Friday, May 18, 2012

Nekemte Honey Harvest, May 16

While I was looking at Ebisa’s hives, I asked him if it would be possible to see them during the day so that I could take good pictures to share. He said that opening them in the day would make them very mad, and that they should be left alone. When I told him that I had gloves and veils for him to borrow, he relented and said that we could check the bees during the day, but only in the very early morning, when it was still cold and the sun was very low.

The next morning, I woke up at 6 and we drove to Ebisa’s house carrying my suit, smoker, gloves, and a donated veil and pair of gloves for him to use.

We began by lighting a smoker with coals and dry cow dung to make a heavy white smoke and suiting up. I helped Ebisa into his veil, as he had not used one like it before. Over it, he put his coat, zipping and buttoning it up as far as possible to seal it tight against the veil. He tied the cuffs of his pants and the bottom of his coat with strips of cloth, and I helped him put on his gloves and get them all the way up his arms.

Once he was in his suit, I jumped into mine and we walked over to one of his bee trees carrying a ladder. Setting it against the tree, he climbed up and passed down one of the hanging hives into my waiting arms. He moved quickly, but gently, so while he passed down the hive, only a few bees flew out to investigate. Once he climbed down and we put some smoke in the entrance, everything changed.

Bees in a tree; a sticky situation.
It works on so many levels.

Instantly, the hive started roaring. Magnified by the shape of the hive, it was loud enough to hear 10 feet away. He told me it was ready to open, so I pulled away the entrance as he loosened the wire that held it in place. The sound multiplied, and we set the hive on its end so that we could see inside. Fresh white comb, a sure sign that nectar was coming in, and enough honey to harvest!

The hive magnifies the sound of the bees.

It was only half full, but it was hugely loud.

Ebisa put his arm into the hive and started pulling out combs of honey, and some brood by accident. Normally, he does this without gloves. I can’t imagine how often he gets stung, even at night.

The bees did not like this.

Brood comb is often harvested along with the honey by accident.  It is unavoidable in the traditional style hives where you can't see the combs until you have torn them out.
As an aside, look how regular and straight the comb is.  It looks like it was built on foundation.

The honeycomb was tossed into a bucket and when it was full, we closed up the hive and carried it back to the tree to return to its regular home. From there, we moved to his bee shelter to take a look at one of his modern Zander-style hives. After smoking the entrance and waiting a minute, we pried off the top with our hive tools. These hives have no inner covers, so opening them immediately exposes the top bars of all the frames and sends up clouds of bees. They immediately started bouncing off our veils, trying to scare us away. It almost worked. We pulled out several frames to look at them and found good brood and fresh comb being filled with honey. The cells in the comb are all tiny; much, much smaller than even our small cell comb. I estimated that the average cell was maybe 4-4.5mm across, almost unbelievably smaller than the comb I am accustomed to seeing. The difference is great enough to see easily without measuring or comparing to a sample of large cell comb. Accordingly, the bees are much smaller. They are smaller than some of the flies we have in NYC, but they are incredibly fast.

Oh. And they can sting.

Fresh honey!

A frame from a modern-style Zander hive being filled with fresh comb and rich, dark honey.

After looking at a few combs, we smoked the bees down and gingerly replaced the outer cover. As we walked away, my foot caught the support leg holding the hive and almost knocked it to the ground, but I caught it just in time, and Ebisa put the leg back in place. The bees didn’t care for the jolt, and came out to let us know. Behind our veils and gloves, we had little to worry about, but the people in the nearby houses didn’t have protective gear on, so we walked into the bushes to lose the bees while we carried the bucket of honey.

Once we had minimized the number of bees following us, we ran to the house to weigh the honey. We brought the smoker inside to mask any stings and his daughter, Ababo (Flower), and his son, Kena (Gift), took turns smoking bees out the door and seemed to delight in doing it.

Ababo helping to chase the bees away.

Ripe honey, ready for harvesting.

A very unhappy honey bee.  Augustus Gloop's hymenopteran cousin.

He loaded the honey onto an old balance-style scale, and carefully weighed it at 4.5kgs of honey. When he extracts and filters it, he will sell it at market for 40-50 birr per kilo, or about $1 per pound. As his wife helped us wash our hands, he gave us each a piece of comb to eat and enjoy, and to me he gifted a kilogram of his reserved honey. It is so crystallized that it can be stored in a tied plastic grocery bag without leaking, but it is delicious. I’m looking forward to sharing it with my friends back home. The fresh honey we ate was dark and very rich. It reminded me of the dark amber fall honey we make in New York City.

4.5 kilos, a good harvest.

Kena is excited for fresh honey, and is not afraid of the bees.

Except when one gets too close.  Hileu, our driver, helped weigh the honey.

A tasty snack.

Desalegn, Kena, and Hileu enjoying the treat.

When we had finished enjoying the comb, we washed our hands again and headed back to the car, but not before I gave Ebisa the veil and gloves he had used as a thank you. Both were donated by the Walter T. Kelley Company, and I still have four more sets to share! His kids were really excited about them and they should make his beekeeping duties much more pleasant.

Ejigayhu, Ebisa's wife and Desalegn's sister, helped us to wash our hands.

Kena liked the veil, so I gave it to him.

Showing off goodies from the faranji.

Back in town, we had a quick breakfast, moved to a newer hotel (with internet!) and went back to the lecture hall to work with the trainees for a few hours. I ended up having most of the day off as a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture had prepared a talk about the history of apiculture in Ethiopia, and differing practices in the various regions of the country. I was disappointed that I could not understand it, and Desalegn suggested that I take the afternoon off.

A small sting through my gloves.  I didn't notice until breakfast.

Hileu, Desalegn and Ebisa taking some breakfast.  Injera with every meal.

My feet were muddy, so I covered them with bags until they dried and I could clean them.

Local farmers, beekeepers, and government trainers enjoying some tea and cake.

Many people at the conference knew a good amount of English; we talked about bees, culture, and the differences between American and Ethiopian management practices.
Oh, and girls.  They all wanted to know if I was married.

Learning about the history of regional apiculture in Ethiopia.
In Amharic.

I found a katydid!  According to Leviticus, I could eat this!
I didn't.

As it turns out, I needed the break. As soon as I got off my feet, I realized I was exhausted and spent the rest of the day lounging in my room as thunderstorms passed overhead and soaked the city.

Storm's a'comin', Pa.

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