Bees are social insects which live in organised communities. They live in colonies usually of between 10,000-60,000 insects. A colony is divided into three different functional castes – queen, workers and drones.

The drones are male bees while the queen and the workers are female bees. The largest population of the colony is the worker, normally numbering in the hundreds of thousands in an established colony.

Many tasks are performed by workers which are necessary for the colonies survival. These duties occur relative to the bee’s age. Workers constantly remove the waste from the hive and keep it extremely sterile

Visually the queen is very similar to the worker. Somewhere around her third day of life, she leaves the colony to mate with as many as 10 or 12 drones. The mating takes place “in flight” and the drones, who leave their sex organs inside of the queen, die shortly afterwards.

The newly mated queen returns home and begins laying eggs at a rate of 1500 to 2500 eggs a day for a period of up to 5 years. The typical colony has only a few hundred Drones. They are not productive to the colonies survival and are only kept for mating purposes. Drones  are stingless, fat and hairy and nearly twice the size of the workers.

A keen beekeeper needs to learn and recognise these different castes for proper colony management. Honeybees divide work among themselves.  Young worker bees nurse the colony; do the cleaning, sweep out any foreign material and dead bees.  Older workers go out to forage for food while the drone bees have a sole responsibility of mating the queen. The queen lays eggs and controls the entire colony.

Farmers interested in venturing into beekeeping industry needs to know the various costs and production levels of the different hive types.

The following are cost benefit analysis for different hives.


  • An economic unit comprises of at least 20 hives
  • Occupation rate will be 80 percent through out the projects lifespan
  • The farmer is knowledgeable about beekeeping and will manage the colonies well.
  • Life span of the equipment will be 10 years.
  • Price changes for hive products will be insignificant over the 10 years.
  • The analysis is based on a fixed cost depreciation


  • There are many types of hives that have been used in beekeeping.
  • Among the modern hives is what is generally referred to as movable top bar hives.
  • Bees construct their combs on pieces of wood in the hive referred to as top bars.
  • The top bars can be easily moved and hence the hive is easy to manipulate.
  • In this class we have Langstroth hive, box hives, modified basket hives and our own Kenya Top Bar Hive (K.T.B.H).

The Kenya Top Bar Hive

  • The K.T.B.H has got 26 top bars each being 3.2 cm wide and 48.3cm long.
  • Each bar has a tongue that is waxed using beeswax to guide the bees in the construction of their combs.
  • The width of 3.2cm is in conformity with the space that bees leave between any two combs in their natural habitat (Caves, tree trucks and holes) and is referred to as beespace.

The 26 top bars ensure that the hive is not too big as to cause death through choking (cold) or too small to result in suffocation.

Advantages of Top Bar Hives

  • There is an increase in the number of products that can be derived from the Top bar   hives.
  • Be able to get pollen, bee venom, propolis, royal jelly in addition to honey and beeswax.
  • Since the top bars are movable and hence the combs, it is easy to observe the condition of the hive.
  • Routine management practices such as feeding, queen rearing, and colony division are made easy.
  • Given that the hive is not hanged high up in trees then anybody can be able to work bees and women alike).
  • Some pests are controlled: small entrances for the bee ensure that beetles do not find their way in and greasing of hanging wires keep off sugar ants and safari ants.
  • In the Top Bar Hives can be incorporated a feeder box where food for the bees (mainly sugar syrup) is put during dearth (drought) period and to stimulate reproduction (egg laying).
  • The queen excluder is also incorporated to separate the brood (laying) chamber from the rest of the hive.

Log hive

  • These are made from logs of trees by excavating the tree stems to make them hollow.
  • They vary in design and size from one community to another
  • They are mainly used to produce honey and beeswax

Kapkuikui Improved Log hive

  • This is a loghive in which a queen excluder has been incorporated by fixing locally designed coffee wire mesh that keeps the queen in a fixed chamber where she broods
  • It’s an improvement introduced by a group of farmers in Kapkuikui village, Marigat division of Baringo District
  • It has also incorporated comb foundation

Other types of Hives

  • Mud hives
  • Basket hives
  • Pot hives
  • Box hives
  • The Langstroth hive

Hive Hanging 

This involves the placement or hanging of hives in the selected site.

There are various hive hanging patterns depending on a number of factors such as topography, hive type, land size and presence of pests and predators  

  • Hives are hung so as to offer a convenient working height and also to prevent pest and predator attack. Usually hives are suspended between two posts at least one metre above the ground. 
  • Entrances should face outwards and the posts should be fixed firmly to the ground to avoid sagging when the hive is heavy with honey.  
  • Well-treated posts should be used to prevent termite attack.


  • Single Pattern

Hive is hung between two posts about one meter from the ground.  It uses a lot of posts and space hence un- economical.  Good for bee beginners.

  • Line Pattern

Hives are hung in a line if many.  Good for narrow strips of land. 

  • T – Pattern

Hives are hung to form T – Shaped pattern, sharing the posts.

  • Cross-Pattern

One post at the centre being shared by 4 hives.  It saves posts and land.  Note entrances should face outwards.

  • Zig-Zag Pattern

Hives are hung in a “Zig-Zag” pattern.  The entrances should also face outwards.

  • Platform (bench)

Hives can also be placed on a bench.

  • Hives can also be hung on trees, folk like shape.  

This method is suitable or applicable in Game Reserves/National Parks.

  • Goal Post Patterns

This involves the use of regular patterns where hives entrances face different directions to avoid drifting.

Hive Placement

  • Hives can be placed on stands or platforms which are fixed firmly to the ground at a convenient working height of about 1 metre high.  
  • However, this method is only suitable in areas which are not prone to bee pest and predators 

Apiary Siting

An apiary is a place where honeybees are kept either for domestic or commercial purposes and ranges from a single hive to hundreds of hives.

Factors to consider that are significant to bees and beekeepers

Knowledge of bee plants    

  • One should know the bee plants in his / her area and their flowering periods

Duration of flowering plants

  • There should be abundant flowers to attract the bees.
  • Know the period between budding and actual flowering.
  • Plants selected should be producing high quality honey.
  • Among the best beekeeping vegetation areas are forest woodlands, grasslands with dense covers of flowering herbs/shrubs, thickets, agricultural crops yielding nectar in abundance can be good beekeeping sites e.g. sunflower, coffee, sisal estates legumes, bananas etc.

Source of water  

  • Bees require water for various uses in the hive, cooling, feeding larvae and own use. 
  • The Apiary can be close to the source of water. 
  • If there is no permanent source, water can be supplied in containers with floating sticks for bees to step on to avoid drowning.

Human conflicts  

  • Apiary location should be away from public places, away from cultivated fields where large number of people work every day.  
  • Schools, highways and estates should be avoided so that bees do not become nuisance to people. 
  • The recommended distance from these utilities is more than 300 metres.


  • Trees and bushes should surround the apiary. 
  • This makes bees to fly high when leaving and returning to the apiary, thus reducing the risk of becoming a nuisance to the nearby firm’s activities.  
  • The area should be fenced to exclude livestock and other animals that might disturb bees.


  • Colonies should be sheltered from the scourging sun, frost, wind and floods.  
  • Wind cause drifting of bees and poor communication.  Artificial or natural shade is necessary.


  • A well-drained place is recommended to avoid absconding due to high humidity. 
  • Waterlogged soil cause rotting of hives and posts.


  • Area must be accessible for ease in management of the apiary and transportation of honey


  • An apiary should be free from areas with frequent attacks by pests (honey badger, ants and man).

Fire hazard  

  • Avoid locations with frequent bush fires, alternatively cut the grass short in the apiary to minimize fire hazard or hang hives on trees.

Distance between Apiaries

  • This depends on the acreage of floral sources and the number of colonies within the area. 
  • Apiaries should be at least 2-3km apart.  
  • It is recommended that each apiary should not hold `more than 50 colonies.

Carrying Capacity

  • In one acre of good forest woodland an average of 50 hives can be comfortably established without any problem.  
  • In areas with sparse vegetation like grassland it can be less than this figure – survey of bee plants is necessary before final figure is established.


  • An apiary should be sited far from fields which are sprayed with pesticides to avoid bee poisoning and honey contamination. Avoid spraying when the plants are on flower or during peak foraging periods. It is important to use bee-friendly pesticides

The Honeybee

The topics covered here are:

  • Honeybee Behaviour
  • Honeybee Colony Management
  • Simplified Queen Rearing with African Honeybee
  • Honeybee Nutrition


Honeybees have an effective communication. The basic modes of communication in bee language are similar to those of man e.g. the use of various stimuli such as light, chemical and physical that can be perceived by specific sensory organs.  

Needs for effective communication

Communication in honeybees is very important mainly for serving the following purposes:-

  • Mutual protection –To inform each other of the dangers around them.
  • Search  for Food – Inform each other on the source of food
  • Care of the young ones
  • To accomplish mating For comb construction

Types of communication

Chemical communication

This type of communication is highly developed in social insects e.g. honeybees. 

It is sometimes referred to as communication by “pheromones”.  

Its used in honeybees to communicate needs such as mutual protection, mating and search for food. Pheromones are chemical substances secreted from certain glands and discharged externally.  

They convey information and illicit responses or definite reactions by other individuals of the same species.  

Mechanical communication

The mechanical communication in honeybees can be grouped in two categories:

  1. Touch
    • Using the sense of touch the bees can communicate using their antennae e.g. in “mutual begging” by touching her partner’s head with the antennae.  The bees also use their antennae in tracing the dancing bee.
  2. Sound
    •  It has been observed that forager bees do not communicate by dancing only but by sound signals as well.  During the tail-waggle dance, the bee dance during the short straight run produces peculiar sounds of low frequency (250 cycles/sec) which are picked by the follower (bee) through the antennae and forelegs.
  3. Optical communication
    • This type of communication is rarely used by the honeybees since the inside of the nest is always dark.  This type of communication is used by the bees during dances.

 Other forms of communication


 Some bees spend about 2/3 of their time either resting or wondering through the anterior of the nest, the activity that is referred to as patrolling.

For patrolling to be an effective form of communication, the bees should:

  • Show a social behaviour among them.
  • Have a high ability of performing several duties.
  • Have the urge to perform extra duties
  • Always be alert.

Mutual Begging

Liquid food sharing or tropholaxis is the exchange of liquid food among the members of the same colony.  This plays a key role in the social organisation of most species of social insects. In a honeybee colony food is passed from

  • Worker to worker
  • Worker to drone
  • Worker to queen.

Transfer of food between bees starts when one of them “begs” or “offers” food to the other, during feeding the continuously striking of each other facilitates orientation and communication with each other. Food sharing serves as a means of communication concerning the availability of food and water.  It also serves as a media of transmission of queen substance.

Honeybee Dances

Bees communicate through dance to indicate food source, its location and quantity. 

There are other dances associated with hive cleaning, alarm, massage and joy. 

Dances are performed inside the hive on the surface of the comb.  

Dances associated with food

There are two types of dances bees make to communicate food source. The type of dance depends on the distance of food from the hive.

  • Round Dance
    • Bees perform this dance when food source is less than 100m from the hive. A bee runs in a small circle that covers a single cell. 
    • She runs approximately over six adjacent cells, suddenly reversing direction and then turning again to her original course and so on.  
    • Between two reversals there are often one or two complete circles, frequently only ¾ or ½ of a circle.
    • Dance may be completed after one or two reversals or may go on 20 or more times after which it stops abruptly often to be resumed once or twice by the same bee at the same place or elsewhere in the nest.  
    • Foragers tend to follow the dancing bee putting their antennae on her abdomen. A drop of nectar from the dancing bee can indicate the food flavour. 
    • They search for specific odour of the nectar and respond selectively to this odour while searching in the field.
    • Consequently, the recruits get excited, they leave the dance, clean themselves, feed on honey in preparation for the foraging trip ahead and then within a minute leave the hive.
  • Tail Waggle Dance
    • Performed when source of food is more than 100m away from the hive
    • Announces the food potentiality.
    • Distance to the food source or direction 
    • Direction which is determined by: – straight tail waggle dance – orients the direction between the sun and the food source.

How the dance is done

The bee runs straight ahead for a short distance on the vertical comb surface and turns round.  
Waggles her abdomen and repeats the dancing and runs another semi-circle to complete the circle in the opposite direction.  This is roughly circular dance consisting of two halves – “the figure eight”.  

The straight run is emphasised by vigorous shaking of the abdomen from side to side and usually by a buzzing sound made by the flight muscle and skeleton but without noticeable wing beating.  The waggle dance differs with different species.

Other types of Dances

Alarm Dances

An example of this dance is mainly performed when there is contaminated food source.   The bees run in spiral or irregular zigzags and vigorously shake their abdomens sideways.  Their flight activities drop completely and the neighbouring bees begin to respond.

Cleaning Dance

Particles of dust, hairs or other foreign materials on the worker bee body stimulate the “cleaning dance”.  This consists of a rapid stamping of legs and a rhythmic swinging of the body to the sides.  

At the same time the bee rapidly raises and lowers the body and cleans around the basis of the wings with the middle pair of legs.  Such a shaking dance may be observed anytime in the hive.  

The mandibles are used to clean the thorax and the abdomen of the dancer.   As soon as the dancer feels the touch of the cleaner, it stops dancing

Joy dance (Dorso-Ventral-Abdominal Vibration)

This dance is observed only when conditions in the hive are optimum. 

A bee places its front leg on some part of the body of the other bee and make five or six shaky movement up and down with abdomen slightly swinging forward and backward. 

She crawls further and repeats the movement.

Massage dance

This dance begins when one of the bees on the comb bends its head in a peculiar way and neighbouring bees get excited and immediately investigate her using the antennae, mandibles and front legs, cleaning their antennae periodically. 

The bee unfolds the entire tongue, extends the second pair of legs and constantly cleans the tongue with her front legs stroking it from above downwards. This phenomenon is usually observed during the cold season.


Stinging should be considered as a defensive behaviour instead of a form of aggression.  Bees normally react in a definite pattern of behaviour to specific stimuli associated with an intruder. 

Guard bees stay at the entrance watching for any enemy that dares provoke the colony. Once one attacks many others follow. They do this to protect the brood and honey by stinging. 

Once the sting is deposited, alarm pheromone is suddenly liberated from the stinging apparatus. It lingers at the stinging site after the bee has departed, thus exciting further stinging responses.

Colony defence behaviour is one of the most significant kinds of activity not only because bees are able to protect themselves very effectively but also because stinging behaviour is one of the greatest deterrents to keeping bees.  Understanding of stinging behaviour can reduce the bee sting hazard.


This refers to a situation where scout bees leave the hive in search of new food sources or nesting sites. Worker bees scout for food outside the hive in all directions. 

The ones that find good forage go back to the hive and relay this information to the rest of the colony through a series of dances which recruit foragers to gather food for the colony until the source is exhausted. Bees scout for new nests in preparation for swarming.   


This is a natural way by which honeybee colonies multiply or reproduce thus increasing their numbers. 

An increase in bee population causes overcrowding in the hive and thus the worker bees feel the need for rearing additional queens in preparation to divide and depart. 

Honeybees usually swarm after flowering seasons. 

 Swarming is an uneconomical to a beekeeper since part of the colony is lost. A swarm consists of a queen, a large number of worker bees and a few drones.

Causes of swarming

  • Overcrowding as a result of increase in the number of bees such that the queen substance is not sufficient to all the bees in the colony
  • Hereditary. Certain bee strains particularly in the tropics have an inherent tendency to swarm
  • Effects of the season – During the honey flow period, most of the comb cells are filled with honey thus reducing space in the hive. 

Signs of Swarming

  • Building of swarm cells along the edges of the combs.
  • Clustering of bees at the entrance of the hive.
  • Presence of many drone cells and drones.
  • Increased aggression – bees become more defensive and sting a lot.
  • Rocking movement of the bees. 
  • Bees produce a hissing sound.

Control measures

  • Making Divisions – this reduces the population of bee colony thus creating more space in the hive. 
  • Destroying swarm cells so as to stop the emerging of new queens.
  • Switching positions of weak colonies with stronger ones so that the weaker colonies can receives the field bees from the stronger colonies.
  • De-queening and re-queening. This involves introduction of a queen with a less swarming tendency.
  • Clipping the wings of the queen as a temporary measure.

Once the honeybee swarm leaves the hive, they cluster either on a tree branch or a post and only stay for a few minutes or hours.  During this period worker bees scout for a better place, if there is an empty hive or catcher box, they would occupy it; if not, they take off to unknown destination.  Such swarms can be trapped by farmers when spotted using a catcher box or a net since such bees are usually not aggressive.


This is a sudden departure of the whole colony of bees from a hive.


  • Due to pests, predators, diseases
  • Unfavourable weather conditions – floods, high temperature,
  • Poor management aspects e.g. over-harvesting, mishandling
  • Effect of fire and chemicals.
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