Setting up a community honey project

November 6, 2013

James Ballantyne of Rural Forest Development explains how a honey bee pilot project was set up at the Zintwala community forestry project in southern KwaZulu-Natal ...

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Part of Zintwala's 310ha of gumtrees (mostly E. grandis, E. dunnii and E. G x N) that provide the flowers for the bees.
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Lawrence Ntsizwana and James Ballantyne with the first honey harvested.

After some fires at the Zintwala plantation, caused mostly by youngsters trying to get honey from wild swarms of bees, myself, Themba Radebe and Lawrence Ntsizwana went to see a commercial bee-keeping business in Byrne near Richmond, to find out how to start a honey bee project.

We found out that the honey flow in the KZN Midlands takes place between April and July/August each year. We also found out that we should purchase hives from McGladdery's in Eston and make them up ourselves.

The catcher boxes were placed in the plantation at Zintwala, and three swarms were caught in 2011. These boxes were placed at Lawrence Ntsizwana's house near the Zintwala plantation.

One cannot collect honey from a swarm the year you catch it, so it was only in 2012 that the first honey was collected. We collected 19 frames, which produced a total of 19 bottles of honey.

The bottles were labelled and given away as gifts to various people who had done a lot in terms of the various forestry projects. These included members of RFM, Mabandla, Zintwala, Sihleza, advisors to projects and the Chiefs from the different projects.

This year, we purchased our own spinner and heating tanks, etc. A further two swarms were caught at Zintwala in 2012, so there are now five swarms. We collected 25 bottles of honey from the first robbing in June, and we look forward to many more bottles being produced in future.

Challenges and opportunities
One of the main challenges we faced was that Lawrence did not have enough time to rob the bees regularly (it should be done every two weeks during the honey flow season). This meant that the honey in the combs started crystallising, and so we didn't get out as much honey as we could have. The problem is that the honey season coincides with timber harvesting at Zintwala and that is where it is important for Lawrence to focus his attention.

Rob Winters, the commercial beekeeper from Byrne whom we visited, has 34 active hives and gets roughly 2 000 to 2 200 bottles per season. This is equivalent to 58 bottles of honey per hive in the season.

The way forward
A lot of interest has been generated from the honey collections. Lawrence Ntsizwana has had an initial meeting with eight members of the community who are interested in pursuing a honey project at Zintwala.

*Note
Zintwala Forestry project

Zintwala is a community forestry project situated in the Umzimkhulu area in the southern KZN Midlands, with 310 ha planted.

Lawrence Ntsizwana is the Manager of the Zintwala Development Company (Pty) Ltd and the Chairman of the Zintwala Community Trust. The Trust represents all the people living at Zintwala (the households who, in 2000, invested their Government grants in a forestry project). The Trust then 'lent' the money to the forestry project to establish the plantation and create jobs.

Rural Forest Management, headed up by Peter Nixon and Themba Radebe, has a contract with Zintwala to provide business management skills, mentorship and technical expertise to the forestry project. James Ballantyne assists the RFM team to support the Zintwala project, which is FSC-certified.

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Members of the Sihleza community, including iNkosi Nwadla, checking on the bees that have moved into the bee box inside the tractor tyre.
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Beehives are kept in a protected enclosure close to the plantation.
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The second hand spinner used to extract honey from the combs.

Published in August 2013

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