Thursday, March 21, 2013

The First Honey

Growing up my dad loved raising bees and after a very long break, he's just bought a hive. In South Africa, there are not specific ordinances against raising bees in the suburbs or the city, but if your neighbours complain then you'd likely have to get rid of them. So for a long time, my dad has longed to have bees but hasn't been able to because the house is surrounded by about 1-4m of garden, so there's no "corner" in which the bees would be away from the wall and away from the house. South Africa is also home to certain kinds of pretty aggressive kinds of bees, so there are real stakes involved in figuring out a safe place to keep the bees. The Cape honey bee is not as aggressive as other South African bees, so that makes it easier to keep bees in pretty tight quarters than, say, in Durban.

Inspired by the hives she read about on top of New York City skyscrapers, my mom suggested a small flat piece of corrugated iron roof above their bathroom. After some time searching for a place that would sell them their supplies, they found the Bee Foundation in Ndabeni/Pinelands. If you're interested in beekeeping in Cape Town, visit!! As a side note, at the shop there's also a perspex covered bee frame so you can show your kids (and yourself) the bees at work making honey, and it's a place where you can get waste-free unprocessed honey on tap if you bring your own container.

According to the Bee Foundation, beekeeping is a dying art in South Africa. So if you're here in South Africa and have even a tiny bit of space- a flat roof or any garden space, keeping bees certainly involves a learning curve, but can be done easily and well in a very small space.  The cost of a hive with a swarm is about R780, and if you add in the basic supplies, you can get started for less than R2000. With the short Cape winters, once you start getting honey, the cost will be quickly recovered. You can also build a hive yourself for much cheaper, there are a lot of different templates on the web.

After a couple of months with the bees, my dad did his first tentative robbing this past Tuesday, and it seemed to be an occasion worthy of documenting!

The honey is capped with wax. Although you generally don't take the wax that forms the honeycomb (it is a lot of work for the bees to make), you need to carefully slice off the wax that caps the ripe honey, in order for the honey to be released.
Once the thin layer of wax is removed, the honey is revealed.

To get it out, the honey is spun in a kind of centrifuge- basically a large bucket with a drill attachment and a place for the frames to rest while the honey is spun out.

It was exciting enough that Noah has been making honey out of everything in sight since Tuesday...

Once the honey is spun out of the comb, the extractor is tilted so the honey flows out of a hole in the bottom.

Beautiful, fresh honey!


Danny said...

So cool! Leah is getting into beekeeping too; we've got our hive (as yet unassembled) and the bees will be along once the weather warms up! Can we come to you for tips?

Concrete Gardener said...

I can ask my dad! He may not have the most typical beekeeper relationship- he likes to pick the bees and talk gently to them. But to the extent that he considers difficulties with the hive as a mutual learning between him and the bees, I am hoping to learn as much as I can from their keeping of bees.

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