hives and the vertical stackable frame hives. 
Scope and importance
Commercial bee keeping is possible because of a vast forest cover facilitating the presence of nectar and pollen.
With increasing demand for honey in the country as well as in the international market, the potential for beekeeping should be tapped so as to create employment opportunities for the people in the rural areas and generate good income.

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The colony of bees
Honey bee belongs to the category of social insects, which dwell in organised groups. While living in these groups they show some typical behavioural traits such as communication, nest construction, defence, division of labour, environmental control etc. These activities among the group make them excellent creatures on earth. A colony of honey bees generally has three types of bees; the workers, drones and a queen. Each bee category has its own working structure, but survival and reproduction can happen only when all the bees work in coordination with each other. The size of the colony is directly responsible for the efficiency of the colony.
• Only one queen exists for the entire colony.
• The main task of the queen bee is reproduction.
• Most of the eggs are laid in the dry season.
• Average no. of eggs laid per day are 1500 eggs (include both fertilised and unfertilised).
• Queen can be recognised by her elongated body during the egg-laying period and has short wings. Has a curved stinger and large thorax. Its productive life span is between two and three years.
• Queen also produces pheromones (gives identity to a bee colony).
If fertilised eggs develop new queens, then these are raised under three circumstances: emergency, supersedure and swarming.
The colonies of bees prepare a new queen if the old queen accidently gets killed, lost or removed. Supersedure queen bees are better than emergency queens because they receive sufficient food during development.
Emergency and supersedure queens are raised on the comb surface whereas bees produced through swarming are found along the bottom of the frames or in between the gaps in a comb.
These are the male bees and are present in large numbers in a colony.
Present only during late dry season.
The head of the drone bee is large with eyes meeting at the top of the head. They have no stinger, pollen baskets or wax glands.
The main task of the drone bee is to fertilise the queen and die instantly after mating.
They depend on the worker bee for food and are considered to eat three times more than the worker bee.
Drones never take food from flowers and almost starve during cold weather.
Bee colonies without the queen bee can help the drone bee live indefinitely.
They are the smallest bodied adult bees in a colony, but are found more in number when compared to the other two. These are mainly the female bees which have no egg laying capacity, but have special structures such as the brood food glands, scent glands, wax glands and pollen baskets due to which they perform all the activities of the hive. Some activities of the worker bee involve cleaning and polishing the cells, feed the brood, care the queen, remove debris, ventilate the hive, handle nectar, build bee wax etc.
The life span of a worker bee is six weeks during dry season and six months during rainy season.
Cycle of a bee
All the bees pass through different stages of growth before becoming adult bees. These developmental stages are: egg, larvae and pupae. ‘Brood’ is a term used to define all these three stages. It is to be noted that unfertilised eggs turn drones and fertilised eggs become either queen or workers. Feed or nutrition is most important for female bees. Solid pattern of the healthy capped worker brood frame can be easily recognised.
Equipment for the farm
The factors on which the requirement of equipment depends are the size of the farm, the number of colonies, type of honey, etc. The basic farm needs are hive components, protective wear, smoker, hive tool etc. The components of a hive are:
Hive stand, bottom board, hive bodies, frames and combs, queen excluder, inner cover, outer cover, plastic hive equipment, painting, smoker, hive tool and protective wear.
How to select an apiary
There are some recommendations for selecting a good apiary site for a profitable commercial bee farming business. These are:
The site selected should be free from dry leaves and should be cleaned before starting bee farming so as to avoid accidental fire. The land should be far away from power stations, train tracks etc.
The area should be shaded, but should be able to receive mild sun rays in the early morning and afternoon. Also, it should be easily accessible by road.
It should have a supply of clean water. The area should be protected by wind breaks either naturally or artificially.
The apiary should have rich bee flora and should be away from other commercial bee keeping farms. It is also important to choose a place where there is no risk of dirty chemical water from the industries.
Selection of the bees
Generally honey bees of two varieties are farmed depending upon the availability of resources and the floral conditions of the area. The two varieties are Apis cerana and Apis mellifera. The success of the farm depends majorly on the quality of bees selected for the farm especially the queen bee. The following can be done to select good bee colonies;
Disease free
Queen should have a high egg laying capacity and other bees should be of the high yielding variety.
Capturing bee colonies from natural forest areas can help in getting good quality bees and increase the chances for excellent further breeding.

Feed for the bees
The honey bee feeds on pollen, nectar, honey and water. These are a source of energy to the insects. Pollen provides the bees with proteins, vitamins, minerals and fat content, whereas honey provides them with carbohydrates. Emergency feed should always be available at the farm and consists of 15-20 kilogrammes of honey from an established colony of bees. This emergency feed is of utmost importance during the rainy season. 
Apiary management
The hives should be made of locally available light weight wood. Hives should not be made with unseasoned and heavy wood. Care should be taken not to nail the bottom board with brood chamber. 
The average number of colonies per farm should be in the range of 50-100. The row spacing between colonies should be 10 ft and the box spacing should be around 3 ft. 
Cleanliness in the apiary is of utmost importance and any change in the behaviour of bees should be immediately attended to. 
The colonies should be inspected wearing a protective gear, during the sunny days with temperatures between 20-30˚C and not during cold, windy days. 
The smoker is used to subdue the bees. The colonies should be handled very carefully; they should not be jerked or crushed. Healthy and diseased colonies should be handled separately by isolating the diseased colonies.
Fresh water 
Bee farmers should keep fresh water for the bees in shallow containers all the time because water is needed to maintain the humidity of the colony for incubation of eggs, for feeding bee bread and for keeping the colony cool during high temperatures.
The bees should be provided with 50 percent sugar syrup during dearth periods when there is no availability of nectar in the area. Pollen can be made from soya bean, brewer’s yeast, skimmed milk powder, sugar, honey, etc. and is provided to the bees when there is no adequate pollen available in the area. 
Clean materials 
While extracting honey, clean and better grade materials should be used and degraded materials should be avoided. Super chambers are highly recommended for honey extraction. Frames with 75 percent sealed cells containing ripened honey should be selected for extraction. Extraction should be done in a closed area by covering the gate of the colony with branches and twigs to avoid robbing. The extracted super and frames should never be left open at the farm and care should be taken not to spill honey in the apiary.
Colony management
Ronald Mubiru, an apiculture agronomist says the apiary has different rules for management during different seasons. “Proper management of your apiary is very vital for honey yields,” says Mubiru. Mubiru says the colony of bees has to be kept a in thick shade during the dry season and water has to be provided near the apiary at all times. 
“The temperature of the farm can be regulated by using wet gunny bags to cover the top or by sprinkling water around the colonies during the day. The entrance of the apiary has to be widened, additional gates have to be included into multi chambered colonies,  thin and small sticks between adjacent chambers has to be placed for passage of fresh air. All these can improve ventilation in the farm,” he says. In the rainy season, Mubiru says the colonies farmed in the hilly areas have to be examined carefully and should be provided with watertight gunny bags. Windbreaks are installed to protect the colonies from chilling winds and weaker colonies are made to unite with the stronger ones.
Disease and pest management
According to Mubiru, there is innumerable reasons for the cause of disease and abnormalities in a beehive. “It is advisable to diagnose the exact cause before taking up any control measures,” he says.
Tips for pest management 
Honey bees are threatened by pests such as tracheal mites, varroa mites, small hive beetles and wax moths among others. Chemical treatment of these pests is not recommended so as to preserve the quality of raw honey.
The site selected for apiary should be open, dry and have shades.
Cleaning the place regularly and maintaining proper hygiene.
Multiplication of honey bees should happen only through disease resistant stocks.
Bee colonies should have good prolific queens.
Isolating the bees with disease from the healthy stock is highly important.
Proper food supply is important to keep the bees healthy.
When disease symptoms are noticed, migration or other activities should be avoided.
Use shaking method to remove contaminated combs and burn them completely.
Sterilising the combs and equipment should be done when necessary.
Reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics for disease control as this could cause problem in export of honey due to contamination.
Protecting colonies
Recommending less harmful pesticides or low concentration of pesticides.
Dust formulations should be avoided.
Information about the proper use of pesticides can prevent poisoning of bees.
Spraying pesticides during flowering of crops can increase the mortality rate of foraging bees.
Pesticides can be used in the evening when there is no forage activity.
When heavy pesticidal spray is required, bee colonies should be temporarily shifted to other areas else it is recommended to feed the bees with 200 ml sugar syrup and protect the bees by a wire screen on the day of spraying. Biological methods can also be used instead of chemicals. One such bio-technical method is creating a sticky board that is sprayed with some oily substance and covered with a screen.
Honey extraction
The most suitable time for removing honey is during the dry season when the honey is adequate for the bees. 

There are some recommendations for selecting a good apiary site for a profitable commercial bee farming business. These are:
The site selected should be free from dry leaves and should be cleaned before starting bee farming so as to avoid accidental fire. The land should be far away from power stations, train tracks etc.

Honey bees are threatened by pests such as tracheal mites, varroa mites, small hive beetles and wax moths among others. Chemical treatment of these pests is not recommended so as to preserve the quality of raw honey.
---additional reporting: agrifarming