Pollination with honeybees is not very big in South Africa. It is mainly done in the Western Cape province which is one of our main fruit producing provinces. Apples, pears etc. are very dependent on bee pollination, but hive stocking rate is usually so high that there is not much honey production from it. In the Free State province beekeepers move their hives to sunflower fields for pollination and they get good honey yields from that. In the warmer areas like KwaZulu-Natal province along the coast and the Mapumalanga Lowveld areas where subtropical fruit like mango, litchi and now also macadamia nuts are produced, there is always a demand for pollination services. We charge R500 (roughly 35US$)per hive for the macadamia pollination over the flowering period which is from middle August to end October. When the macadamias are irrigated, they produce lots of flowers and the bees can store roughly 10 – 15kg surplus honey per colony in the short period which they are there. The honey is dark, but has a very nice floral flavor.
Our main source of nectar is however Eucalyptus timber plantations which flowers from April to June/July. A strong colony can produce 30 – 50kg Eucalyptus honey per season, but we work on an average of 15 – 20 Kg per hive per season.
The country has the potential to produce enough honey to be able to export honey, but unfortunately we struggle with a very high crime rate and lawlessness in the country. There are a lot of reports of honey theft from beehives and sometimes even vandalizing and destroying whole hives. Apiary sites close to Eucalyptus plantations or other nectar sources which are secure are in bigger demand than the nectar sources themselves. Beekeepers have huge expenses and try all kinds of patents to try and secure their hives against theft, but there’s not really anything that can keep them out completely. We often keep hives on high roofs of sheds for security reasons – this is far from ideal as it puts the bees under heat stress and obviously it is very difficult moving hives and honey supers up and down ladders, but it is a bit more secure than any other option on ground level.
We have two sub-species or races of honeybees which are indigenous to the country: Apis mellifera Scutellata (or “African bee”) and Apis mellifera Capensis (or “Cape bee”). The Cape bee is generally confined to the western and southern Cape regions. The African bee covers the region to the north and inland of this. The African bee is an aggressive bee with a hardy strain and capable of producing large crops of honey. The Cape bee tends to be a more docile bee (although can also become aggressive when provoked. It has a unique characteristic in that the worker bees (females) have the ability to produce both male and female offspring and thus able to re-queen a colony which has become queenless. The downside of this characteristic is that it has the ability to parasitise scutellata colonies. Capensis laying workers invade and subsequently begin to lay their own eggs, challenging the scutellata queen’s ability to control the colony. The original colony becomes overtaken by Cape bees and will collapse.
We don’t get any help from the government although by law we have to register as a beekeeper with the Department of Agriculture even if you are only a hobbyist beekeeper. The law is not really enforced and many beekeepers don’t comply with it.
We have a national beekeeping organisation and provincial associations which are affiliated to it. It is called the South African Bee Industry Organisation (SABIO) - www.sabio.org.za SABIO organises an annual beekeeping conference – usually in July and the associations have their own info days, training sessions etc."
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