Friday, February 22, 2013

To the Mountains: Kilembe

Our final training was in Kilembe, which is a town just a little ways up in the Rwenzori Mountains.  It was a copper mining town for a long time, now there is just the remains of rusting equipment and decaying buildings from the mining company.  But the Rwenzori mountains that surround it are beautiful.  There are massive granite peaks in the distance that remind me of Glacier National Park in Montana (but I don't remember so many banana trees growing in Montana.)  Some of the peaks are snow capped even now during the hottest months of the year here.  It felt good to get up into the mountains and escape the dusty hot weather of Kasese.

Our final venue was a sub-county government office.  The variety of different spaces we have taught in has been fun, always adapting to different spaces and making it into our classroom.  Kilembe was our best turnout yet, and again Simon and Jockus explained to me how far some of the participants had walked to join us, this made me feel thankful, and motivated me to really try to make it worth their walk.  By now Simon and I have the whole program down cold, so we moved through the sessions more efficiently and added much more anecdotal material.

At one point one of the farmers asked me about the effect of pyrethroids on bees.  I asked him if people were using the pesticide in the area. He said "no they're growing the flower pyrethrum as a cash crop."  I started asking more questions and it turned into a great side discussion, people told stories about seeing bees actually dead stuck to the plant.  I told them I honestly don't know the effects of the pyrethrum flower on the bees but I do know that pesticide can be deadly to the bees especially when it comes into contact with other pesticides and fungicides.  They told me about a white man who came to Kasese to encourage the farmers to grow it, he convinced them it was safe by actually eating the flower in front of them.  I asked them how much they got paid for the flower,  they said about 3,000 Ugandan Shillings per kg for it.  I didn't really want to influence them to much one way or the other on it, because I don't know all of the dynamics behind it so I just said, "you get 6,000 USh for a kg of honey, so if beekeeping is your business and you see bees dying on pyrethrum, I'd choose one  or the other."  I also encouraged them to consider cash crops that are good forage for the bees like coffee or Moringa Olefera.

The second day we did mostly practical sessions like all the other workshops.  We went up to an apiary along the dam above the town.  This apiary wasn't nearly as nice or big as the other apiaries we visited. It had one langstroth hive that was just occupied.  I told the owner it would be a good time to inspect to see how they were drawing out their comb, but he didn't seem comfortable opening it up with the group their so I didn't press the matter.  He had a few occupied fixed comb hives, both wooden and grass.  We peaked into one occupied grass hive and found again that the comb was running perpendicular to the entrance (I'm beginning to think that this is not as uncommon as everybody has been telling me.)  We saw that the hive had hardly any honey at all so we left it for the upcoming nectar flow.

We then went to a "top bar hive,"  I'm hesitant to call it such because it really wasn't being used like a top bar hive.  The bars were all different sizes, some way too big others way too small.  When I saw the top bars I said " oh man, we're going to find a mess in here!"  I started tapping the top bars from the back as I usually do listening to the pitch to see which ones have comb on them.  It seemed like most of the top bars were empty I started pulling out the top bars and found no comb and no bees, but there were plenty of bees coming in and out of the entrance.  Then I came to one top bar that had a screen fixed to it with a wooden frame surrounding it on all sides which was nailed into place and the bees had caked the entire screen in propolis.  The owner told me that it was a queen excluder, I told him that it was now a propolis trap and a bee excluder.  Because it was nailed into place we couldn't take it out,  but there was only about five top bars that the bees had on the entrance side.  I tried pulling out the first top bar, and found that three combs were running diagonally across it.  Every comb was loaded with brood and pollen, or honey, or both.

I told the owner if we didn't take out the queen excluder they would either swarm or abscond.  So we took out the three combs closest to it and he hacked at the excluder's wood with a panga knife to break it out.  Once we had it out, we tied the three combs to the best sized top bars measured with a bottle cap. and put them back straight. I told him to check back in two weeks to see if the bees were building comb on other bars and check the direction, I also told him to make some new top bars using the width of a bottle cap and start switching them with the mis-sized top bars.  When he comes back he will also cut away the rest of the cross comb, and tie it to correctly sized top bars.  After that we went back to a shady place and did honey and wax processing both theoretically and practically.

Simon had told me that he was from a area called Muhango in the middle of the mountains near Kilembe.  He had a beekeeping group their and his wife and kids were living there most of the time, but he stayed in Kasese most of the time.  Since it was friday he was going to be dropped along the road and walk up the mountain after the training.  I told him I would love to see his home.  So he invited me to come along and take a night there.  When we were finished with the training we loaded up Daniel's car with the beekeeping equipment and he dropped us off at the path up the mountain.

This was a very typical African mountain path, straight up the mountain, no switch backs at all.  When erosion washes away a section, they just dig out steps in the clay.  I did pretty well keeping up with Simon during the two hour hike, but I think he was taking it easy on me.  The veiw from the top was amazing looking west I could see the snow capped peaks of the tallest mountains of Rwenzori mountains, and the expansive plains to the east with Kasese sitting under a giant ominious storm cloud.  We took a few minutes to rest and take pictures.  Then we started the second half of the hike, which consisted of going up and down different hills.  Each hill seemed to have it's own little village at the top and trading centers were usually on bigger plateaus.  When your standing on one hill top you can hear the roosters crowing , and babies crying from the surrounding hilltops.  It was quite sureal, a feeling of being close to your neighbors because you can hear them but at the same time very far away because their was always a considerable gap in between.

At around 5pm we reached his home.  We found his wife cooking with their daughter, and his three year old son running around naked making motorcycle noises.  Simon took me around to different houses introducing me to all of his relatives.  Everybody was always amused with my attempts at Lukongho.  That night we had a feast that left me begging for mercy.  The first course was potatoes and sweet potatoes mixed with beans, which would have been good enough for me.  But then she came with a second course of chicken in sauce, that was to be eaten with Kalo a hard porridge of millet and cassava flour, that you dip in the chicken sauce.  They also had a bowl of spaghetti which surprised me.  I've never seen people in the village eating spaghetti. I was stuffed, but Simon insisted that I take a banana for desert.  After that I was ready for bed.

The next morning Simon's beekeeping group came to see me.  I was really happy to see that they were mostly women.  Simon and I gave them a little pep talk, to keep trying different things until they are comfortable in their hives and they get into a rhythm of keeping the hives and harvesting honey consistently.  We also encouraged them to find ways to make beekeeping cost effective for themselves.  Beekeeping doesn't have to be expensive.

Before we set off on the long hike back we had to check in on the groups apiary and simon's hives.  Again I found top bar hives with queen excluders nailed into them, but bees just propolizing them, but not passing through them.  I asked Simon about why people did that, and he told me about another foreigner who had come and told them they needed queen excluders to increase honey production.  I told him nobody needs queen excluders.  They work well in some systems, but they are clearly not working in this system.  He agreed, and explained that he had already ripped them out of his own hives.  I told him it doesn't hurt to try them in different hives but they should never be nailed into place, try using a movable queen excluder.

We also visited his Langstroth hive.  It was a mean hive! but very well maintained.  all of the combs were running as they should in between the wood  of the frames, with the crimped wire in between.  This was a different sort of langstroth hive then I have ever seen it was one box with enough length for 20 deep frames.  He put a movable queen excluder right in the middle, so the rear ten frames were for honey production.  I said "this is a queen excluder system that works!"  The colony looked very  healthy with lots of brood, and space to grow, and it even had a some surplus honey frames two weeks before the big nectar flow.  So we harvested two frames and packed up to head back down to Kasese.

1 comment:

cy said...

So wonderful to see you writing again about some of your most favorite things --- bees and Africa. I love thinking about you trekking across the mountains to share a meal with the family or debunking some foreign knowledge. I miss you here - but so happy you get to be back there in the warm heart of Africa.