Economically and Environmentally Sustainable Beekeeping – Keeping Bees Healthy Naturally in Affordable Top Bar Hives
Our USAID-funded Farmer-to-Farmer Project, administered by Partners of the Americas, is helping to make Jamaican beekeeping more economically and environmentally sustainable.
Experienced bee researchers, natural and top bar beekeepers and other bee experts come to teach beekeepers from around the island the skills and information we need to keep our bees healthy in affordable top bar hives.
In Jamaica, beekeeping is an excellent sideline or main income producer. However, for beekeeping to reach its potential, on both an individual and an industry level, it must be sustainable environmentally, economically and logistically.
The goal of the Jamaica Farmer to Farmer Sustainable Beekeeping Project is to give novice and professional beekeepers around the island the skills and the information they need to:
- keep their bees healthy naturally;
- successfully use beekeeping methods that are simple, accessible and affordable;
- increase their production and profit by maximizing the potential of all products from their hives; and
- improve and strengthen the business aspect of their operations.
The Project also aims to strengthen the island’s parish bee farmer associations so that they are able to give their members the support they need.
In response to the global threat of Colony Collapse Disorder, the Jamaican Government has banned the import of all bee products. This has had both a positive, protective effect and a negative effect on the island’s apiculture industry. Because there is no competition from imported bee products such as honey or beeswax, Jamaican bee farmers have no problem finding a local market for their products, which are sold at high prices. There has also been no real sign of Colony Collapse Disorder on the island, so the goal of the ban has been accomplished.
Jamaican bee farmers use the conventional, Langstroth method of beekeeping, which consumes wax, but does not produce wax in great quantity. Because the ban makes cheap and vast quantities of imported wax unavailable, the local industry has to rely on what is produced locally to fuel the growth of the industry. Unless there is a change in the methods used to produce wax locally, this is not possible.
Top Bar Hives and Sustainable Beekeeping Approach
Sustainable beekeeping, including the use of the top-bar hive method, offers many advantages to the Jamaican bee farmer. Bee farmers around the world, including many hundreds in America alone, have proven that it is possible to keep bees healthy naturally, without treatments. It is entirely possible to do natural beekeeping in Langstroth hives. In fact, that information is important in Jamaica, as bee farmers need to know how to improve the use of the boxes they already have. Langstroth beekeepers who are planning expansion of their apiaries or who would like to produce wax to support their Langstroth apiaries are interested in top bar hives. New beekeepers benefit from learning a simple and affordable method from the start of their career in beekeeping.
Top bar hives address the need for beekeeping to be sustainable environmentally (for the health and well-being of the environment, the bees, the beekeepers and the consumers), economically (by using affordable hives and equipment and by making full use of all of the products of the hive) and also logistically (by not requiring repeat heavy lifting or storage of framed combs and supers during the dearth season).
The top bar hive method offers:
- A source of abundant wax;
- No heavy lifting of boxes;
- Ease of inspection results in minimal disturbance to bees and less stress for the beekeeper;
- An affordable way to keep bees, with simple hives costing less money to build. Top bar hives are easy to build at home with common and inexpensive tools;
- Easy culling of old comb, reducing disease such as American Foulbrood;
- Cell size built according to the colony’s need, which is healthier for bees, minimizing the need for treatment;
- Minimal storage requirements; and
- A simple system that is easy to learn and practice.
Top bar hives are affordable hives: a beekeeper can basically get three top bar hives for the cost of one Langstroth hive with the same amount of volume.
Since July 2012, Farmer-to-Farmer volunteers have presented workshops to help beekeeping be more sustainable both economically and environmentally, including workshops like Top Bar Hive Management, Treatment Free Beekeeping, Build Your Own Top Bar Hive, Build Your Own Pollen Trap, Queen Breeding and Rearing, Record Keeping and Value Added Products (Making Hand-Dipped Candles, Making Salves and Balms, Working with Propolis, and Making Mead).
As of January 2015, over 1,800 workshop attendees have learned from our trainers (this represents over 1,000 individuals, some of whom have attended more than one training). We are very excited about the potential of this project and the impact it has had and will have on the beekeeping industry in Jamaica. We all want to succeed as beekeepers, to be able to better provide for our families and for our bees. Much thanks to Partners of the Americas and to Farmer-to-Farmer for the investment that they have given us and the faith that they have in us. And to our volunteer trainers: we owe everything to your amazingly generous gift of time, energy and knowledge. Thank you so much for all of the help that you have given us!
For more information about our trainers, please just click on their picture below and enjoy reading their website. To read Farmer-to-Farmer blog postings about our volunteers’ assignments, please click here.