Three types of bee hives are used in Ethiopia. Ninety-seven percent of the hives are traditional hives, long baskets built at no expense of cane and banana leaves. These hives are usually hung high in trees, but they are also attached to the outside walls of houses. Some traditional hives are placed inside houses under beds. Modern bee hives similar in design to the Langstroth bee hive comprise two percent of Ethiopia’s bees. The remaining one percent of Ethiopian bee hives is top bar hives, described as “transitional hives.” These simple boxes are also built from locally available materials at no expense. Transitional hives provide an economical method of managing honey bees that allows for the benefits of modern beekeeping: ease of hive inspection, ability to combine and divide colonies, move brood between hives, requeen, and improve genetics. Most importantly, transitional hives allow for the non-destructive harvesting of high quality honey. Beeswax is harvested by crushing honeycombs. Hive products are collected without killing or losing the honey bee colony. Today’s photo from Ethiopia shows one of Teshome’s transitional bee hives mounted in a tree. This top bar hive is covered in plastic and foliage as is the custom in Ethiopia. I recommended that Teshome consider removing the foliage to improve air circulation. Chalkbrood, a honey bee fungal infection, is a major hive problem in Ethiopia’s rainy season.
Many transitions are occurring on Ethiopian farms. Beekeepers earn additional income with transitional and modern bee hives. Using standardized sized hives, beekeepers can move combs from one hive to another. Teshome recognizes the benefits of improving queen bee genetics; he uses similar techniques in cattle breeding. He foresees the ability to produce gentler bees by selecting queen stock from his best hives. His farm is steadily transitioning to a broader based economy. Teshome eagerly traces the design of my hive tool so that he can have the local blacksmith produce tools for area beekeepers to take a more hands-on approach to beekeeping.