Beekeeping and the challenges that face the industry 

By Inge Lotter 4 September 2020

Part One:

  • The plight of the honeybee is a global concern. The agricultural sector is heavily reliant on bee pollination (some industries more so than others), impacting on crop quantity and quality i.e Blueberries that have virtually unmarketably small fruit without adequate pollination. As the sector expands to meet market demands (both national and global), it is progressively demanding more from managed bee services. It has been proven that both the quantity and quality of fruit set on Macadamia trees improve when the flowers are well pollinated. The main pollinator specie used on Macadamia orchards is honey bees.
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There is a misconception amongst both farmers and public alike about what beekeeping is about and how easy and lucrative the industry is to operate in. South Africa is not a bee forage friendly country and apiculturists are struggling to maintain the industry. (More about this in the upcoming instalment on Beekeeping and the challenges that face the industry part three). There is a real risk that there will not be enough healthy bee colonies to service the agricultural industry, in terms of pollination services, in the very near future, especially with the rapid increase of target orchards, especially Macadamia and Avocado.

This situation is compounded by the incredibly high rate of theft and vandalism experienced by virtually all large and commercial beekeepers, but also with the many smaller beekeepers. It is almost an industry norm for commercial beekeepers to have to absorb between 25 – 30% losses due to theft and vandalism. Although this industry is by no means the only one affected by this scourge, it has a serious knock-on effect for clients of beekeepers, the agricultural sector. Having those type of losses make providing enough swarms for pollination demands difficult and also affects the price that has to be charged for this service The estimated loss (in terms of equipment and existing honey harvest loss; swarm replacement value; and potential pollination and honey production earnings) is between R3500 – R4500 per hive. This is significantly higher than what most people realise.

Although much of the vandalism (where honey is stolen and hives damaged in the process) is performed by non-beekeepers for personal use and resale, the theft of hives is increasingly becoming a huge problem. This happens especially just before or during the pollination season which gives rise to the assumption that this is perpetrated by either other beekeepers of farmers that want to use these swarms to rent out for pollination services or for pollination of their own orchards.

Due to the scale of the problem, insurance of beehives are almost never an option due to high premiums if the insurance company is willing to provide cover. Several methods to limit theft are implemented such as cameras, tracking devices, concrete hives and steel cages but one can rarely protect all your sites and assets. The Department Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has implemented a registration system for all beekeepers whereby a permanent registration number is issued and registration is compulsory even if you only have one beehive. Currently registration has to be renewed every 24 months with updated details as stipulated by the Agricultural Pest Act 36 of 1983 and Control Measures Relating to Honey bees No. R1511, (https://www.sabio.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/R1511-of-2019-Beekeeping-Control-Measures.pdf) Each beehive belonging to the farmer or beekeeper is also required by law to be marked with the relevant registration number. This will enable beekeepers to be able to positively identify their property if stolen. At the same time the owner can be located if needed. It is strongly advised to brand or router the number onto the hive which makes removing it by thieves much harder as paint can just be sanded off. Should hives with an existing registration number be purchased, the new registration number should be added in addition to the old number and DARLLD notified of the purchase using the available registration form.

What can farmers especially those that rent hives for pollination, do to help? According to the above-mentioned Control Measures, hives are to be marked with the permanent registration number of the beekeeper and no unmarked hives should be allowed. Also: “(Clause 9) No person may utilise the services of a beekeeper for the purposes of carrying out any beekeeping activities unless the beekeeper is in possession of a valid registration certificate issued in terms of control measure 2 (1)

It is therefore imperative to obtain the registration certificate from the prospective pollination/beekeeping service provider and to ensure that the hives placed are all clearly marked with that registration number. Should that beekeeper have purchased or sub contracted hives marked with another number, proof of such purchase/sub contract rental should be at hand. If there is doubt, the validity of registration can be confirmed with DALRRD.

After speaking to several other beekeepers, members of the SABIO Board, inspectors of DALRRD and members of the SA Police, we request that farmers allow (or even request) spot inspections by the inspector of DALRRD accompanied by a SABIO Board Member and/or local commercial beekeeper (if available) on their property to ascertain that pollination service providers are registered and that no stolen bee hives are used. This will greatly assist the industry as a whole by making it harder for the criminal element to get away with the crime of hive theft.

Please contact Inge Lotter on 0828215011 or inge@thebeegerpicture.co.za or DALRRD on info@DALRRD.gov.za to book a spot inspection on your farm.

Beekeeping and the challenges that face the industry part one

By Inge Lotter 4 September 2020

The plight of the honeybee is a global concern. The agricultural sector is heavily reliant on bee pollination (some industries more so than others), impacting on crop quantity and quality i.e Blueberries that have virtually unmarketably small fruit without adequate pollination. As the sector expands to meet market demands (both national and global), it is progressively demanding more from managed bee services. It has been proven that both the quantity and quality of fruit set on Macadamia trees improve when the flowers are well pollinated. The main pollinator specie used on Macadamia orchards is honey bees.

There is a misconception amongst both farmers and public alike about what beekeeping is about and how easy and lucrative the industry is to operate in. South Africa is not a bee forage friendly country and apiculturists are struggling to maintain the industry. (More about this in the upcoming instalment on Beekeeping and the challenges that face the industry part three). There is a real risk that there will not be enough healthy bee colonies to service the agricultural industry, in terms of pollination services, in the very near future, especially with the rapid increase of target orchards, especially Macadamia and Avocado.

This situation is compounded by the incredibly high rate of theft and vandalism experienced by virtually all large and commercial beekeepers, but also with the many smaller beekeepers. It is almost an industry norm for commercial beekeepers to have to absorb between 25 – 30% losses due to theft and vandalism. Although this industry is by no means the only one affected by this scourge, it has a serious knock-on effect for clients of beekeepers, the agricultural sector. Having those type of losses make providing enough swarms for pollination demands difficult and also affects the price that has to be charged for this service The estimated loss (in terms of equipment and existing honey harvest loss; swarm replacement value; and potential pollination and honey production earnings) is between R3500 – R4500 per hive. This is significantly higher than what most people realise.

Although much of the vandalism (where honey is stolen and hives damaged in the process) is performed by non-beekeepers for personal use and resale, the theft of hives is increasingly becoming a huge problem. This happens especially just before or during the pollination season which gives rise to the assumption that this is perpetrated by either other beekeepers of farmers that want to use these swarms to rent out for pollination services or for pollination of their own orchards.

Due to the scale of the problem, insurance of beehives are almost never an option due to high premiums if the insurance company is willing to provide cover. Several methods to limit theft are implemented such as cameras, tracking devices, concrete hives and steel cages but one can rarely protect all your sites and assets. The Department Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) has implemented a registration system for all beekeepers whereby a permanent registration number is issued and registration is compulsory even if you only have one beehive. Currently registration has to be renewed every 24 months with updated details as stipulated by the Agricultural Pest Act 36 of 1983 and Control Measures Relating to Honey bees No. R1511, (https://www.sabio.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/R1511-of-2019-Beekeeping-Control-Measures.pdf) Each beehive belonging to the farmer or beekeeper is also required by law to be marked with the relevant registration number. This will enable beekeepers to be able to positively identify their property if stolen. At the same time the owner can be located if needed. It is strongly advised to brand or router the number onto the hive which makes removing it by thieves much harder as paint can just be sanded off. Should hives with an existing registration number be purchased, the new registration number should be added in addition to the old number and DARLLD notified of the purchase using the available registration form.

What can farmers especially those that rent hives for pollination, do to help? According to the above-mentioned Control Measures, hives are to be marked with the permanent registration number of the beekeeper and no unmarked hives should be allowed. Also: (Clause 9) No person may utilise the services of a beekeeper for the purposes of carrying out any beekeeping activities unless the beekeeper is in possession of a valid registration certificate issued in terms of control measure 2 (1)” It is therefore imperative to obtain the registration certificate from the prospective pollination/beekeeping service provider and to ensure that the hives placed are all clearly marked with that registration number. Should that beekeeper have purchased or sub contracted hives marked with another number, proof of such purchase/sub contract rental should be at hand. If there is doubt, the validity of registration can be confirmed with DALRRD.

After speaking to several other beekeepers, members of the SABIO Board, inspectors of DALRRD and members of the SA Police, we request that farmers allow (or even request) spot inspections by the inspector of DALRRD accompanied by a SABIO Board Member and/or local commercial beekeeper (if available) on their property to ascertain that pollination service providers are registered and that no stolen bee hives are used. This will greatly assist the industry as a whole by making it harder for the criminal element to get away with the crime of hive theft.

Please contact Inge Lotter on 0828215011 or inge@thebeegerpicture.co.za or DALRRD on info@DALRRD.gov.za to book a spot inspection on your farm.

Taking Care of your Frost-Damaged Trees – Dr. Theunis Smit

With the rapid expansion of the macadamia industry into sometimes more marginal areas, this year’s winter has proven to be rather challenging for most macadamia growers. Not only have growers reported a large number of small trees dying but there have also been some reports on the death of mature macadamia trees. Macadamias, being subtropical crops prefer frost free winters, but can withstand cooler (1-2°C) temperatures during winter months. That being said, the large-scale death of trees during this winter emphasizes the fact that temperatures were cooler than what most of us are accustomed to, and we can’t help wondering why and how our macadamia trees died. 

There are several ways in which frost can kill trees, but the most common of all is the freezing of water within plant tissues. When water freezes it expands and when this expanding water is kept in a confined space the vessel that usually holds this water tends to fail. We have all observed this when forgetting our beer in the freezer overnight and ending up with a mess the next morning.

It is this exact mechanism which causes the death of macadamia trees when exposed to freezing temperatures.One of the macadamia trees’ most well know responses to cold is the burn observed on soft growth during cold winter months. This burn is not usually observed on older flush seeing that older leaves will have significantly less water stored in them compared to younger leaves.

The more extreme consequence of frost is damage caused by the freezing of the tree bark. It is often referred to as the freezing of the stem, but this is highly unlikely as the stem contains a large amount of wood, with fine diameter vessels filled with water. The freezing temperatures required to freeze all the water inside the stem is something that will most likely never be observed in macadamia production areas. Nevertheless, when the bark freezes it will burst open and if the damage is extensive, the tree will most likely die. When trees have this type of frost damage, the trees will die within a couple of days or even weeks following the cold, mainly due to the fact that trees need their bark to move food from the roots to the leaves and the other way around. If the bark is damaged the transport of food ceases to take place and ultimately the tree dies of starvation.

So what do you do when your trees have been damaged by frost?
You have a few options when it comes to managing a frost affected field, of which the easiest and most obvious is to remove the affected trees and plant new trees. Unfortunately, most farmers don’t have the resources to do this and even if they had, the availability of good quality trees is limited. You therefore have a few other options, some of which work better than others depending on the extent of frost damage.

  1. Let the trees re-sprout
  • After damaged has occurred and the tree canopy has died, removed the dead part of the canopy and continue to cut back until you find fresh, green and moist wood.
  • If you have grafted trees, take care not to cut below the graph as these trees will then need to be re-grafted. If the graft has died, the trees can be cut back and after regrowth has taken place the trees can be re-grafted.
  • If you have cuttings, the tree can be cut back up to a point where fresh, green and moist wood is found and can be left to regrow without any need of grafting.

2. Seal wounds and promote root growth:

  • Where trees have only suffered a small amount of damage to the stem, carefully remove the damaged bark and seal the wound as soon as possible.
  • The trees can be sealed with a copper and PVA mix or with specialized sealants such as tree seal.
  • After sealing the wounds, trees can be drenched with kelp containing liquid fertilizers which should promote regrowth and alleviate stress on the damaged trees.

In conclusion, macadamia trees are susceptible to frost and care should be taken when planting in marginal areas as large-scale losses can occur during cold winter months. In general trees which have a small amount of leaf burn during winter should be perfectly fine and with a bit of pruning these trees will be back to normal within a few months. Trees that have extensive damage to the bark will most likely re-sprout from the base of the tree and will grow without any problems. Trees that have re-grown will, in most cases, need to be re-grafted if growers are expected to achieve reasonable yield in the year to come. Taking care or trees grafted in the field requires some skill and growers are advised to make use of a range of experts to guide them through this endeavor.

Irrigation and Water Management During Flowering

By Theunis Smit, White River

Macadamias, and many other fruit trees tend to flower in spring, a season which is characterized by moderate temperatures, varying degrees of wind and more often than not a significant lack in rainfall.  Not only is rain scarce during spring, it is also the driest part of the year considering that rain during winter is either limited or completely lacking. Fortunately, most farmers have some water available for irrigation, the real problem is, however, how to manage the limited amount of water that you have during this critical time?

Before answering the million-dollar question, we need to consider some biological traits of macadamias that will dictate how water should be managed. Firstly, and most importantly, macadamias have a shallow root system, with a large portion of the roots being in the top 30-40 cm of the soil. Secondly, research has shown that macadamias are very efficient at taking water from the soil when it is available. Lastly, macadamias and many other crops get stressed when they are over irrigated, mainly due to the lack of oxygen in the soil. 

That being considered, during flowering the tree and its environment requires more water than most of the other parts of the production cycle. So how do you manage irrigation during the flowering period, considering that we especially don’t want trees to stress during flowering?

  1. If water is available, provide the trees with one long cycle of irrigation to increase the overall soil moisture content – Use irrigation scheduling probes to make sure the soil profile is filled.
  2. Following the long irrigation cycle, irrigate short cycles of irrigation more frequently. For example, if the plan is to provide the trees with 400 liters of water during the week, it is better to apply 100 liters four times per week than applying 400 liters in one go – This is essential when considering that macadamias have an extensive, but shallow root system.
  3. Under no circumstances should irrigation be increased to unreasonable amounts (i.e. 50 – 60 mm per week) when it is hot and dry – During hot and dry conditions, trees will actually “shut down” and no water will be used by the tree. Unreasonable amounts of irrigation would therefore lead to wet soils and subsequently a reduced amount of oxygen in the soil which will undoubtably lead to stress. Furthermore, irrigating long cycles and applying large volumes of water during flowering will invariably lead to increased nutrient leaching, which will lead to reduced nutrient availability and reduced tree performance.

In summary, macadamia growers are advised to frequently irrigate trees during the flowering period and use irrigation scheduling tools to carefully monitor soil moisture content. Growers are also advised to invest in mulching material if water is limited, as the addition of the mulch will reduce soil evaporation and make the little bit of water that you have last a bit longer.

How a Barberton Farmer Caught Macadamia Thieves Red-Handed

How one Barberton farmer stalked a gang of nut thieves over three months until he caught them red-handed and made an arrest for theft – with cunning and a shotgun.

To protect his identity we will call this hero farmer “Tom” and refer to the arrested thief as “Jerry”. Tom farms a hundred plus hectares of macs in the Barberton valley, and despite all the usual security measures, he fell victim to the usual low-grade continuous, exasperating thievery that plagues so many farmers in the Lowveld. After all the hard work, care and expense of nurturing his orchards for a year, a well-organised gang of low-life, opportunistic thieves worked out his routines and started stealing bags of carefully dehusked, cured macadamia nuts-in-shell.

But this was no ordinary farmer… having served his country in one of the elite Para-Bat regiments, Tom was well versed in the art of tracking and had the patience of, well, a cat. Putting his well-honed skills to use, he spent three months carefully examining the spoor left by Jerry, installing secret cameras with night-vision technology in key locations and made sure not to disturb found bags of nuts that Jerry had hidden in the long grass around the borders of the farm. There was a lot of ground to cover by himself, so he had to strategise wisely. first he needed to know what Jerry’s pattern was, when he/they chose their moments to steal from him and how many there were. It turned out there were six of them and that they’d wait until a Sunday morning when Tom would go on one of his long mountain-bike rides. Then they would go in and steal the nuts and drop them at key locations on the farm’s borders for collection at night. Once Tom picked the six of them up with his secretly installed night-vision cameras and patiently learned their routine over several weeks, he devised his plan to track them while they stole on the Sunday morning and resolved to corner at least one who, he hoped, would give up the rest of the gang. And so it was, one Sunday morning that he confronted three of them point blank with the barrels of his shotgun: the first two dropped their bags and ran for their lives… he fired a warning shot into the air and shouted and the third to hit the deck or else, and there he handcuffed the thief with cable ties and called in assistance from Hi-Tech Security. A job well done, a gang disrupted, and nobody was killed.

Now the perp is in the hands of the law awaiting justice and he has already given up his friends and who he was stealing for. Unlike the carton, this time Tom actually caught Jerry.

How biochar helps improve your soil’s ecosystem

The Role of Biochar in the Soil:

The role of biochar in the soil is electron transfer and adhering to a coating of materials that help it capture and exchange nutrients. See this article explaining what co-composting does to biochar. Nearly all of the benefits of biochar in the soil come from the coating of decomposition products that adheres to its surface:

 

Carbon coating gives biochar its garden-greening power

https://phys.org/news/2017-10-carbon-coating-biochar-garden-greening-power.html

 

Organic coating on biochar explains its nutrient retention and stimulation of soil fertility

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-017-01123-0

 

In order to achieve this coating in the least time and with the greatest effect, mix biochar with compostable materials at a rate of about 10% by bulk volume. (It is very forgiving; anywhere from 10-50% yields beneficial results, but 10-15% seems to make the biochar go the furthest.) Then, let them go through the composting process together.

 

We do not recommend directly adding biochar to soil. Charcoal that has gone through high temperature processes tend to be aggressive adsorptive media, comparable to a charcoal filter. If you mix this with soil by itself, it will adsorb and cling onto nutrients and the substances that plants need, and the plants will not be able to get these substances off. When this happens, it can take up to two years for the soil to recover from the stunted growth and nutrient depletion. This is not a trivial effect, and many of the early papers that reported negative effects from the use of biochar were due to attempts at directly adding it to the soil.

 

However, when you mix biochar with compostable materials and let them decompose together, many benefits are obtained. Firstly, the odour is dramatically reduced. Ammonia odours (and therefore, ammonia emissions, which are harmful), in particular, are significantly reduced when biochar is mixed together with compostables. Secondly, the compost tends to compost quite hot when conductive (high temperature processed) biochar is part of the mix. At Gill Tract Farm, our main composting partner, they observed that adding biochar to the compost caused it to compost at nearly 68-70˚C for most of a month, whereas prior to the addition of biochar, the compost would rarely get hotter than 54˚C. The resulting compost was much more thoroughly decomposed, and seemed to retain far more fertilizer value. We now know why: co-composted biochar retains a tremendous amount of nitrates which are normally lost as leachate or as harmful emissions:

 

Plant growth improvement mediated by nitrate capture in co-composted biochar

https://www.nature.com/articles/srep11080

 

I’d like to share a couple of galleries of growing comparisons and growth results that our composting partners have observed with the use of biochar: 

 

LCN Biochar paired results

https://photos.app.goo.gl/KHxjxnZQkK9uvABK9

 

Biochar Effects
https://photos.app.goo.gl/jp3X9oyKvZbGownn6

 

Biochar not only is fantastic for soil fertility, but it also has two major climate benefits:

  1. the charcoal itself does not revert to CO2 without combustion. The gradual accumulation of biochar in soil amounts to reverse coal mining— the production of solid black carbon whose carbon was drawn from the air, and the interment of this carbon in the ground.
  2. When co-composted biochar is added to the soil, it triggers many additional effects which continue to draw down additional carbon in the form of increased soil biology. This effect is quite significant; there can be a 5-10x multiplication of the amount of carbon added to the soil over the subsequent decade due to biological carbon storage effects, especially increased soil fungi.

 

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