Beekeeping, also called apiculture, can be done as a hobby, small-scale as a backyard business or even as a larger, commercial enterprise. The versatility and scalability of this farming method makes it an exciting possibility for a wide range of aspiring farmers.
You might, however, be wondering about everything from how to start acquiring bees to how to take care of them and what to do with the products they produce. Here is your guide to beekeeping in Mzansi:
Mmabatho Portia Morudi runs a beekeeping business on her Iliju Bee Farm in Winterveld. Her passion for beekeeping stemmed from saving endangered bee species. While the African honeybee is not officially classified as endangered, it is facing many threats. These threats include pests and diseases, losing wild spaces for foraging, and problems arising from the misuse of pesticides and insecticides.
Besides saving our African honeybee from endangerment, Morudi also wanted to assist local economic development and food security challenges. That goal turned into the creation of The Village Market SA.
The Village Market was established out of need for ideal spaces for bees to thrive. It trains village communities in sustainable beekeeping and nature conservation, and then buy back the produce, offering different bee-produced products and fresh produce to consumers.
“We set up bee farms in rural communities to assist farmers with bee pollination, which improves their crops and yields,” says Morudi. “And once their produce is ready, we buy it, beautifully package it in wooden crates and deliver it to homes, wellness centres and companies.”
Morudi shares her experience and knowledge of beekeeping and its benefits.
For Morudi, the first thing you should do is gain some knowledge or training in beekeeping.
“A basic course should get you going,” she says.
Organisations such as the South African Bee Industry Organisation (SABIO) provide much-needed information and the latest research on beekeeping. Bhive is a South African beekeeping website that lists potential beekeeping associations to join across South Africa.
After that you can determine the area where you want to keep your hives, whether it is safe for your bees and safe for the people nearby. Morudi mentions that you must check the municipal bylaws and regulations that outline where and how many hives you will be allowed to keep in your area.
A basic beehive can be built or bought to start off, and the basic tools you will need are a hive tool, a smoker and a bee brush.
Anyone who wants to start beekeeping must register with the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD).
Find the DALRRD beekeeping registration form and more info about beekeeping here.
What products do bees produce?
There are many different products and services that are produced by bees, which can change depending on the type of bees you choose to keep.
Besides honey, Morudi lists that bees can also produce the following products:
- Pollen (used for a variety of medicinal purposes)
- Propolis (a compound thought to fight infections and heal wounds)
- Royal jelly (used in skin creams and dietary supplements)
- Bee venom (used for a variety of medicinal purposes)
“Beeswax is proving to be a profitable by-product,” Morudi says.
Besides marketable products, bees can also provide pollination services. In South Africa we have many crops that are dependent on bees for pollination, and your bees can be rented out to provide this service.
Types of bees
There are over 900 bee species found in Mzansi, of which only two produce honey.
“South Africa has two indigenous sub-species [of honeybees],” says Morudi. These are the African honeybee (Apis mellifera scutellata) and the Cape bee (Apis mellifera capensis).
While both of these honeybee species can be found throughout South Africa, the Cape bee tends to occur in the southwestern part of Mzansi, while the African honeybee prefers the regions in the central and northern parts of the country.
According to Bhive, the Cape bee tends to be less aggressive than the African bee (and less likely to sting!).
Acquiring bees and beehives
Morudi was able to kick-start her beekeeping business by using the traditional method to catch bees: She placed beehives near trees or flowers so that nearby bees could discover the hives and make it their home.
The other way, of course, is building or buying a beehive and buying bees from an established beekeeper.
There are different types of hives which you can build or buy in which to keep your bees, but it is recommended to put these on a sturdy frame above the ground so that it is easier to work with without bending all the time.
If you have a backyard, smallholding or a farm, you can place it anywhere you have adequate space. Morudi advises that the hives should be placed in areas with adequate foraging where there is minimal use of harmful insecticides or pesticides in the area.
A simple Google search for beehives and beekeepers in your area will point you in the right direction. Joining a beekeeping society near you will also be helpful in finding out more about best practices, tools and training.
Tips from a beekeeper
Before heading into any new farming venture, it is important to learn from others who have already walked the road on which you are about to embark.
Morudi has the following tips for people who want to start beekeeping as a hobby or as an income-generating business:
“Before investing in beekeeping, start with some form of training,” Morudi says. “Read up on the subject as this will save you time and money.”
“You don’t have to start too big,” she says as well.
Morudi says it is possible to start beekeeping from the comfort of your backyard.
“Invest in bee-friendly plants. That will attract bees to your backyard.”