Bees are essential for the pollination of many crops. However, vandals cause a lot of damage to hives. A Gauteng honey farmer has devised a clever plan to minimise damage.
Protecting bee hives is essential for both bees and farmers in this industry. Like other bee farmers, Mr Louis van Zyl of Mummy Honey outside Randfontein has often incurred losses due to vandalism, theft, veld fires and arson. Millions of bees perish as a result of this damage.
Louis and his brother, Edward, of Necta Honey, produce honey through the Mummy Necta Honey enterprise outside Randfontein, where they process and package their Necta and Mummy Honey products in a HACCP (SANS)- and Halaal-certified factory, one of only a handful in South Africa.
The Van Zyls also provide pollination services to a varied group of enterprises – from onion to fruit farmers – over a large part of South Africa. Their hives are thus located hundreds of kilometres apart and getting to all of their sites to maintain the hives on a regular basis is an extremely difficult task.
“It’s easy for people to steal several beehives at a time. This means you lose your wooden hives with honey, bees and everything. It’s is a huge loss,” says Louis. And theft is not the only problem. “People vandalise or burn the wooden hives. We also have to contend with veld fires that destroy our hives.”
A STOP TO VANDALISM AND THEFT
The plan he devised for protecting his beehives from theft and fire is called the ” bee bunker.” “It is a cement casing with the same internal dimensions as a wooden hive. The drawers in which the bees make the honeycombs fit in the cement hive in the same way.”
The bee bunker has a heavy-duty, tight-fitting concrete lid that has a special key locking mechanism. Louis doesn’t want to reveal the secret of the mechanism, but says it’s extremely difficult to access the honey without the right equipment.
The drawers are made of wood and wire, the same as is commonly used in a wooden hive.
“The bee bunker is also too heavy for one or even two men to carry away. It weighs about 200kg and where we place it, that’s where it stays. The concrete is also fireproof. Serious fires can still damage the bees and honey, but the bunker will not catch alight like a wooden hive,” says Louis. If the bee farmer wishes to move his swarms, he will have to catch the bees and move them in ordinary wooden containers.
Louis first experimented with different wall thicknesses. “We had to make sure the bee bunker was sturdy enough to withstand vandalism. The structure also had to be sturdy enough to be moved if a farmer needs to do so. We have worked out the best structure and are satisfied with the honey yield from our bee bunkers.”
He has 150 bee bunkers in operation. “Not one has yet been carried away or had any honey stolen from it.”
According to Louis there’s no difference between the yield from a wooden box or his bee bunker. “Bees are sensitive to temperature changes, but we have discovered that the concrete “hive” maintains a good temperature. Just like in a wooden hive, bees are able to regulate the heat in the concrete hive.”
WHAT BEES MEAN FOR FARMERS
Honeybees and other pollinating insects are vital for the successful cultivation of about 75% of all agricultural crops.
An estimated 87 known food products are dependent to varying degrees on pollinators. Among them are sunflowers, onions, canola, kiwifruit, watermelons, pumpkins, oranges, strawberries and avocados.
Habitat disturbance, diseases such as American foulbrood and the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals and pesticides are all a threat to bees and therefore also to the fruit and vegetable industry. Beehives that are damaged or stolen place an additional burden on the industry.
A healthy hive houses about 80 000 bees and can produce 16kg to 20kg of honey a year. Hives that are moved to accommodate nectar production, as in the fruit and vegetable industry, can produce up to 50kg of honey.
According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute (Sanbi), insect pollination in South Africa is worth about R10.3 billion. For crop producers, it would therefore be an economic disaster if honey bee populations suddenly experience a slump.
Often, a lack of communication about spraying programmes results in the accidental eradication of hundreds of beehives.
Mr Dirk Uys, marketing manager at Bayer CropScience, says the company is serious about the protection of bees. “We do a lot of research and product development to create safer products that can still protect crops from harmful insects. This includes seed treatment and solutions that are administered to the soil.
“We also want to improve communication between commercial fruit and vegetable farmers and bee farmers. This would benefit both industries. People do not realise how many vegetables, fruit and crops such as sunflowers and canola are dependent on bees. There is also a long list of crops that don’t depend exclusively on bees, but their yield improves when insects pollinate the blossoms,” says Dirk.
ENQUIRIES: Mr Louis van Zyl, cell 072 796 8334; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.