Introducing Tales of an African Beekeeper

I have known Peter Clark for some twenty years, in which time I have come to know a man with great passion for his bees and all of the different facets of his trade as a beekeeper. Peter’s accumulated wisdom in all matters ‘bee’ has been acquired the only way of true wisdom – the hard way.

 

As I have heard him tell tales of adventure and hard work, trips in the middle of the night to the middle of nowhere, I have wanted to capture some of them. I have also looked at the articles and training material that he has compiled and refined over many years, and prevailed upon him to collate all of this.

 

In the pages of this book you will find Peter sharing of this wisdom in his unique style, mixing story and information in a conversational way. There are so many stories that have not made it into the book for space reasons, and maybe that is motivation for a second book, but I first have to convince him that people would really like to hear his tales.

 

The book consists of a compilation of new, revised, and updated material from his published articles, his training courses and talks, the people he has met, and the encounters he has had through his work.

 

‘Tales of an African Beekeeper’ is written for gardeners, farmers, beekeepers and students. The garden enthusiast will find much to explain the behaviour of these small co-workers of theirs; the farmer will be taken a few steps further than their current knowledge of the bee and its usefulness; and the novice and experienced beekeepers will find it a valuable addition to their ‘toolbox’. Students of agriculture, horticulture and entomology will find that the bee is far more fascinating than the textbooks will reveal.

 

The book is written in an easy to follow style, with short concise chapters which make it both an easy read and a handy reference book that is easy to dive in and out of. This is not written as a manual - there are many good theoretical and instructional beekeeping books out there - but as a reflection on many practical lessons learned in the past sixty years with the bees.

 

As you turn to the opening pages of the book, I hope that you will enjoy the journey through the strange and industrious world of the bee and the beekeeper.

 

 

Jeremy Farrell

Editor

Cape Town

South Africa

May, 2012

Tales of an African Beekeeper

‘Tales of an African Beekeeper’ is written for gardeners, farmers, beekeepers and students. The garden enthusiast will find much to explain the behaviour of these small co-workers of theirs; the farmer will be taken a few steps further than their current knowledge of the bee and its usefulness; and the novice and experienced beekeepers will find it a valuable addition to their ‘toolbox’. Students of agriculture, horticulture and entomology will find that the bee is far more fascinating than the textbooks will reveal.

 

It is intended that this book will stimulate the enquiring mind of those who are aware that there is such a creature as a bee and that there are people who devote their lives to working with bees.

 

There are folk who have desired to keep bees and perhaps this read will wet their appetite and encourage them to get started. There are also those who have started and are not aware of the in depth nature of the subject that could take them far beyond their wildest dreams.

 

To the seasoned old beekeeper there will be that knowing grin that similar experiences also occurred in his life, but hopefully he will learn something new from these pages.

 

Perhaps the book will soften the hearts of those who hate and detest bees, those who only desire is to kill them at first sight. However there are those who have lost a loved one due to a bee sting and they must be pardoned from wishing to take revenge. But the book might ease their burden and hopefully they will glean a better understanding of this marvelous creature of God’s creation.

 

Please add the book to your cart using the button below.  It will walk you through the ordering and local payment options.

R170.00
Add to Cart
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  • Shipping Time: more than 14 days1

This practical guide to beekeeping as a field of interest, hobby or home business is written in a conversational tone by a veteran of South African beekeeping.  It is filled with anecdotal and personal observations of Peter Clark of Highlands Apiaries in Springs, which prove the value of experience over theory.

 

This first edition of the Tales of an African Beekeeper is a compilation of articles written by Peter Clark for the 'Smallholder' magazine, talks to a variety of audiences, and his intensive beekeeping course.  

 

 

The Paperback can be ordered internationally from my online store, or Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

 

The Kindle edition can be purchased here.

 

 

Introduction to Beekeeping

Welcome to this most fascinating occupation and branch of farming. This is a farming system that starts in the back yard and extends far beyond just keeping bees, but also into the vast, wonderful and beautiful flora of our country and into the pollination of many crops, far beyond your imagination of today. The beekeeper has all these features at his front door to enjoy. He becomes the friend of every farmer and the most sought after person when he has to remove troublesome bees from wherever. In cases where he offers free pollination services to farmers he is always “Baie welkom.” So, therefore, love your bees, and you will develop a passion for these creatures that will take you well into your 90’s years.

 

The value of this industry cannot be assessed. By some, it is stated, a 20 billion Rand industry, and by others far more. Consider the value of foreign revenue brought in by the fruit export industry, the fresh juice industry, the cooking oil and the use thereof in the food preparation industry. Then follows the pollination of crops for the development of seed for the sunflower, onion, lucerne, all melons and pumpkins related crops, and without the production of seeds, these crops would simply not exist, the list is never ending, ----- all by bees provided by beekeepers. Therefore the role played by beekeepers is most valuable to our country.

 

 

A Resilient Business

Our bees are strong health-wise and are able to resist many diseases that exist in other countries. As a result of bad farming practices, as spraying and not giving due regard to the importance of bees, many northern hemisphere countries have lost their bee populations and are completely out of bees. Our bees swarm of prolifically and losses are easily replaced, but not so in those countries. There is a move afoot, but still in early stages of development, to replace those countries with bees transported from South Africa. This will be something for our industry, in the not too distant foreseeable future.

 

Latest figures at 2008 were that our country required 2500 tons of honey for our consumption. Our own beekeepers produced about 900 tons resulting in a shortfall of 1600 tons which was imported. We need to produce all our own requirements as Australia and New Zealand. Switzerland has over 20,000 hobbyist beekeepers who produce all their country’s needs, why can’t we? The answer is very simple,

a) we have the flora but we do not have the beekeepers,

b) Erratic rainfall in the same areas year on year,

c) Vandalism of the hives and stealing of the honey and hives,

d) Cost competition regulated by the cheapness of imported honey, (imported honey extracted is landed at between R7.50 and R9.50 per kilogram for the cheappy and around R12.50 for the good quality stuff whereas our honey costs us to produce about R18.00 to R20.00 per kilo.)

However in spite of these drawbacks our beekeepers have big hearts and very broad shoulders and are able to produce the best quality honey the world can offer. Very much in our favor is that our consumer public is very much aware of the good quality of our honey, which is greatly sought after.

 

 

Two Types of Beekeeping

Residential beekeeping is where one keeps hives on permanent sites in good tested areas and receives approximately 15 to 18 kilograms per hive per year. These sites have to be in good secure areas to overcome the vandalism menace and fairly safe for the beekeeper to enter and work into the early hours of the evenings. These sites are out of town plots, farms, fenced cemeteries golf courses, sewerage works, water works.

 

In all these cases one provides honey to the landowner on some sort of sharing basis. It is best to construct bee camps to protect the beehives and also gives the beekeeper an identity.

 

Migratory beekeeping is where the beekeeper follows the crop and will move three or four times per year. The honey crop will be about 60 kilograms per hive per year. This a very expensive method and can be very lucrative if one has good selective sites and one plans the moving scientifically. The queens are overworked without a natural rest period and need to be replaced on an annual basis. This queen replacement is also very costly and involves culling all weak and failing queens and catching new swarms to replace the losses.

 

Good planning and apiary management is the secret of success in the case of migratory beekeeping.

 

The Value Proposition of Bees

Beekeeping is not restricted to keeping bees in a hive but has many allied services, such as:

  • To keep bees for honey production both liquid and cut comb,
  • To provide a very important pollination service to farmers who produce seed for the commercial farmer to plant,
  • to provide a bee removal service to the department of emergency services of the country,
  • to venture into the production of beeswax alone where there is a large market in the manufacturing of cosmetic creams, special high quality polishes, foundation wax for the bee industry,
  • to become proficient in all aspects of the bee world to provide lectures and courses in beekeeping. (the department of agriculture is crying out for lecturers to develop the rural people to become beekeepers as a sustainable occupation.
  • To research projects to improve the keeping of healthier bees,
  • To breed queens for the queen replacement to maintain good strong health hives required mainly be beekeepers in the Cape who have to have strong hives to satisfy the requirements of the pollination contracts,
  • to breed and sell nucleus swarms to beekeepers to replace their failing queens.
  • To provide added value as corporate gift packs and novelty gifts based on innovative ideas and artistic items.

 

Earning a Living

Firstly lets consider one resident hive with good strong bees in a good blue gum area, yielding a spring and early summer crop and also where there is a second crop of blackjacks or cosmos in the late summer early autumn. One would receive approx. 18 kilograms of blue gum honey and about 7 kilos. of late summer honey.

 

i.e. 25Kilos (50 bottles) at R24.00 per bottle ………….......1200.00

deduct cost of bottle and label 50 x R4.00… …............... 200.00

net income … ........................................................R1000.00

 

The beekeeper pockets the money and does not take into account labour, electricity and petrol costs.

 

The next beekeeper, a male again, cuts the combs into cut comb honey packs and sells it but has to hawk it around. He cuts 5 pieces from each frame. The 18 frames are from the early and late summer crops as before.

 

18 frames cut 5 pieces to the frame….90 pieces @ R20 ea ........1800.00

Costs…….90 polystyrene punnetts @ R0.50 ................................45.00

Replace wax foundation to 18 frames 180.00 .............................225.00

Net income R .....................................................................1575.00

 

Now a lady beekeeper takes the honey and she works in conjunction with a wedding caterer who wishes to provide a small gift to all the wedding guests small bottles of 50 grams each with a small attractive label.

 

25 kilos will produce 500 small bottles of 50gram each

500 bottles sold at R15.00 each………………………................ R7500.00

less costs 500 bottles @ R2.50 each ...............................1250.00

labels with ribbon 500 @ R1.50 each 750.00 ......................2000.00

Net income R................................................................5000.00

She pockets the money and does not tell a soul.

 

The market for this type of undertaking is small and very selective and does not readily exist on an everyday basis, although the Indian communities have festivals that calls for raw honey in small gift packs.

 

This exercise illustrates that when one, who holds up to 20 hives, and looks to a financial gaining undertaking, one must become clever and use the beekeeping production to more advantage than just to bottling and selling honey.

 

A residential beekeeper with say 30 hives in good sites will have a fall off of 20% of his hives that become weak and nonproductive and with close scrutiny he only discovers these hives after the season is over. Therefore his financial gain situation is as follows:

 

30 hives should produce…….times R1000 ….. R ..........30,000.00

but only 24 produce ( i.e. 20% fall off ) @R1000………  24,000.00

Annual running costs …40% of expected turnover R ...12,000.00

Net return …. ….. …. … R ......................................12,000.00

This represents a turnover of R400per hive .

 

Therefore he has to carry a further stock of 6 hives to replace the lost hives before he looses them which involves a cost of up to R40 per hive to maintain his annual target of honey.

 

Now consider a unit of 200 hives…..times R1000…. ..............R200,000.00

But only 160 produce (I,e, 20% fall off ) @R1000 …. R ..........160,000.00

Annual running costs 40% expected turnover of R200,000…. R 80,000.00 Net return (i.e. R400 per hive.) …… R 80,000.00 He has to carry a further 40 hives as replacements.

 

Now consider a unit of 500 hives…times R1000… ...........R500,000.00

But only 400 are producing (i.e. 20% fall off) @ R1000… R400,000.00

Annual running costs 40% of expected ..R500,000 ........R200,000.00

Net return of R400.oo per hive ….. ............................R 200,000.00

He has to carry a further 100 hives to replace losses.

 

The secrets to operate a successful undertaking one has to always have a balanced outfit:

 

  • Up to 50 hives one works alone with a junior helper,
  • 50 to 200 hives one works with a paid helper, say R100 per outing,
  • 201 to 300 hives one works with a full time paid assistant
  • 301 to 700 hives one works with two full time paid assistants.
  • Up to 50 hives one needs a trailer.
  • 50 to 200 hives one needs a bakke to transport one helper plus 24 hives.
  • 200 to 700 hives one needs a run about bakke plus a 3 ton truck to transport two helpers plus 48 hives.
  • 200 to 300 hives one needs to migrate 30% of the hives,
  • 300 to 700 hives one needs to migrate 60% of the swarms.

To manage the undertaking; one must keep good records of honey yields, migrating times and any items that affects the running of the outfit always to improve beekeeping the following year.

 

One needs to cull the weak swarms to avoid passengers that are not producing and in this regard one needs to keep a check on ages of queens and a constant lookout for “black-bee” invasion of the swarm. Some call this Capensis invasion but this is unfair as Capensis bees of the Cape are good bees.

 

The value of good sites is the basis of a good undertaking and one should always be on the lookout for a better site and therefore there is always a site testing program.

 

Tales of an African Beekeeper

‘Tales of an African Beekeeper’ is written for gardeners, farmers, beekeepers and students. The garden enthusiast will find much to explain the behaviour of these small co-workers of theirs; the farmer will be taken a few steps further than their current knowledge of the bee and its usefulness; and the novice and experienced beekeepers will find it a valuable addition to their ‘toolbox’. Students of agriculture, horticulture and entomology will find that the bee is far more fascinating than the textbooks will reveal.

 

It is intended that this book will stimulate the enquiring mind of those who are aware that there is such a creature as a bee and that there are people who devote their lives to working with bees.

 

There are folk who have desired to keep bees and perhaps this read will wet their appetite and encourage them to get started. There are also those who have started and are not aware of the in depth nature of the subject that could take them far beyond their wildest dreams.

 

To the seasoned old beekeeper there will be that knowing grin that similar experiences also occurred in his life, but hopefully he will learn something new from these pages.

 

Perhaps the book will soften the hearts of those who hate and detest bees, those who only desire is to kill them at first sight. However there are those who have lost a loved one due to a bee sting and they must be pardoned from wishing to take revenge. But the book might ease their burden and hopefully they will glean a better understanding of this marvelous creature of God’s creation.

 

Please add the book to your cart using the button below.  It will walk you through the ordering and local payment options.

R170.00
Add to Cart
  • Available
  • Shipping Time: more than 14 days1
 

South Africans can order the book direct from us in SA using the order form on this site.
 

This second edition of the Tales of an African Beekeeper is a compilation of articles written by Peter Clark for the 'Smallholder' magazine, his intensive beekeeping course, and anecdotes from his exploits and people encountered.  

 

The Paperback can be ordered internationally from my online store, or Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk .

 

The Kindle edition can be ordered here.