Beekeeping does not require complex or expensive equipment. In resource poor communities, beekeepers will not have the financial means to purchase imported equipment and are advised, wherever possible, to use locally made equipment or make their own. When buying equipment beekeepers should be very clear about why they need the equipment and how it will help them. The choice of equipment rests on two essential considerations:
- Will be it be cost effective in economic terms?
Does it work under the local circumstances?
There are many different styles and types of bee hive which can be broadly categorised as fixed comb hives, top-bar hives and frame hives. See the section on bee hives for more information. Each type of bee hive will come with a set of advantages and disadvantages. Beekeepers need to understand these so they can make an appropriate selection. Considerations include cost-effectiveness, initial financial outlay and whether the management style associated with the hive type matches the skills, lifestyle and approach of the beekeeper. Always remember bee hives are designed for the benefit of the beekeeper, the bees are happy in any dry, safe and enclosed space.
Protective clothing and smokers
Most people find bee stings unpleasant, if not frightening, so protective clothing and smokers can help a beekeeper to feel more confident when handling bees. With a little tailoring skill, it is possible to make protective clothing from simple materials. This will not compensate for poor bee handling so beekeepers also need to know how to handle bees safely. Smokers are very important and of all the equipment needed, it is worth prioritising a good smoker. It is possible for a group who live close to each other to share a smoker as not everyone will need to use this piece of equipment at the same time.
Other essential equipment
One of the most essential items of beekeeping equipment is buckets. Buckets - for both honey harvesting and storage are simple but essential. It is surprising how often a beekeeper is limited in their activity by not having enough honey buckets. It is important that the honey buckets are strong, of good quality plastic and have a close fitting lid. This is essential when harvesting to keep out the bees and then later to keep pests and damp air out of the stored honey. Honey is hygroscopic, which means it soaks up moisture from the atmosphere. This causes the moisture level in the honey to rise and the honey will not keep well. Highly coloured and cheap plastic buckets are not suitable for long term storage. The acidity of the honey can leach the colouration out of the plastic buckets and into the honey which will contaminate and spoil it. It is helpful if the buckets have open lids. This is because, over time, the honey will granulate.The open lid will allow the beekeeper or the consolidator to melt and scrape all the honey out of the bucket. Many beekeepers keep their honey in jerry cans. These are not ideal for two reasons.
- The first is that when the honey granulates it cannot easily be removed from the jerry can. A lot more heat is needed to melt the honey and it cannot be stirred to distribute the heat so the honey will be less nutritious and less valuable.
- The second is that if other things are stored in jerry cans they are not so easy to clean well and the honey can be contaminated. Even things like water and cooking oil, although they are not poisonous, can still spoil honey. The water will encourage the honey to ferment and the cooking oil will contaminate the honey and spoil its purity.
Where poor quality honey storage is a problem for individual beekeeepers, projects and packers may be able to work out a bucket exchange scheme that helps all producers to access the best storage equipment. The traceability offered by certain models of bucket exhange schemes can help to form the basis of the traceability that is needed to meet some requirements for cetain export schemes.
Honey buyers and packers will find a refractometer useful. This measures the water content of honey and enables buyers to purchase only honey that is ripe. The range of other equipment available can be both bewildering and expensive. Consider carefully if it is really necessary or if the money could be better spent on simpler things that have real value to the beekeepers in the field. Usually only simple equipment is needed until a sufficiently large scale has been reached (measured in tonnes rather than kilos). Regulators need to be aware that it is easy to stifle entrepreneurship by being too rigid and trying to standardise businesses too quickly. Honey is a food so it must be handled hygienically but this requires care and sensible procedures and does not depend on sophisticated equipment.
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