Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Trying to attract bees to the rainforest hives in Cameroon

The chief of Ote, in Akwaya district, Cameroon came on a training course  held by Bees Abroad last year (2011) in Mamfe in the South West,  for beginner beekeepers.  He had already formed a group of 5 other men and invested in 5 KTB hives.  This constituted quite a large investment at around £15/hive plus smoker and suits, especially for a rural agricultural community, and even more so since they have to pay a further £20 to register as a beekeeping group.

After the training we went to look at the hives, travelling to Ote for the first time - the 53 mile journey took 7 hours of very difficult driving in a specially adapted 4x4 (see previous blog 'the road).  I thought at the time that the site was very shady and the hives quite close together tucked in under the trees but I was not an experienced  beekeeper and certainly not in the rainforest so I just took some photos and accepted the decision and agreement to the site by more experienced people with us.  At the time I merely spoke to the extension worker James, who we support, about the importance of getting bees in the chief's group's hives.

Our visit this year revealed no bees and a very despondent group.  The Forudef hives are less than a mile away in an open semi shaded forest area and of the 7 hives 4 have been colonised this year at different times while none of the 7 of the chief's group have even had any bees.  The group have therefore moved the hives a few yards away to a less shady place, near a stream with open forest and a variety of different trees.

the new apiary in a more open varied area of cultivated forest
under oil palm with cocoa nearby
There is an abundance of flying insects including bees and pollinators in the open forest though there seem to be more high up in the trees near the top of the canopy rather than lower down.  This seems to be where the flowers are at the moment.  However where the hives are, is near the oil palm and the flowers of these trees provide abundant forage when in flower and apparently are buzzing with diferent bees, though only for a short period of time.  Without these flowers the bees are off nearer to what flowers are present now.

We decided that the hives were in a similar site to the forudef hives and that they should be left once we had cleaned and baited them.  We went through the same proceedure as with the other hives of sterilising and cleaning them and baiting them with either lemon lure, propylis or simple bees wax.

At first only two members of the group came along.  This is because they are losing interest in beekeeping as they seem unable to attract bees and have seen only expenditure and no return so far.  We worked to light the fire and sterilise the hives and set to work rewaxing the top bars to make them attractive to the bees.

Ants were all over the hive

the ants had laid eggs in the hive and the men threw burning leaves in to
clear the antsbefore turning the hive upside down over the fire

One hive had a nest of ants which we killed and one had been gnawed by a mouse, referred to by the locals as a rat.

chatting and rubbing wax on the hive parts
After a while all but one of the group arrived and joined in the cleaning and preparing of the hives.  We talked about the problems as we worked. I suggested that trying to attract bees is much like trying to hunt.  A hunter will place his traps in the rainforest in one way and will change them around if not successful, visiting them every day until he catches his prey. He will constantly make sure the trap is in first class condition so that it is most likely to catch his prey. I made the analogy that the same approach should be taken with bees to try to give the men some encouragement that they need to persevere to attract bees, moving the hives if they do not get bees to try new sites until something suitable is found.  We emphasised the need to keep the hives 'bee ready' and baitted and clean if they are to hope to attract bees.

I also suggested forming a social bee keeping group.  If the men meet once a week or even once a fortnight, they can tidy up the hives together and move them if necessary and discuss the situation and options for improvement.  This would get them into the habit of tending the hives regurlarly.  I explained how my own bee keeping group meets monthly Derbyshire Beekepers association and after the business is over we have some food and there is a bar.  The men are very partial to palm wine (more about this later) so the idea seemed to appeal and the whole concept of a social meeting for a purpose such as this was completely new to them.  Maybe this will be the beginning of the Ote Village beeKeeping group.Finally they reassembled the hives but fitting the bars in again took some doing, revealing how variable the size of the top bars is - very different from our own machine made and standardised hives - in my own case thanks to Maisemore Apiaries, in Gloucestershire UK

We did wonder if placing traditional log hives higher in the trees might be a solution to the inability to attract bees, but we are trying to discourage this method as it is destructive to the colony when harvesting takes place.  However it may be something we suggest in the future if the current baiting etc does not work.  Also in some areas bees colonise when there are flowers but move off when they die off, quite different to our own ideas of bees taking up permanent residence.  This may happen down in the area of the oil palm where there is an abundance of flowers for just a short period when they will be buzzing with bees, but then the flowers appear high in the canopy and there are no bees near the ground.

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