Management and handling of bees – Aga Mixed Farm Agricultural Advisory Service

Management and handling of bees

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Management and handling of bees

  • Many people are afraid of bees because they sting. All of us have heard of stories where bees attacked, and even killed, people and livestock (African bees can be very aggressive and need to be handled carefully). Like other forms of livestock, bees must be handled with respect and care. If handled properly, bees will not cause any problems.
  • Some bees tend to sting less than other types. A beekeeper who frequently inspects his hives can easily tell those bees which are better and more docile. He can then eliminate the more aggressive bees and breed from the docile ones. (Not all African bees are aggressive – I have worked bees in Northern Somalia which were very docile and didn’t require a veil!).
  • With frequent handling bees appear to become ‘used’ to being inspected and therefore less aggressive. A beekeeper can come to know the character of his bees. If you have many hives number them and keep records at each inspection of the bee’s behavior. Eliminate aggressive colonies

Tips on Handling Bees:

  1. Always wear a bee suit and take the time to put it on properly. Many people do not do this and get stung when the hives are open. There is no need for this. If you don’t know how to do it, get someone to help you (your experienced friend).
  2. Avoid wearing woolen clothes because they agitate bees which become stuck in them
  3. Avoid drinking alcohol, using strong smelling soaps or sprays all of which may aggravate the bees.
  4. Always use a smoker when handling bees. Smoke makes the bees suck honey from the combs and calms them down (it also masks alarm smells the bees use to communicate)
  5. Do not let the smoker go out during the operation or the bees can become aggressive. Keep plenty of smoker fuel handy as you work. It is always better to have two smokers alight than one, in case one goes out
  6. Start with the least aggressive colonies always. This will allow you to work in peace with the pleasant colonies first.
  7. Work gently and quietly. Do not knock or bang the hive as this can make the bees angry
  8. Always handle the bees in the evening between 5.30pm and darkness (initially be careful once you know your bees and how aggressive they are – you will know the best time to handle them). If the bees become aggressive at this time then they have a chance to cool down before the following morning. They also seem to be less aggressive in the cool of the evening. For bees which you have never handled before, or for very aggressive bees, take the extra precaution of handling the bees at dusk using a torch to see the bees
  9. When handling avoid crushing the bees and making sudden movements. Work carefully and with confidence. Remain calm even if the bees become aggressive. If bees appear to be getting out of control, close up the hive and try again another day. If bees get into your veil – remain calm – walk to a safe distance before trying to rectify the problem
  10. Work the hives with two or more people at a time. One person can lift out the combs while the other uses the smoker. This allows better control of the bees
  11. Do not stand in front of the hive entrance when examining the hive. Bees flying in and out may become agitated to find their way blocked. Always cut down disturbance to the bees in every way you can.
  12. Advise any onlookers to move away quietly if stung covering their eyes. No running about waving the arms as this can annoy the bees
  13. Remove bee stings from the skin as soon as possible using a hive tool or your nail to scrape off the sting. Trying to pull out the sting tends to squeeze in more venom. Use smoke to cover the scent of a sting. When a bee stings this scent will attract other bees to sting you again if you do not use smoke
  14. On finishing the job close up the hives. Do not go directly to where you are to remove your bee suit. Take a route via bushes or tall maize sugarcane etc. if around. Rub yourself against the leaves to rid yourself of bees which might be following or on you

What if no Bees enter the hive?:

It often happens that bees do not enter the hive for quite a while. The new hive that you have worked so hard to build stays empty. An empty hive does not produce any honey!
Check the following:

  • Have you waxed your top bars as shown?
  • Is the hive clean and pest free?
  • Are there any ants or rats nesting in it? If so, clean it out and re-grease the wires. Bees do not like a dirty hive.
  • Is it the swarming season? Ask a friendly beekeeper in your area. Swarming is when bees reproduce themselves and fly out of the old hive looking for a new home. During the swarming season it is easier for hives to be occupied quickly. In Kerugoya town in 1995 two hives at our extension office were occupied by bees before we had time to hang them!
  • Have you chosen a good site for hanging the hive?
  • But what if it is not the swarming season? Even if it is, and bees are still not entering the hive, what can you do? Well bees can be put into the hive by the beekeeper. There are different ways to do this
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