Bee Keeping and Honey Processing Business – How to Get Started

Bee keeping and honey processing are age-old income-generating activities. Below is a taste of how you too can dip into the sweet jar of honey-processing profits.

First, you will have to select the type of hive you wish to use in your bee keeping business. The two main hives are the Kenya Top-Bar Hive (KTBH) and the Langstroth hive. The KTBH has been used extensively by small-farmers because it is easy to build, practical and low cost to obtain and maintain than the Langstroth hive. The hive can be built using locally available inexpensive materials such as scrap lumber, woven from cane or reeds, formed from cement blocks or adobe, or you may even employ old, discarded oil drums for the hive bodies. The design of the KTBH (an inverted trapezoid when seen in cross-section) allows the bees to maintain the natural shape of their comb, as well as allowing for easy inspection, control of swarming and monitoring of the quality of honey. More wax is also produced because the combs have to be cut from the frame when harvesting.

Position the hive near a water source in a quiet area with adequate vegetation, and fenced away from people and animals. Hanging the hive off the ground at about waist-level allows it to be comfortably manipulated from behind without having to bend or squat, while also protecting bees from predators such as toads, scorpions and ants. Position it beneath tree canopies to protect from intense sun and enable the bees to focus on collecting nectar instead of water to cool the hive. This will increase honey yields and also make the bees less irritable during harvesting. Locate the hive about 30 meters away from roads and noisy public places.

There are two ways of populating a hive:
o Baiting. Use a small hive that has previously been inhabited by bees and fill it with frames or top-bars containing combs or strips of old comb. Position it away from wind once the swarm has occupied it. This is useful only in the swarming season usually at the beginning of the dry season and at the end of a cold season.
o Capturing. You may capture a newly settled swarm around the branch of a tree by driving the bees into a small hive held underneath the swarm using a bee brush or smoke. First sprinkle the bees with cold water to prevent them from moving away and make sure you wear protective clothing.

Harvesting of honey should be done at night or late in the evening when it is cold to avoid stinging. Wear a veiled helmet, overalls, gloves and boots, gently open the hive then either sweep the bees off the combs and guide them back into the hive or inject a puff of smoke into the hive. Only harvest the ripe combs which are two-thirds full of honey and sealed or capped. Cut the comb off the top-bar, leaving about 1cm of comb so that the bees will be able to rebuild correctly. Do not take out the combs with brood as they contain the young ones. Leave approximately one-third of the honey combs in the hive to feed the colony. Place the combs in clean dry container and cover. Before closing the hive, push the unripe combs next to the combs with brood and place harvested frames behind these.

Honey should be processed immediately after extraction using clean and dry equipment. Cut-comb honey consists of pieces of comb from sealed and undamaged honeycomb, which are cut into neat portions and packaged for sale. Since the honey in the comb is untouched, it’s regarded as being pure, has a finer flavor, and therefore fetches a high price. When processing strained honey, use a hot rod or knife to de-cap the combs. Place the de-capped comb on a piece of fine white linen tied over the top of a plastic container – the de-capped side facing downwards. Allow the honey to drip through the linen until the cells are empty. Turn the comb over and repeat the process. Once processed, bottle the honey in clean dry glass or plastic jars with well sealed lids and label with the date of harvest then store in a cool place.

With these few tips, you can now release yourself from the slavery of empty pockets and venture into the Promised Land that overflows with honey-processing profits.