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Apiculture (Bee Keeping)

Local names in Kenya (Nyuki) 



Honey is a very delicious and nutritious source of food. It can be consumed whole or mixed with other foods as supplement. Amongst some communities in Kenya, honey is mixed with simsim and groundnut paste; and Royal jelly and pollen are consumed for their high protein value.

The long relationship between humans and honey bees started with honey hunting in the wild. Honey hunting, an activity that is still being practiced by some communities to date, involves killing the bees in the wild colony so as to obtain combs containing honey and brood (larvae and pupae). This primitive method involves use of open fire to kill the bees, eventually destroying not only the colony but also the environment as bushes are set on fire in the process of harvesting honey. To reduce the hardship and unpredictability of harvesting from wild colonies, people found ways to increase their control over bees through the ownership and management of colonies kept in hives.

Beekeeping is the science and art of rearing bees for the purpose of getting honey and other bee products for both food and income. It is everybody’s concern to see that the rural communities generate sustainable incomes. Beekeeping offers one of the best options for the rural communities and commercial farmers because of its minimal requirements for land, labour and capital investment. The honeybee products can be marketed locally or abroad to get money, with or without value addition. Beekeeping also offers wider advantages such as pollination of agricultural crops and many other flowering plants; thus they promote nutritional food security and biodiversity protection. Bee products such as bee venom, honey and propolis are used for treatment of many conditions that include stomach upsets, diarrhea, vomiting, wounds, burns, cough, measles, false teeth, toothaches and fungal infections. It also helps to boost the immunity of people living with HIV/AIDS. In some African cultures honey is also used for beverage brewing, to pay dowry and occasionally served at important cultural ceremonies such as weddings.

Honey bees are social insects that live in colonies of 10,000 to 60,000 bees. A colony consists of a queen (fertile female), a few hundred drones (males) and thousands of workers (sterile females).

The Queen bee is a reproductive female. There is only one queen in the hive and her job is to lay eggs and produce queen substance (pheromones). Her pheromones or scents serve to control the other bees and harmonize the colony’s behaviour. The pheromone enables her to identify members of the colony, to inhibit ovary development in worker bees, to prevent the workers from building queen cells, to help a swarm or colony to move as a cohesive unit, and to attract drones during mating flights. The absence of the queen substance (e.g. when the queen dies) produces opposite responses, i.e. worker bees begin to develop ovaries and to build queen cells, and a swarm searching for accommodation will not cluster but will divide into smaller groups that cannot support the normal life of a bee colony. When a new queen starts life, she mates only once with drones outside the hive. A good queen then lays between 1,500 - 2,000 eggs per day but after two years she lays fewer eggs. She lives for three to five years. It is very difficult to find the queen but she can be recognized by her long and slender body and short wings. She is fed by the young workers and is bigger than the other occupants due to massive feeding especially with royal jelly.

The Drones are males and are bigger than the workers. They develop from unfertilized eggs and their major task is to mate with the queen. They look large and square, make loud buzzing noise when flying, are stingless and possess very large eyes which are used to spot the Queen during mating. They depend on the workers for food because their proboscis is short and cannot collect food for them. About 200 to 500 drones can be found in a hive but in time of food shortage, the workers chase them out of the hive to die. Their lifespan is usually not more than 2 months.

Most of the bees in the hive are workers- they are all sterile females. The worker bees’ change tasks according to age. Young worker bees clean the hive, feed both young and the Queen and make the beeswax combs. They control the temperature of the hive by flapping their wings and also guard the hive. Older workers scout for food and collect the pollen, nectar, water and propolis. They have a sting plus special glands and organs to help them to defend the colony against enemies. The workers are also responsible for the honey formation process. The lifespan of a worker bee is 7-8 weeks during the main flowering season when they work hard. They can live longer during dormant periods.

Each bee in the course of its life passes through 4 stage metamorphosis: Egg→ Larva→ Pupa→Adult. During the development stages, the eggs, larvae and pupae are known as brood. The queen lays the eggs. Whether an egg will develop into a queen, drone or worker depends on the type of cell it is laid in. The egg develops into larva, which looks like a white maggot. All larvae are fed on royal jelly for the first three days after which larvae for workers and drones are fed on pollen (bee bread) and honey put into the cell by the nurse bees (younger worker bees). The queen feeds on royal jelly throughout the life. The larvae are sealed with a wax capping in the comb after six days where they turn into pupae and later emerge as adult bees.

In western Kenya, honey production potential is enormous. However, this potential is not being exploited fully. The basic knowledge and skills needed to exploit the honey production potential is still lacking among the beekeeping farmers thus resulting to poor apiary performance, hive occupation rate, honey yield and quality.

This manual/document has been developed to provide information on the most important aspects of beekeeping with the hope that it will serve as a valuable guide for beginners and all those engaged in beekeeping practices.

Site selection
Selection of ideal site for an apiary is the first step to successful establishment and colonization of a bee hive. 

In selecting an Apiary site, the beekeeper must consider:

(i) Food (Forage)

Bees mostly forage for nectar and pollen within a radius of 3-5km from their hive. Select an area that provides a wide variety of flowering plants which support the foraging characteristics of bees.


Clean water is used by the bees for diluting food substances and to regulate hive temperature. Therefore, the beekeeper must consider that all bees will need to have access to water. This may be achieved by:

·         Selecting a site near a natural water source such as a river, lake, dam, pond, etc; or

·         Artificially providing a suitable source (eg water trough) on the outskirts of the apiary, away from the main flight paths to avoid fouling.


Convenient access to apiary site is essential. Easy movement of equipment in and out of the apiary ensures that your routine inspections will be productive. It is ideal to have vehicular access right up to the hives when necessary. Do not choose a site that entails climbing fences or crossing ditches to enter.

(iv)Public Safety

Bees establish regular ‘flight paths’ en route to adjacent forage. Enclosing an apiary with hedges or a trellis to lift them above head height is good practice. It is better if the apiary is away from areas where children play or any source of continual noise. Noise disturbs the bees and makes them defensive.

Avoid sites which border roads or public paths.


Damage to hives from thieves and vandals can occur, so hives need to be well guarded or unobtrusive. The best precaution is to place the hives out of sight of public roads. The area should be fenced from livestock that may kick over hives.


Hives need to be sheltered from the prevailing wind, so that foragers can land easily at the hive entrance and roofs are not blown off in gales. A strong wind can also chill the colony causing the loss of brood during the season. To prevent these things the apiary should be shielded by a hedge.

Avoid sites open to strong wind. Valley bottoms although sheltered from strong winds are often susceptible to frosts, flooding and damp air, all of which affect brood and can kill off the colony.

(vii)Size & Competition

There is a limit to the number of hives an apiary can support and this will depend on the food sources available and the competition for that food. Do not put a new apiary next to an existing one.


Consider whether the space available for apiary siting is suitable for the number of hives? Make measurements and a rough plan of the site to confirm that you will have sufficient space to stack the removed supers and covers without the beekeeper moving away from the hive.


Avoid areas subject to pollution sources such as intensive agriculture and industrialization or sites where volatile chemicals hazardous to bees are used.

 Avoid areas emanating high odours as honey in the hives may absorb these odours. Apiaries should therefore be protected from animals with high odours such as horses, pigs and male goats.

Choosing a good site to hang your hives is very important. In a hot area, your hives will need shade as well as water. In a cool area such as the highlands, only minimal shade is required or the bees will be cold and damp. Get a good balance between light and shade. A bright apiary without direct sunshine appears to be best.

Bee Keeping Equipments

Many different types of equipment are used in beekeeping industry right from the apiary through harvesting and processing to transporting and storage of hive products. 

Beekeeping equipment’s include the beehives, the harvesting gear, processing gear, storage and transportation facilities.

1. Bee hives

Beehives are hollow containers that are purposely made to house bees. They include:

  • Traditional hives with fixed combs e.g. log hives, woven basket hives, clay hives and Johnson hive.
  • Top bar hives with movable combs e.g. Kenya Top Bar (KTB) hives.
  • Modern frame hives with movable combs e.g. Langstroth.          

The Top bar hives and the Modern frame hives are improved hives. In recent years, Langstroth frame hives have been promoted as the most preferred hives.                                                 

                    KTBH (left) and Langstroth hive (right)

Frame hives have the potential to be better interms of higher yields and better quality honey if managed well.

Advantages of frame hives (e.g., Langstroth)

  • It has frames that make the combs very strong especially when transported.
  • The honey is extracted by centrifuge, returning wax to bees with potentially much greater honey yields.
  • The space of the hive can be added so easily by adding more supers. Additional space is important during honey flow. Supers can be removed when the honey flow is over to contract hive size.
  • Using a queen excluder between the bottom brood box and the honey supers means honey is separated completely from the brood and is of high quality.
  • Disadvantages of frame hives
  • Frame hives are more expensive to make as they require more spare parts such as frames, foundation starter sheets, and supers than traditional or top bar hives.
  • Frame hives need a centrifugal extractor to extract honey. Extractors are expensive to purchase. Beekeepers are often forced to cut honey from frames just as in top bar hives.

The Kenya Top Bar Hive (KTBH) is a good alternative option for many beekeepers. Its big advantage is its simplicity and low cost. You also get to produce beautiful comb honey for home consumption or for sale.

Catcher Box: The catcher box is a miniature hive used for catching swarms and transferring bees from one place to another. 

2.Bee harvesting gear 

a) Bee suit

The bee suit consists of the following items that give protection from stings:

  • Veil: for covering head and face
  • Overall: for covering the rest of the body
  • Gloves: for covering hands
  • Gumboots: for covering feet       


  Overall and head veil                Bee gloves 

b) Smoker

The smoker is used to generate smoke that is used to control bees and keep them from becoming aggressive when handled.

Bee smokers

Materials for smoking include Semi dry grass, Wood shavings, Coffee husks, Bean husks, dry cowdung, etc.

e) Hive tool set

Consists of a bee brush, hive opener and stainless steel knife:


   Bee brushes                    Hive openers                      Knife

The bee brush is used for brushing bees from combs when harvesting honey. The hive openers are used for lifting top bars. 

Apiary Establishment

Establish apiary by either hanging or placing beehives in the selected site. 

An ideal apiary site can house up to 20 hives depending on the availability of flowering trees in the area as bees forage within a radius of 3 -5 km from the apiary.

Hive Hanging/ Placement

Hang hives using strong greased galvanized wires to protect the bees from pests. Use trees or solid poles to hang the hive.        

KTBH hives hanging in the foreground and another on a stand in the background.

Hives which are not strong enough to hang can be placed on sturdy stands. Placing hives on stands makes them accessible and easy to harvest and manage. The stand should be sturdy and high enough for the hive to be at waist height. The legs of the stand must be fitted with rat guards and must be placed in cans of used engine oil to prevent pests such as rats, termites, ants getting into the hive.  

Alternatively hives can be put under a shelter or in a bee house. This can be a simple hut with holes in the walls for bees to get in and out.

             A locally constructed bee house 


           Inside view                                     Outside view

Advantages of bee houses:

• They provide shade for the hives in hot areas

• They provide protection for hives and bees from heavy rain and strong wind.

• Bee houses make it easy to keep bees on small farms or where there are few trees to shade and screen away bees from people and animals.

• The bee house can be locked, thus reducing theft. 

Whichever method is chosen, it is always important to remember to avoid long straight rows of hives to reduce drifting and disease transmission. 

Plant a good high hedge around the apiary using a shrub such as keiapple. As you wait for the fence to grow, you can use off-cuts—waste timber from sawmill—to make a fence. The hedge separates bees from people and animals, which is important as bees can be aggressive. 

Improving Colonization:

It often happens that bees do not automatically enter the hive(s) soon after the hive placement; or they may enter but after taking a long period of time.  There is therefore the need for the beekeeper to attract bees to the new empty hives. This can be achieved by:

  •  Keeping the hives clean and pest free – no dirt, spiders, cobwebs or insects.
  • Using bee attractants or baits such as beeswax, propolis and lemon grass (to wax the top bars for example).
  • Capturing a swarm of bees using bait hives and catcher boxes placed along the swarming routes of bees.                                 

A swarm of bees entering this hive though the roof.

  • Transferring bees from a wild nest or from a fixed comb hive to colonize the new hive.
  • Buying bees from reputable or approved farms (licensed in colony multiplication and queen rearing).
  • Dividing an existing colony.
  • To divide a colony, the beekeeper  must:-
  • Prepare new hive first – clean and rub it with some beeswax or propolis so that it smells familiar for the bees.
  • Choose a big healthy (overcrowded) colony to divide and check it has brood, eggs, pollen and honey.
  • Select a comb with queen cells, remove it from the hive and break all the queen cells except the biggest capped two. You need two just in case one gets damaged.
  • Transfer the comb with the 2 queen cells into the new hive.
  • Also transfer one or two other combs with a lot of sealed brood and a little unsealed brood. More brood means adult bees will emerge very quickly in the new hive.
  • Also transfer one or two combs of food comb with lots of sealed honey and pollen.
  • Include bees on all the combs you transfer and brush or shake in bees from 2 or 3 other combs as well.
  • Remember to put the brood combs in the middle and the honeycombs on either side to insulate the brood nest. The framing combs feed and help the bees to keep the brood warm. Where there is no honey, supplementary feeding can be done.
  • These bees will become a new colony. The old queen and most of the adult bees will remain in the old hive and continue to make honey.
  • The bees will look after the queen cells in the new colony and a new queen will hatch out. The first queen to hatch out will destroy the other queen cell.
  • Wait until dark then move the new hive to the required site.
  • If you observe bees collecting pollen after two weeks, this is an indication that a new queen has emerged in that hive.

Dividing colonies controls swarming and saves the beekeeper from losing the bees or the trouble of catching a swarm.

Avoid making divisions during the honey season because it will reduce the amount of honey to be produced.

Apiary Management

Good management of apiaries ensures maximum yields and quality bee products. 

Keep apiary clean:

  • Cut the grass short around the hives and trim branches that reach hives to prevent pests, e.g. ants, from crawling into hives.
  • Remove small stones, debris or any overgrowth of shrubs concealing hive entrances.
  • Remove old honeycombs and do not spill honey near the apiary. These will attract pests.
  • Grease wires holding hives to keep off crawling pests.
  • All tools/equipment must be cleaned and kept clean/sterile.

Restrict honeybee access to areas of toxic substances such as fields where chemicals were recently applied. This can be achieved by blocking all hive entrances with damp newspaper for 24 hours.

Supplement the bee’s source of nectar by cultivating certain plants around the apiary, e.g., bananas, sunflower, mangoes, citrus, coffee, eucalyptus, pawpaws, passion fruits, croton, acacia, bottlebrush, Calliandra, etc. Trees will also give shade to bees. 

Hive Inspection

When bees are making honey, inspect hives once a week by opening them up. This is important to ensure bees have enough space to store honey. With the KTBH hive, remove honey to make space; with the Langstroth hive, add an extra super.

  • Check how brood is developing at different stages.
  • Check cells are filled with honey and pollen.
  • Check whether Bees are gathering nectar, pollen or propolis.
  • Check for any pests, diseases or nuisances disturbing the bees.                  

                                   Hives inspection

At other times, inspect hives once every 2 weeks. The observations made will guide you on colony strength, prolificacy of the queen bee, food supply, pest and disease status. 

Check bottom boards periodically for the accumulation of fallen debris, which must be removed as these will encourage wax moth infestation. 

The brood nest is the center of the brood chamber and begins at the third comb from either side. Avoid frequent disruption of the brood nest as this will upset the harmony of the colony and set back colony activities for several hours. 

All overused combs (very dark black) must be replaced with new combs or comb foundation. Bee cells get smaller with each generation of bees and the queen bee will refuse to deposit eggs in blackened cells.

Combs filled with honey should be removed from the brood chamber to the honey super and be replaced with comb foundation. This allows for more work by the bees to build new combs and is a means of preventing swarming. 

Ensure bees have access to water near the apiary. This is important as lack of water can contribute to absconding in the dry season. 

Swarm management

- Remove brood frames from strong colony and provide to weak one

- Pinch off the queen cells during inspection

- Divide strong colonies into 2 or 3

- Trap and hive primary swarm.

Uniting bee colonies

- Bring colonies side by side by moving 30 cm/day

- Remove queen from week colony

- Keep a newspaper on top of brood chamber of queen -Right colony

- Make holes on the paper

- Keep queenless colony on top

- Close hive entrance (the smell of bees will mix)

- Unite bees to the brood chamber and make it one colony.

Honey flow season management

-Provide more space for honey storage by giving Comb Foundation Sheet or built combs.

- Confine queen to brood chamber using queen excluder.

- Prevent swarming

- Prior to honey flow, provide sugar syrup and build sufficient population.

- Divide strong colonies into 2-3 new colonies if colony multiplication is necessary.

- Use Queen rearing techniques to produce new queens for new colonies.

Management during dearth period

- Remove empty combs (and store in air tight container)

- Use dummy division board to confine bees to small area

- Unite weak colonies

- Provide pollen supplement/substitute. 

Rainy season management

- Avoid dampness in apiary site. Provide proper drainage.

- In rain when bees are confined to the hive, provide sugar syrup feeding. 

Record Keeping

Always keep records of activities and any observations worth recording. Records on each beehive must be carefully maintained and preserved.

Pests and Disease Management

Honey bees need to be cared for if they are to be productive. 





Wax Moth

A damaging pest of beeswax,

combs, comb honey and

collected pollen grains.

Maintain healthy colonies.

Keep the apiary clean and sanitized.

Constant hive inspection.

Wax moth Traps.



Feeds on honey and destroys the hives weakening colonies.

May cause bees to abscond.

Hang the hives with wires.

Fence the area.

Trap the Honey Badgers.

Small Ants/

Safari Ants

Feeds on Honey attracted to

the sugars.

Grease the poles and wires.

Spread ashes around posts.

Keep grass short and branches from touching hives


Destroy wooden posts

and hives.

Treat posts with anti

termite chemicals.

Grease the poles and wires.



Destructive pest of colonies.

Damages the combs.

Weakens the Brood.

Feeds on Bee pollen, honey,

brood eggs and dead bees.

Their excrement ferment honey making it unfit for consumption.

Avoid over-supering hives, which increases the area that the bees must patrol.

Maintain a clean apiary

to reduce attraction to


Avoid tossing combs onto the ground around hives, which may attract pests.

Hand pick and destroy if hive is infested.

Mice, Birds,


and Toads

Destroy the combs

Eat Large Number of worker bees

Keep apiary clean and baited.

Avoid landing boards on hive entrances.

Put rat guards on hive stands.


American Foul Brood (AFB) is the only serious disease of African honey bees. AFB is a bacterial disease that kills the brood. The colony gets weaker and weaker until it finally dies. Dark, sunken, perforated cappings and patchy brood are characteristic of AFB.    


     AFB symptoms                     AFB test

To test whether your colony has AFB, push a small stick into a cell and pull it out again. If it is ropy, this is a clear diagnostic indication of AFB disease. The disease is very infectious and there is no cure. g.

Bee pasturage/Bee forage.

Foraging refers to collection of nectar and pollen by bees. Plants that yield pollen and nectar are collectively called bee pasturage or bee forage.  

The source of forage for bees are the vegetation and therefore beekeepers have to be encouraged to plant or conserve and protect from destruction those plants that supply pollen and nectar. The very best honey is produced from the great diversity of indigenous forest trees.

Plants which are good source of nectar include: Tamarind, Neem, Eucalyptus, Moringa, Acacia spp, Croton spp, Grevillea,  Jacaranda, Keiapple, Bottle brush, Leucaena, Glyricidia, Avocado, Coffee, Guava, Cassava, Pumpkin, egg plants, Beans. 

Plants which are good source of pollen include: Maize, Sorghum, Millets, Sweet Potato, Tobacco, Coconut, Castor, Roses. 

Plants which are good source of Pollen and Nectar include: Banana, Mango, Citrus, Apple, Berries, Pear, Plum, Peach, Guava, Sunflower, Safflower. 

In planting bee forage trees, the farmer should select some plants that flower early and some that flower late in the season so bees have more food during dearth periods. This makes it very important that plenty of nectar bearing flowers are available for as long as possible during the year. This will help to reduce absconding. Some trees, like  Gliricidium sepium, provide out of season nectar which is very important for the bees during the dearth period. 

Ornamental and live fencing trees that produce nectar and pollen can be used to screen apiaries, making it easier to keep bees near the homestead. 

Handling Bees
African bees can be very aggressive and therefore need to be handled with utmost care. With frequent handling bees appear to become ‘used’ to being inspected and therefore less aggressive.

When Handling Bees:

  • Always dress properly using a bee suit.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol, using strong smelling soaps or sprays all of which aggravate the bees.
  • Always use a smoker. Smoke makes the bees suck honey from the combs and calms them down.
  • Always handle the bees in the evening. They are usually less aggressive in the cool of the evening.
  • Always work calm and with confidence even if the bees become aggressive. Avoid crushing the bees and making sudden movements.
  • Work the hives with two or more people at a time. One person can lift out the combs while the other uses the smoker. This allows better control of the bees.
  • Do not stand in front of the hive entrance when examining the hive. Bees flying in and out may become agitated to find their way blocked.
  • Onlookers should move away quietly if stung; No running about waving the arms as this can annoy the bees.
  • Remove bee stings from the skin using a hive tool or your nail to scrape off the sting. Trying to pull out the sting tends to squeeze in more venom. Use smoke to cover the scent of a sting. When a bee stings this scent will attract other bees to sting you again if you do not use smoke.
  • Close the hives on finishing the job. Take a route back home via bushes or tall maize sugarcane etc. Rub yourself against the leaves to rid yourself of bees which might be following or on you.

Sometimes the bees will build more than one comb on one top bar. Correct the situation by cutting and retying.     


Cut comb along shortest distance of incorrect attachment to separate the comb from the wrong top bar. Bend comb around and tie it to the correct top bar with string. The bees will reattach the comb to the top bar and remove the string.


Inspect the hive to identify the right window for harvesting and the wax capping that symbolizes the honey is ready for harvesting. 

Assemble the necessary tools for harvesting (i.e the beesuit, gloves, Smoker, hivetool, beebrush, bucket, Gumboots).

Honey is ready for harvest when the hive becomes heavy, smells of honey and bees may have become more aggressive and noisy than usual as they protect their stores. 

Regular inspections of the hives during the honey flow period will ensure that you harvest as soon as the honey is ready. 

Generally harvesting is related to the rains and harvesting should be done after the flowers have withered and fallen.

The ideal harvesting time is in the cool of dusk, just before dark. 

Harvesting Procedure:

  • Wear Protective Beekeeping Suits (safety gear).
  • You will need a smoker and a plastic bucket with lid (must be clean and dry) for storing the honey.
  • Smoke the entrance of the hive with about 8 to 10 puffs, then open the lid and smoke again. Leave the hive for a minute or two before opening the lid to allow the smoke to affect the bees. Smoke causes the bees to engorge themselves with honey making it difficult for them to bend to sting (they become too full!).
  • Tap the top bars with a hive tool. A hollow sound will indicate where there is no comb.
  • Remove a top bar from the hive which has no comb attached. This allows you to examine the rest of the bars in the hive. Honeycombs are usually at the end of the hive opposite the entrance. Select combs that are 3/4 or more sealed or capped full of honey (these combs are said to be ripe or have a low moisture content (<19%) which ensures that the honey will not ferment later when bottled.                          

                                   honey comb

  • For best honey, harvest the white sealed honey combs like the one shown above and leave the combs with brood and pollen for future production of honey.

It is important to know the difference between capped brood and capped honey. Capped brood is usually dark brown and capped honey is usually white or creamy in colour. 

When harvesting a comb:

1) Brush the bees gently from the comb using a bee brush. The harvested comb can be cut from the top bar and fall into the bucket.

2) Leave the combs with brood, pollen and some honey for the bees to eat to enable future production of honey.

3) Replace the lid of the bucket to prevent bees entering with the honey.

3) Return the top bar, minus the comb, to the hive.

4) Alternatively, place the whole comb and top bar (after brushing the bees off) in another empty hive or catcher box where it can be later taken away for comb honey. Fix a spare top bar in place of the one removed.

5) Smoking is a continuous process during harvesting time to control bees. Try and avoid smoking the honey too much because it may damage its flavour. 

After harvesting, replace the first bar and cover the hive with the lid.

Make a final smoke before you leave to keep the bees away from the harvester and to prevent them from following you all the way home.  Remember to move through a bushy area first to get rid of following bees. 

Two people are better than one when harvesting or carrying out any bee operations. Also two smokers in operation are better than one to make sure there is a continuous supply of smoke to subdue the bees.                                

Harvested honey placed in a clean bucket 

A good quality honey product has the following characteristics:

  • clean and clear - no dirt, dead bees, wax, dust, splinters of wood or ashes.
  • have a good taste. It should not be too smoky or have a fermented taste. Chemicals and insecticides can affect the smell and taste of honey.
  • have a good smell. Harvesting old dark combs and brood combs can affect the smell and colour of the honey. Over smoking the combs can also affect its smell.
  • have a good colour – this depends upon the nectar source and age of the combs. Usually dark honey has stronger flavour and light coloured honey a more delicate flavour. The Presence of pollen can make the honey appear muddy or cloudy but is in fact highly nutritious and good for the body.
  • ripe and have a low water content – moisture should not be greater than 19% or the honey is likely to ferment. Harvesting incompletely sealed combs can result in excessive water content in honey.
Honey Extraction

There are 3 methods of extracting honey, namely floating, pressing and centrifuging. 

Floating Method

This method requires a clean airtight container, a clean cloth or special honey sieve and an uncapping fork or knife.


  • Remove the wax capping from the combs using a knife to cut off the cappings.
  • Break the combs into smaller particles, and sieve them through a net or a nylon fabric into a plastic container. The sieving process can take a few days.
  • Cover the honey being sieved with a lid and keep away from bees in a dry room. 

A simple honey refining method for the small scale beekeeper 

Once the honey has drained through the cloth and settled at the bottom of the bucket (usually after 2 days or so), use a jug to pour it into honey jars for sale. 

For the wax remaining behind on the straining cloth squeeze out any remaining honey and process the left over wax. 

Extraction of Beeswax

Mix combs and water in a sufuria (a large aluminium pot) and heat. Wax melts at about 60 0C so there is no need to boil. Boiling damages the wax and can be dangerous. Overheated wax can burst into flames. Do not use iron, brass, zinc or copper containers for heating wax as it can discolour the finished product.

Pour the melted combs and water into an extraction bag made of cotton for sieving. Smear the sides of a second sufuria with soapy water to prevent the wax sticking to its sides. 

Filter the wax into the second sufuria. Use two sticks (such as two top bars) to squeeze the bag containing the melted combs to extract the wax. The yellow wax will come out along with water. The waste will remain in the filter bag. If the combs had contained bee brood

then these, by now cooked, can be fed to poultry.

After filtering, the wax separates from the water and floats on top.

Remove the wax after leaving it to cool in the sufuria for 12 hours.

Scrape dirt from the bottom of the wax cake when it has cooled.

Store wax blocks in a cool dry place far from pesticides/chemicals as they may be absorbed by the wax.

Pressing method

Pressing honey is more work, but takes less time. Different types of Honey Press exist.


  • Scrape open the combs, break them into pieces and tie them up in a clean porous cloth in the shape of a pillow case.
  • Knead the combs in the cloth and then press the honey through the cloth.
  • Twist out the cloth (you need two people for this, or one person and a fixed point).
  • Pour the honey through a clean cloth or sieve into a pot or maturing vessel and leave it to stand for a few days. Any remaining wax particles and pollen grains will float to the top and can be skimmed off. 

Centrifuging Method

The centrifugal honey extractor consists of a cylindrical container in which a cage made of a frame covered with strong wire mesh turns on an axle. The advantage of centrifuging is that you can extract the honey very quickly and that you can use the combs again.

Bee Products

Bees produce honey, beeswax, propolis and other products such as royal jelly, pollen, bee venom and bee brood. 


Honey mostly contains sugars (80-85%) that are easily absorbed by the body (good for young, old and sick). 

Honey is made from nectar which is a sugary secretion of flowers. Nectar contains 70-80% water. To make honey the bees add enzymes and drive off the water from nectar until the water content falls below 20% making the sugar concentration high enough to prevent fermentation by natural yeasts. 

Honey is a very good energy food - use it as a sweetener for food (cake, chapatti, bread etc.) and drink (try some in your tea!).

Honey has medicinal properties -Use it to help coughs, ulcers, wounds and sore throats.

Honey has a high market value– It is used to make local beer and is also a food preservative.

Honey is always in demand - It is a good source of cash. 


Beeswax is the substance bees use to make their combs. It is secreted by special wax glands on the abdomen (bottom) of worker bees.

Beeswax is used in cosmetics, soaps, preserving leather and wood, candles, ointments, batiks, shoe polish and foundation sheets for Langstroth hives. 


Propolis is a resin that bees collect from plants. It is black and sticky. Bees use it to cover the inside of the hive and fill in the cracks. It is an antibiotic and is used as a medicine.

If you chew propolis it tastes bitter, but it is good for the throat and the chest. 

Pollen is the powdery substance produced by the anther of flowers and is rich in protein. Pollen is the coloured substance seen on bee’s legs and stored in the combs. 

Royal jelly

Royal Jelly is a whitish fluid, secreted by the young bees and used to feed the queen bee in large amounts.

It is the rich nutrition in royal jelly that makes the queen fertile and strong. It contains vitamins and hormones for increasing fertility, which is why she can lay so many eggs over so many years. 

Royal jelly also has nutritional, energetic and metabolic advantages for humans. It is rich in proteins and all B vitamins and increases overall mental and physical well-being.

 It is also used as a dietary supplement and fertility stimulant. In skin preparation such as soap it is known to prevent wrinkles.

Bee venom

Bee venom is the poisonous, colorless liquid contained in the venom sac of the bee, used to sting predators or enemies. It is an anti-inflammatory and is used by humans to relieve pain. It is effective in treating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, neuralgia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and even multiple sclerosis. Bee venom therapy can also help with infertility problems.

Bee venom is widely used in creams, soaps, liniments and ointments. It may also come in capsule form.


Honey should be stored in clean glass jars, food grade plastic airtight buckets or plastic coated metal containers immediately after extraction. 

Do not expose honey to humid conditions, open liquid or high odour. Honey is hygroscopic and will absorb moisture from the air; and ferment during storage if the water content is too high (>19%).

Heating the honey will cause both the taste and smell of the honey to deteriorate. Heated honey is of an inferior quality as the enzymes are broken down. 


Pam Gregory (2010). Advanced beekeeping manual 2

Thomas Carroll (2006). A beginners guide to bee keeping in Kenya.

yatta –beekeepers- booklet.pdf: Beginner’s guide to beekeeping

lect03.pdf: apiary management.

Ministry of agriculture, animal industry and fisheries (Uganda) : National bee keeping training and extension manual, 2012