A smoker provides beekeepers with a source of cool smoke needed to calm the bees. The smoker consists of a fuel box containing smouldering fuel such as dried cow dung, hessian, maize cobs or cardboard, and has a bellows attached. The beekeeper puffs a little smoke near the entrance of the hive before it is opened and gently smokes the bees to move them from one part of the hive to another. Imported smokers are useful as prototypes, but smokers can be manufactured by village blacksmiths, which adds to local livelihoods.
FIGURE 27 Equipment for small-scale beekeeping should be made locally: a manufacturer of smokers in The Gambia.
Abroad-brimmed hat with a veil protects the head and neck from stings. Protective clothing gives beginner beekeepers confidence; more experienced beekeepers find that wearing too much protective clothing makes them hot and the bulk makes it difficult to work sufficiently gently with the bees. Some beekeepers merely put a plastic bag over each hand, secured at the wrist with a rubber band. Rubber bands also prevent bees from crawling up trouser legs or shirtsleeves. Imported clothing can provide useful prototypes, but beekeeping clothes - basically modified overalls - can be made locally, thus providing a useful stimulus for local industry.
Some bee species tend to close every gap and seal every joint in the hive with propolis. The hive tool is a handy piece of metal used to separate boxes, scrape off odd bits of beeswax and separate frame-ends from the supports. It is possible to use an old knife for this job, but knife blades tend to be too flexible and give insufficient leverage. Village blacksmiths can easily produce suitable implements.
Honey is harvested at the end of a flowering season. In traditional or top-bar hives, the beekeeper selects combs which contain ripe honey covered with a fine layer of white beeswax, usually those nearest the outside of the nest. Combs containing pollen or developing bees are left undisturbed. Honeycomb can be simply cut into pieces and sold for a premium price as fresh cut-comb honey. Alternatively, the honeycomb can be broken and strained through muslin or another form of filter to separate the honey from the beeswax. After the honey has been separated from the combs, the beeswax can be melted gently over water into a block. Honeycombs harvested by honey hunters can be processed in the same way.
Honey is obtained from frame hives by spinning the frames in a centrifugal extractor. The empty honeycombs are then returned to the hive. Because the combs are recycled, bees put effort into honey production rather than beeswax comb production. This explains why the beeswax yield from frame-hive beekeeping is low compared to traditional beekeeping methods.