Bees Abroad

Bees Abroad is one of those small unsung charities which does a great job on very modest funds. It really does change people’s lives through beekeeping.

The aim of Bees Abroad is to provide education and technical advice in Beekeeping and suitable business skills. This is achieved by setting up and supporting field extension services, running training courses for local beekeepers and financing trainers. We are a non-profit making organisation giving help to beekeepers and families in developing countries. Bees Abroad projects are managed by designated project managers and run within a group structure.

Funds from Bees Abroad are utilised for the relief of poverty, which means that projects are bound by Bees Abroad’s legal, charitable requirement to reach the poorest sectors of society. We are particularly keen to ensure that projects are sustainable, so that they do not depend on constant financial input from outside of the area or one person’s input.

Bees Abroad promotes the use of sustainable and affordable intermediate technology and cannot support projects that use inappropriate bee hive technology or unsuitable or imported species of honey bee.

Bees Abroard beekeepers in Uganda
Bees Abroad beekeepers in Uganda

They’re particularly active in Africa, where they have run a number of hugely successful projects in countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania. These are led by volunteer beekeepers from the UK. For many of the folk they’ve helped, beekeeping has been empowering in ways you might not imagine. The financial benefits of producing honey (and other products – cream, wax, soap, etc.) are obviously enormous, particularly as the projects are targetted at subsistence farmers, but beekeeping has also strengthened social ties generally and reinforced community groups.

'Family Pride' Honey
‘Family Pride’ Honey
Although Bees Abroad are based here their work is overseas, so I can’t help them through Habitat Aid. I decide to run the Bath Half Marathon a while ago though, and I thought it might be an idea to raise some sponsorship money for them. I’ve been working hard at it and hope to drag my complaining body around the 13 miles in under 2 hours. I’m not a natural long distance runner so this will represent a minor triumph. Click on the button below if you agree! Thank you for your support.

Let’s Make Honey, Honey

I know there are a lot of beekeepers who read this blog, so if you’re one of them look away now! I thought it might be fun to post a few photos of the process of making honey for the non-apiarists though. I’m far from an expert beekeeper, although I’ve been keeping them more or less successfully from 2005. I’ve been on a couple of courses hosted by my local division of the BBKA, and picked up a lot from the beekeepers I know, but still feel I’ve a lot to learn. It’s a real art, and not something that can be learnt from books in a couple of years. We only have between 2 and 4 hives, but they seem to do well and I’ve developed my own style of looking after them. To be honest I’m more into the husbandry side of it than the honey production, but it’s still very satisfying turning up to dinner parties with a pots of honey, or selling them at the village fete. So, how do you get the honey into jars?
Homeward boundOur most successful honey producers this year started life in 2009 as a swarm from one of my friend’s hives, which I captured and hived. The photo shows the queen leading the swarm into their new home in May last year. The big box you see is mostly the “brood chamber”, which has vertical frames of wax “foundation” inside for the bees draw out into cells (beekeepers of old and many current apiarists don’t use these, but let the bees make their own wild comb). These will either be filled with eggs by the queen, or pollen or honey by the workers. When the colony starts to expand, in the spring, I put a metal grill “queen excluder” on top of the main box. Because the worker bees are smaller than the queen they can get through it but the queen can’t. On top of that I put smaller boxes, “supers”, with wax foundation. Because the queen can’t get to them to lay her eggs, the workers fill them up with honey. HoneyThe photo shows a super with a full frame. There’s a lot goes on over the summer, of course, which is for me where the fascination is, but if things go well you end up with a crop of honey to extract in early August. I take much less honey than many beekeepers, which means that I don’t have to feed the bees with suger syrup over the winter as they have more than enough by way of natural stores. Honey extractionThe first stage of the extraction process of the honey we do take is to get rid of the bees from the supers, which we do with a simple system of bee valves which let the bees in one way, down to the brood chamber, but not back up again. Once that’s done, we lug the boxes back to our honey extraction centre (AKA my office) where my glamorous assistant starts the process of decapping. Once the bees have collected enough honey in a cell they cap it with wax, which we remove with a heated decapping knife. Centrifugal honey extractorIt’s a sticky business. Once that’s done we pop the frames in our extractor, which works by centrifugal force; turn the handle, it whizzes the frames around three at a time, and the honey spins out onto its sides where it then falls in rich globs to the bottom of the tank. Next we filter it through a fine sieve into a settling tank overnight. Then, hey presto, Lamyatt honey, which we bottle in rather superior hexagonal jars. I was really pleased this year because I managed to make some squares of comb honey too in minute quantities, which has already been reserved for close family and those local friends with the best wine cellars. Whisper it not, but we’ve had our biggest year this year, and the honey is delicious. I usually make furniture polish or candles with the wax, but that’s another story. Before I do I have to treat the bees for disease and clear up sticky floors, sticky sink, sticky kitchen surface, sticky door handles, sticky…
Related Posts: Honeybees

Adopt a Bee Hive

Cornfield Annuals
Cornfield Annuals
A new initiative from the BBKA – Adopt a Bee Hive – its first public fundraiser ever in its 136 year history. Sponsored by Saga and rather oddly supported by Raymond Blanc it aims to raise money for research and education and involve non-beekeepers. It looks like a great idea.
Raymond points out:

    We can all help by planting pollen and nectar rich plants and trees and of course giving money to fund research into why they are dying.

I’m thrilled to say we will be supplying the BBKA with native seed selections especially for bees, which will be trialled at their Spring Convention.

Honeybees

Hiving a swarm
Hiving a swarm
I’m not sure why I was persuaded to keep bees, but I took it up four or five years ago and thoroughly enjoy it. People’s motivations for doing it seem very different; I enjoy the husbandry side of it, and find the mechanics of working with my colonies very satisfying and therapeutic. Moments like the one pictured, when a swarm I’d taken lined up behind their queen and marched into a new hive, give me enormous pleasure. We make lovely honey too, but that’s pretty secondary as far as I’m concerned; we only have up to four hives, so its a nice little earner but nothing more.
Honeybees have been this year’s endangered species for the Press, so I won’t drone on (sorry) about their various travails. However, it’s the new interest that the kind of “did you realize we would only have four years to live without bees” commentary has generated that makes me want to talk about them here. There’s been a tremendous surge in people keeping bees, which is great as colony mortality rates are over 20% and beekeeper numbers had plummeted over the last twenty years, particularly in areas like ours where fruit growing used to be such a big industry. What’s not so great is that many of these folk don’t seem to know much about it; although membership of the BBKA and attendance at their courses has risen sharply, it seemingly hasn’t nearly matched the growth in numbers of beekeepers. Seemingly sentient types locally have been buying all the kit, shipping in nuclei or swarms, and then doing the oddest things or nothing with them. It’s a terrible waste; these colonies will mostly be dead by Spring.
Although beekeeping isn’t rocket science it is a craft, and one that has to be learnt. Like most crafts, that’s difficult to do from a book. I haven’t taken any exams – mea culpa – but I have been on a couple of courses and various lectures, have a bee mentor (very importantly), and as a BBKA member get the magazines and even went to the Spring Convention this year. I still have huge amounts to learn, but so far I have avoided doing anything really stupid. Of course old beekeepers didn’t bother with all this stuff, but then they didn’t have to deal with Varroa destructor, the consequences of climate change, Colony Collapse Disorder, European Foul Brood, etc. etc.
If you’re thinking about taking up beekeeping my three top tips would be:
1. Whatever anyone says you will get stung (promise).
2. Do it – for selfish and altruistic reasons.
3. Do it properly.
Get in touch with your local beekeeping association and go on a course before you think about collecting your bees. After all, they’re a precious commodity.