Home Food for Thought Weird and wonderful: The how and why of a beekeeper’s job

Weird and wonderful: The how and why of a beekeeper’s job


What on earth does a beekeeper do and why is it important for food security?

To make a complex story short:

  • Fruit-bearing plants cannot set their fruit without pollination.
  • A whopping 90% of flowering plants rely on animal assistance for pollination.
  • In South Africa, more than 50 crops rely on insects to form their fruit, and honey bees are by far the most important.
  • To meet the demand for pollinator bees in South African agriculture, it needs to be managed on a commercial scale. Enter the beekeepers.

What does the business of bees entail?

Managing hives and placing them in blossoming orchards when they are in peak condition, is the crux of a beekeeper’s job if they specialise in commercial pollination. Although older bees are replaced by younger ones continuously, hives as a unit need to remain healthy throughout the year.

The beekeeper moves the hives from place to place, depending on the season. They do regular inspections to ensure the colony stays healthy and builds up its strength as pollination season approaches.

Brendan Ashley Cooper from Cape Pollination Services says hives are usually placed near energy-dense foods shortly before pollination season starts. The abundance of food encourages the queen bee to lay eggs and the worker bees to strengthen the hive. Hives are then moved into flowering orchards where the food-gathering process has the crucial side effect of pollination.

The season lasts a couple of months as different fruit trees blossom at different times, and the bees are moved from one to the other.

After the insects have done their “job”, they are moved to areas near natural forage so the hive can survive the colder, more restful seasons.


Although honeybees in South Africa are not listed as “threatened”, they are under threat from pests and diseases, dwindling natural forage and pesticides and other pollutants.

And in case you were wondering

Yes, the white beekeeper suits are absolutely necessary!

When a beekeeper opens a hive for inspection, the bees instinctively respond by attacking what they perceive to be a threat. Despite smoke being used to dilute the pheromones with which bees communicate their distress signals to each other, the protective gear quite literally comes between human flesh and thousands of bee stings.

Read more:

Cape Pollination Services (special thanks to Brendan Ashley Cooper)
South African Bee Industry Association (www.sabio.org.za)
South African National Biodiversity Institute (www.sanbi.org)

Elana van der Watt
Elana van der Watt
Elana van der Watt is a freelance reporter with extensive experience in community journalism. She started her career as intern at the Worcester Standard and moved through the ranks to the editor’s position and digital editor of the Boland Media group. She has since gone solo.

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