Caring for honeybees and striving to help honeybee colonies remain alive/productive are great challenges for beekeepers. Because they are working with living organisms, and the colony itself, beekeepers often face challenges and issues that only time, experience and education can help.
We address all of these issues in our bee projects by providing locally adapted species to families and training/monitoring activities to support beekeepers as they get started and grow their hives. Some of our farming families and groups begin their project with existing experience and assets and some families have already constructed beehives so we simply supply bees. Where necessary, additional bee equipment is provided.
Where does Heifer obtain its bees?
In Africa, we utilize wild African bees that normally make their homes in trees or hollow spaces. When a beehive grows too large, the queen bee leaves the colony with a large group of worker bees, a process called swarming. When these bees start swarming, they will find our hives waiting with some wax to attract them. Project groups construct hives from local materials to house the bees, rent honey extraction equipment from local extensionists (or beekeepers) and use clothes, veils and tools provided to the group. As the project grows, local industry or businesses begin producing tools, clothes, veils, equipment and even smokers and hives as a business venture.
In the United States and Europe, we use mostly the Langstroth hive with removable frames. In other bee-producing countries, we usually use top bar hives.
How does Heifer help protect bees from disease?
We provide bees known to thrive in the local region. Occasionally we help a group import an Italian queen. If we import bees, we make sure that they have all of the appropriate certifications. To do this, we work closely with the host country's government extension workers for technical support.
We also train and depend on local technicians who primarily use hygiene and fumigation to control mites and other common insects. They also learn how to spot signs of disease in the colonies. Farmers are encouraged to report those signs to the nearest agricultural extension worker to start addressing the problem.
In the past 20 years, the United States has witnessed an unprecedented decline in honeybees. Beekeepers have been challenged by previously unheard of problems: the varroa mite, the tracheal mite, the small hive beetle and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). This has led to changes in the common practices of beekeeping and beekeepers have adjusted their best practices to avoid losing their colonies.
The additional attention from the media and the general public around CCD has led to a heightened awareness of the importance of honeybees in food production and many potential small-scale beekeepers are stepping forward.
Additional studies are being conducted by the scientific community to determine the cause and potential cures for CCD. We help communities by ensuring they have continued access to the latest research results and by providing training that allows them to adapt their hive management strategies. Wherever possible, we also link beekeepers to markets that enable farmers to sell their honey and other bee products.
How do project partners use bees?
Honeybees are crucial to the production of fruits and vegetables. They are responsible for the pollination of approximately one-third of the United States' crop species, including almonds, peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, and strawberries- important crops that none of us want to lose. Recent estimates on the value of crops relying primarily on honeybees for pollination are around $15 billion.
Families use bees in various ways:
o Pollination of flowering trees and plants
o Honey, pollen and wax production
o Rental of bee boxes for pollinating crops
Honeybees are of great benefit to project partners and all of us who love fruits and vegetables. A package of Heifer bees and a hive gives families better crops, candle wax, pollen for medicine and honey to eat/sell.