Two beekeepers share the story of their hives
“I actually learnt that, without bees, we would die, as we wouldn’t have food.”
Apiculture, or simply beekeeping, has seen a surge in popularity in recent years locally, hence honey being sold at every street corner across the capital city is now commonplace.
Voice Woman speaks to ardent apiarists, Joy Dodd and Cheryl January, about the ancient art of beekeeping, which is born from a profound appreciation of these valuable supporters of life; bees pollinate a third of the food we consume, while also producing honey, an immortal food that ancient civilizations called ‘God’s medicine’ or ‘the food of the Gods’.
It is this appreciation for the tiny insects that emboldens these ladies to offer rescue operations across the city whenever there’s an emergency.
Middle-aged Dodd relocated from South Africa eight years ago. Besides keeping bees, she is also a caterer and a furniture maker.
“There’s nothing I can’t do. I love cooking, hence cater for small functions, and I adore animals; I own a big, fat-belly pig named Lucy, dogs, chickens, exotic birds and of course, bees. I had geese and quails; many people know me by my chickens. I also make furniture. Being South African, I always thought I knew everything but Botswana opened my eyes; it is safe here and the people are pleasant, down to earth, helpful and gracious. In my heart, I am a Motswana now,” says Dodd, and adds that she started beekeeping as a hobby at the beginning of the year after she happened upon a fascinating YouTube channel, ‘628DirtRooster Bees’.
True to form, after watching a few more videos, the industrious mother-of-two wasted no time adding beekeeping to her list of interests.
“I went ahead to watch more beekeepers’ videos and I was intrigued by how they do beekeeping. While I always knew bees are good for crops and plants, through the videos, I actually learnt that without bees, we would die, as we wouldn’t have food. They are a necessity. For close to six months, I watched and learnt, did further research, and decided I wanted to save these little gifts from God,” she explains, adding she never misses the opportunity to teach people about bees every time she responds to a call to rescue them as, generally, apiphobia (phobia of bees) is rife.
Not exactly a baseless fear as Dodd’s delightful hard workers can indeed be aggressive and even pose a threat to life, as some people are allergic to the sting.
“Yes, beekeeping can be dangerous, I take precautions. When I go out to relocate them, I always wear my bee suit. Bees are highly intelligent; they get to know their keeper, it is remarkable. They see me all day long. As they are able to distinguish flowers, they’re also able to distinguish the various boxes. It saddens me that people’s first reaction is usually to kill them. You’ll hear people say they pour boiling water over them, and that’s cruel; we need bees, if you’re scared of them, call someone to collect them away safely. Do not kill God’s creatures keeping us alive through pollination and honey production. The bees I saved were terribly wild but, through working with them, they got used to me. Now I can go into my beehive without a suit,” she says, but cautions those wishing to start beekeeping to invest in suits.
Not a cheap investment, Dodd quickly discovered four months ago when she started.
“I source my equipment from local Agric shops. I was dumbfounded by just how super expensive the stuff is – from a beehive to a bee suit, and all the receptacles. One can save up to P700 if they buy in South Africa. We need cheaper alternatives; perhaps more people should design beehives locally to support local beekeeping SMMEs or those, like me, keen to save bees,” she says.
And to save them, Dodd helps to translocate colonies across the city. “I receive a lot of calls for bee removals and, though I do not charge a fee, I ask for a donation if possible. The donation money goes straight back into the upkeep of the bees because, over the winter season, there’s not a lot of flowers that bloom for them to feed from, so they perish, thus I buy essential oils and sugar to feed them over the cold season. I also use the money to build the boxes myself, as they’re expensive. I’ve since learnt to construct them. I plan to relocate hives to farms that need them for pollination.”
A friend of the earth, Lentsweletau-based organic farmer and businesswoman, Cheryl January, started beekeeping at her farm a little over three years ago.
“I’ve always been passionate about nature and our natural habitat. Bees form a natural part of this ecosystem and play the most important role in terms of being pollinators and improving the quality of the food that we eat. I also believe in promoting beekeeping and support sustainable apicultural practices and help in the fight against killing our bees. I started officially in August 2020,” she says.
It is this zeal that saw January enroll in a beekeeper-training programme in South Africa. Three years on, she continues to learn about the behavior, adaptability and the general science behind beekeeping to help communities with rescue operations.
“There’s so much to learn about bees. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but rather someone who is growing into an avid beekeeper. It is highly recommended that aspiring beekeepers attend accredited training through a registered school or experienced trainer. I get called quite regularly for bee removals in homes, offices, schools, etc. Bees are very important to the environment, agriculture, and biodiversity, and contribute to food security. I live on a farm and, unsurprisingly, bees are happy in my surroundings as I grow various fruit trees, herbs, vegetables, as well as a flower garden. My beehives are located all over the farm, away from noise and disturbance,” she says, adding that because bees can be dangerous to work with, wearing the correct protective clothing is imperative, as well as working with bees at certain times during the day “when they are naturally calmer and settled within their hives”.
A typical day at January’s farm includes inspecting her apiary in the morning.
“I ensure my hives have not been disturbed by any animals overnight and I top-up their water founts. I usually work with my bees in the evening and maybe once a week I would check if they need any maintenance. Beehives need regular maintenance and management in order for you to benefit from them and for the bees to increase their colonies. So, you need to put in the time and effort for your project to be successful,” she says.
Recently, the quality of honey has come into question. January says, “Fake honey will be clear, smooth textured and will dissolve very easily in water while pure honey will fall to the bottom of a glass of water and either dissolve very slowly or not dissolve at all. It contains very little water, is opaque and cloudy.”
*Joy Dodd and Cheryl January are reachable on Facebook. [Cherylfarms@outlook.com 71325111]