Whoa. It has been a long time since I've posted anything on here. Unfortunately I don't have much time for a full update, so I'm posting an article that I recently wrote about beekeeping for our technical exchange newsletter. Enjoy!
When approaching a beehive something in your most basic, animalistic biology tells you this isn’t good idea. Opening the lid, that voice gets louder, screaming at you to stop. It’s understandable. Bees can be dangerous. Yet even with thousands of bees around, a larger part of you, the part of you that collected bugs as a child takes over and thinks, “ Wow! This is awesome.” Somehow at that moment your fight or flight impulse disappears and all that’s left is clarity and an amazing job to do.
Yet two short years ago when applying for Peace Corps, beekeeping was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d never even been stung by a bee and couldn’t imagine any circumstance that would make opening a beehive appealing. Turns out you change your mind pretty quickly after six months of sitting at site doing nothing. Suddenly beekeeping didn’t sound like a ludicrous idea only done by people of questionable sanity. Now it was my project, my baby, and my reason for staying in Guinea.
At this point you might be thinking, “that’s all well and good for you, but why is beekeeping even important to PC Guinea?” To the skeptics out there: if your site has agriculture or any flowering plants bees play a key role in your community. Often unseen and under-appreciated bees make sure we get to enjoy mangoes, cashews, oranges, and countless other fruits and vegetables. As Einstein famously said, “If bees let the planet, man would have 3-5 years left.” Wow.
While bees naturally and plentifully exist in Guinea, few Guineans actually practice beekeeping. The majority of people who interact with bees do so either as honey hunters or beehavers. Honey hunters are folks who search out naturally occurring hives and take the honey. One step above honey hunting is beehaving—providing bees with a protective man-made structure where the colony can live but not doing any active hive management. These hives are made from a variety of materials including woven grass, hollow tree trunks, gourds, etc. Beehavers provide the bees protection as a means to facilitate future honey harvests.
While both practices are successful in harvesting honey, they can have detrimental impacts. During harvest, hives are traditionally subdued by lighting a smoky fire below the hive. This calms the bees somewhat, but when the harvest is complete and angry bees are swarming, the fire may be left burning while harvesters flee to safety. Unattended these can turn into devastatingly large brush fires. Traditional harvesting methods may collapse entire colonies by destroying brood comb/ killing the queen or lead to bees abandoning the hive.
So now I’m sure you want to know how PCV’s can get involved.
We can assist local honey hunters and beehavers in adapting their practices to become beekeepers. The main difference being that beekeepers possess enough understanding of bee biology and organization to work with and actively manage bees. Making the transition doesn’t require large financial investments, just training and practical application such as tweaking traditional hive designs to allow greater colony management and monitoring. For example, you might add top bars to a woven grass hive or make protective beekeeping suits from old rice sacks.
But even if getting down and dirty with bees isn’t your thing it’s still possible to work with local bee workers. Help increase honey quality and profitability by teaching local harvesters how to filter honey and recognize the differences between good and bad quality honey. If you’re feeling more ambitious, why not transform comb that would otherwise be thrown away into profit. It’s easy to purify wax and transform it into a variety of products including: candles, body butter, soap, or lip gloss. All are fun projects, great souvenirs to bring home, and possible to make with ingredients available at your local market.
Hopefully I’ve managed to convince a few of you that beekeeping would be an awesome project. If you want to learn more about bees pick up a copy of “Small-scale Beekeeping” (available at your regional house in both French and English) or feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns, or to get several GB’s of beekeeping materials. Be sure to apply to the upcoming beekeeping training, tentatively scheduled for June 16-20. Till next time, keep an eye on your local pollinators.