Honey Bee farming otherwise known as apiculture is the system of keeping and rearing bees. It is the system of keeping and rearing bee colonies in man made hives. Bees are kept mainly for their honey and bee wax. A bee is winged social insect which collects pollen and nectar and produces wax and honey in return. They are members of the Apidae family.
Castes of Honey bee
Bees and other social insects like termites have different castes in any bee hive or colony. These castes must be present in a colony as they have a specific duty to perform. The castes present in a bee hive or colony are;
The queen Honey bee: The queen bee can easily be identified by its smooth, elongated and protruded abdomen. Her main duty is to produce eggs, as she is the only reproductive female that is capable of laying eggs in the colony. A queen bee can lay thousands of eggs each day.
She is rarely seen outside of the hive because she does not need to forage for food as she is fed pollen and royal jelly by its workers. Though the queen bee has a long lifespan of about 5 years, it is recommended that a beekeeper replaces the queen each year as the workers tend to replace her when they notice that the queen productivity is declining with or without the beekeeper’s knowledge.
Worker Honey bee: These are the smallest castes of bees present in any colony. They consist of sterile females that are incapable of reproduction. They perform numerous roles in the colony. Some of which are: secretion of wax in the hive, production of honey, feeding the queen, caring for the eggs and young larvae, cleaning the hive etc. An average worker can last for up to 7 weeks. Workers are equipped with well developed eyes and an elongated tongue for taking nectar and pollen from flowers. They are also equipped with defense mechanism in form of stingers to protect the queen and the hive.
The drones: They consist of male bees. They are bigger than the worker bees. They developed from unfertilized eggs. They perform only one function which is to mate and fertilize the queen. Drones don’t join worker bees to forage for food but rather feed directly from honey in the hive. In times of famine, or when there is little to no food in the colony, the drones are driven away by the workers who will guard the hive so as to prevent their return. They have a short lifespan as they die soon after mating with the queen bee.
Feeding the honey bee
Bees generally feed on pollen and nectar from flowering plants. But when this is not available, bees are fed with sugar water. This type of bee food is made by dissolving white granulated sugar in water. Care should be taken to ensure only white sugar is used as brown sugar kills the bees. Sugar water is good for feeding bees as it has a similar sweetness to nectar and as bees are accustomed to collecting liquid food. Alternatively, pollen can also be used to feed the bees. The pollen can be in the form of pollen powder or a pollen patty.
Various species or breeds necessary for the honey bee farming
The dark or German honey honeybees: These honey bees are small sized with a variety of colours ranging from black to dark brown. The bees exhibit aggressive behaviors, so a beekeeper should have enough protective equipment when rearing these bees. They are good honey and wax producers. They are commonly found in the UK, Germany etc.
The western honey bees: This is one of the most widely distributed bee species. It is characterized by its yellow striped abdomen. They tend to build their hives in enclosed cavities such as an hollow, dead tree stem. They are good pollinating agents and excellent, high quality honey producers. They are commonly found in the USA, Australia and some parts of Asia.
The Italian honey bee: It is a popular variety of honey bees found all over the world. The bees are good breeds as they can better adapt to a warm climate than other bee varieties. They are highly productive in honey and wax. The honey they produce however should be extracted quickly because these bees have been discovered to consume them when there is no food available.
The giant honey bees: They are commonly found in the southeastern parts of Asia. They are the biggest bee variety. These bees make their hives under rocky cliffs and under hanging trees meaning that they can’t be reared in artificial man made hives. Their honey is harvested by cutting the honey combs of the bee hives. Proper protective equipment and clothing should be worn as the bees are noted for their aggressive protection of their honey.
Other varieties are for honey bee farming: The Himalayan honey bees, African honey bees, Gibraltar honey bees, Caucasus honey bees, Carneolan honey bees etc.
Housing the bees.
Bees are reared and kept in enclosed structures. These structures are known as bee hives or apiary. The hives can be constructed in the form of a wooden box. In the boxes, the bees create their comb and fill the cells with honey. The honey bees build the combs on frames that hang vertically from the boxes, the honey is then extracted from these frames. Other forms of bee hives include; skep, top bar, langstroth, warre etc.