APPROPRIATE HIVE DESIGN FROM WEST AFRICA
SUSTAINABILITY IN SENEGAL - THE VAUTIER HIVE
Today in Senegal you can find a hive - the Vautier hive (called after its inventor) - which is simply designed, inexpensive, and adapted to African conditions. It allows a beekeeper to produce good quality honey without having to spend lots of money to build it. With the following information you should be able to build this hive yourself.
Beekeeping could be an important economic sector in Africa, and specifically in Senegal. Unfortunately, the lack of well-adapted techniques and a poorly organised support infrastructure often prevent beekeepers from making the income they wish for. Many projects have failed because the techniques are imported from Europe.
Hives in Senegal
Four main types of hives are used:
• The traditional hive
• Improved traditional hive - for example the Kenya top-bar hive
• Hives imported from Europe
• The modern local hive - the Vautier hive
These are made of materials such as straw or tree trunks and are hung in trees.
• The hives are not sturdy and allow moisture build-up on the inside which causes disease
• The bees can be attacked by pests, which often provoke absconding
• During honey harvesting smoke and fire are used. This destroys the colony and results in poor quality honey smelling of smoke and containing dead bees and wax
• The hives are not very productive: between 3 and 8 kg of honey per harvest
This frame hive is the most commonly used in Europe and the USA. It is like a two-storey house and can produce up to 30 kg of honey.
• It is difficult for an African farmer to manage. If the upper box (the super) is put on too early, the colony stops working. If it is put in place too late the queen does not have enough space, and the colony is likely to swarm
• This type of hive is expensive in Senegal (US$80-100)
• An expensive honey extractor is needed to separate the honey from the comb (a US$500 investment in Senegal!).
The Kenya top bar hive
• Beekeepers can harvest good quality honey without destroying the colony
• These hives are easy to make using simple materials: wood, straw or bamboo covered with clay.
• These hives are easily destroyed by bush fires
• The hives are light weight and therefore easily stolen
• If the hives are made out of wood they can be expensive to build.
The Vautier hive
This hive was designed to keep production costs low.
• Building materials (mostly cement) protect the hive from bad weather, bush fires and predators
• The hives are easy to build without an advanced knowledge of beekeeping.
• The heavy weight of the hives makes them safe from theft, which is common in Senegal.
How to build a Vautier hive
• 1/2-1/3 bag of cement, depending on the amount of sand. You can also make the hive from clay;
• New or scrap lumber, you can also use bamboo or branches
• A wooden mould that you build according to the size of hive you want.
You need to make two parts: the hive itself; and the frames. Strips of wax are attached to the frames.
The hive is twice as wide as it is high (50 x 25 cm). However, in order to place the frames in the hive, the interior dimensions are slightly modified to 46.5 x 23 cm (see the illustrations to make this clearer). Do not forget to make an entrance hole in the bottom of one side. We made a platform in front of the entrance. At the back of the hive make a 5 mm diameter ventilation hole.
This hive holds 22 frames which are designed in the most simple manner possible:
• A rigid upper cross piece or top-bar
• Two triangles.
The top-bar can be made easily from any piece of wood that is long enough and stiff (new or scrap wood, whole or split bamboo, good straight branches).
Cut the triangles carefully from a square (32 x 32 cm) or rectangular (32 x 25 cm) piece of wood. Glue the triangles under the top bar, making sure that all the frames are the same size.
The wax strips
To encourage the bees to use the frames properly, make and attach wax guides or foundation. The beekeeper can easily make these wax strips and attach them to the top-bar, centred and running the whole length of the top-bar, all the way to the edges of the triangles.
To make these strips, pour wax (which has been gently melted in a small teapot) on a soaped sheet of glass (60 x 30 cm). The result is a thin sheet of wax about 50 cm long, 10 cm wide and 1 cm thick. When it cools, you can easily remove the wax sheet from the glass. Using a straight edge cut several thin strips (15-20 mm wide). One by one cut the strips to fit and position them centred under the top-bars using mild pressure. Fix them in place using hot wax from the teapot on both sides of the strip.
The combination of frame and wax strip will permit the bees to build their comb in the right orientation:
• well-centred under the top-bars, thanks to the wax foundation attached to the centre of each bar;
• well-spaced from each other (32 mm) horizontally, thanks to the triangles;
• nicely parallel to, but separate from each other, movable and sturdy.
These simplified frames ensure perfect honeycomb that is easy to cut up. In this way honey extraction can be tidily done without an expensive extractor.
Managing the Vautier hive
The Vautier hive should be raised off the ground with rocks or tyres. Sometimes bees will directly inhabit the hive; sometimes the beekeeper must transfer them there (possibly using a bait hive placed high in the trees).
Management is simple. The bee colony will occupy the volume that it needs, leaving the other frames full of honey. At harvest time, open the hive, remove the frames that are full of honey, and replace them with new frames. Close the hive until the next harvest.
You can obtain 20-25 kg of honey per year. Within one year of use you can make a return on your investment because the materials for making the hive are simple and are easily found in rural areas.
This article has been adapted from the original article by Karamokho Sakho (National Beekeepers Union of Senegal) describing the hive invented by Mr Vautier.
First published in Baobab 27 (December 1998), and reproduced here with kind permission from RITA/ALIN, Casier Postal 3 Dakar-Fann, Senegal