The buzz about small scale Bee-keeping

We have been bee-keepers for close on 6 years now, and we do it for a few reasons, we have an orchard that needs pollinating, we grow vegetable seed for re-sale so often bees are required there, my wife makes soap, hand creams and lip-balm and she often uses bee’s wax there. I use bee’s wax when tying flies, OK I don’t use much but I still need some bee’s wax.

Lastly, fresh unfiltered honey on the comb is a delicacy that will require you keeping your own bees or knowing a beekeeper that will sell you some. Honey can store indefinitely… I must stress the ‘can part’ because invariably it does not in our house.

Now when I say we are bee-keepers I say that in the loose sense of the word, a professional is an Apiarist… we are bee-keepers. I feel a distinction should be made, as professionals run their operations (as it should) like a business. We mere bee-keepers just keep a few hives to keep our family and the occasional lucky friend in honey once or twice a year.

For the uninitiated most honey in South Africa is imported from China under much controversy and disrespect for our laws, the public’s health and the serious Apiarist in South Africa. ALL honey in South Africa needs to be labelled with the country(s) of origin, and if it’s a local beekeeper it needs to have his contact details on it. Imported honey legally needs to be radurised…. basically a nice way of saying that it’s been stuck into a nuclear reactor to kill of anything that may be in the honey, Good or Bad.

Unfortunately, bad honey is being brought into South Africa and at the same time bringing with it new diseases. One of the most recent and devastating  of the imported diseases is “AFB” American Foul Brood that was believed to have been brought in with contaminated honey that was fed to our local bees. What a lot of guys are doing is blending South African and imported honey to make it more ‘acceptable’ to the consumer. As if a little bit of poison should be acceptable.

I encourage everyone that I talk to too either have a hive or two or find a reputable Apiarist that you can buy honey from. Cut out the importer and make him feel the pain of deceiving the South African consumer.

OK onto the good stuff, now that I have had my little rant. There are many different styles of bee hives that one could look at. The two most common are the Langstroth and the Top Bar Hive (TBH). Langstroths are used by all the professionals as it a workable design that allows Apiarists to move hives around easily when they follow a honey-flow or are doing contract pollination. TBH’s are the ‘new generation’ of traditional hives that are making inroads into the bee-keeping world. Beekeepers will argue until the wax melts about which design is better, and the merits of each.

Newly completed hive, not even dry but the bees are moving in already
Newly completed hive, not even dry but the bees are moving in already

For us ma’Plotters we prefer a TBH for a few reasons, not being an expert and not needing to move hives from one place to the next, the much larger TBH holds a larger swarm, the hive is in a more natural configuration for the bees, when opening the hive it tends to lose less heat (or so I’m told), because the hive is so large there is less chance of the bees swarming off as they have room to expand the colony. This in turn give a larger honey crop to the bee-keeper… which is why we are keeping bees.

Now, my design is a mix of various designs but the original idea can from the late Tim Jackson and his son Crispin who made a plastic hive of similar proportions. I use Marine Ply as the wood for my hive. It’s a bit more expensive, however I find that it lasts very well, especially with a lick or two of Waksol sealant every other year.

Unlike most TBH’s that just use a top bar and no frame, I use a full size Langstroth frame (Brood Frame) that will allow me to wire and spin the combs if required. We don’t wire our frames as we harvest both the honey and the wax. But the option is there if we ever need to. I like having options as it gives one flexibility if our needs ever change. If you don’t harvest the wax you will get a higher honey production as the bees eat honey to produce the wax. Re-using the wax saves them a lot of work making new wax. Any frames that have beautiful straight comb we try to return to the hive.

It was going to be a cold spring evening (2009) so I helped the swarm in.
It was going to be a cold spring evening (2009) so I helped the swarm in.

Many Apiarists say that it’s hard to keep the brood and honey separate, as the queen will lay eggs all over the hive. I have found that if you separate the storage and brood frames with an empty frame the queen most often will not cross the gap and lay eggs in the storage combs. A simple solution that would cost most “langstrothers” a queen excluder per hive.

How much honey do we get, I estimate that we pull about 20-30 kg’s per hive per year. Yes I could get more, but I like to leave more than enough honey in the hive for the bees to live off in winter.

If you are keen on starting out with bees have a look at this book. Written by South Africans for South Africans, it’s a very good introduction to beekeeping for the self-sustainably minded person.

It will give you a good grounding in how hives work and it even has information on queen rearing, something that I have not tried but I believe is very rewarding.

26 thoughts on “The buzz about small scale Bee-keeping

  1. Maryke Basson says:

    Hi. I just wanted to know if you have any advice for an aspiring beekeeper. I am currently living in Cape-town and would appreciate any knowledge that can be imparted. I would like to focus on keeping a wide variety of bees for biodiversity, not solely honey production. I am not capable of keeping my own bees yet. I am however, very interested in learning as I wish to study entomology and bees.
    Thanks for your time.

  2. Werner says:

    I would love to see your hive design. Has anyone been able to contact the author or the article?

    Any links or feedback will be valued.

  3. Carol Fielden says:

    Hi, I would so love to keep bees, but am allergic. I’m sure if you take the necessary precautions, it can be safely done. What would you advice?
    Regards Carol

  4. Sanette says:

    Hi I am working on a building project in East London. The owner in the building wants to kill them, but I said he must give me time to find a farmer to come remove them. Please can somebody help me with some contact details for a bee keeper/farmer.

  5. Mpaphi Mathangwane says:

    hi ,

    i have recently acquired a small farm abt 16 ha, and on one of my trips to Zim i learned of a group called african initiative that taught people to bee keep. they are selling for abt 10 dollars per kg, and to me this seems line a viable business. i want to know how to start such a business, the cost implicatioins and admin costs. mind you this will be a small scale commercial entity. pls point me in the right direction.

  6. Yasmin Ezzideen says:

    Hello fellow bee-lovers! Im hoping someone can help me out. Im a fourth year student at the Michaelis school of fine art and have based my final work around environmental issues. As a sculpture major Ive incorporated various natural matter and now urgently need as many dead bees I can get! Sponsors of bees will be accredited in the catalogue for their help. If everyone could collect and keep their deceased bees for me and I will collect them I will be so grateful. Im based in CBD so if you aren’t too far away I will drive wherever I need to get some bees. Not only will they be part of a major exhibition they will be part of a greater cause, the aim for man and nature to live in harmony without exploitation. Thank you for your time.


  7. JADE says:

    Hi Sean,

    I am going to start bee keeping, probably 4 hives, can you outline what my initial start up costs will be and where can I purchase the items. I am on the lower KZN south coast.



  8. Hi there!

    We would also like to start with bees, we are situated in the Karoo, Britstown. Do you perhaps have any contact details for clubs or someone where I could source a colony from?

    Kind regards

  9. Albert says:

    Hi I would like to start a bee farming business in Limpopo, I already have a plot where I would like to start.
    Kindly send me information how best t start.


    • SelfSus says:

      For those of you looking to get into bee farming I would advise that you contact your local Bee Keepers Club, there are always members available that are will to assist someone with a genuine interest.

      We do not sell or provide an bee related products, this is something we do to helps us become less reliant on ‘the system’.

  10. Nathi Ntshangase says:

    Dear Sir
    I need to open my own bee farming business in Northern Kzn and I feel that before that I need to be trained to master all the necessery requirements.where can I can I get that?and maybe around how much much must I budget for the whole training fees and capital?

  11. This seems like a great idea but what about legislation and safety.Is it legal to keep hives on your property in Cape Town?

    We had an incident recently where two people were put into hospital after being stung 50 and 100 times each. They were walking through a public park, past a house keeping hives, and the bees seemingly attacked for no reason.

    Is this a rare occurrence or is it something that could be guarded against?

  12. neville says:

    I would like to start a bee farm in the eastern cape . I would like to know what i need and what are the measurements i have to take in order to train and teach unemloyed people . I have no funds to start this venture and maybe you have some guidelines on what the costs would be to get started in such a business . I would like to help the local community in these venture in order for them to learn the skill of bee keeping. i HAVE AN EXPORT MARKET FOR THE HONEY ANS WELL.



  13. Nicola says:

    Sounds wonderful. I would love to buy unfiltered honey from a local producer. Do you know any producers in the Newlands, Cape Town area?

    warm regards

  14. Danielle says:

    I. I would also like to start bee keeping again. This time with the new design hive. Where can I purchase one and how much does it cost?
    Kiind regards,

  15. I would love to know more about the construction of the hive. I have never kept bees before and am keen to start . I would later like to teach the communities I work with. I look forward to hearing from you.

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