Livestock Research for Rural Development 25 (4) 2013 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Seasonal honeybee forage availability, swarming, absconding and honey harvesting in Debrekidan and Begasheka Watersheds of Tigray, Northern Ethiopia

Haftom Gebremedhn, Zelealem Tesfay, Girmay Murutse* and Awet Estifanos**

Mekelle Agricultural Research Center, PO Box 492 Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia
haftush@yahoo.com
* Mekelle University, PO Box231, Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia
girmaym2004@yahoo.com
** Tigray Agricultural Research Institute, PO Box 492, Mekelle, Tigray, Ethiopia
aweyetir@yahoo.com

Abstract

Tigray region is one of the potential beekeeping areas of Ethiopia which is endowed with diversified honeybee plants. However, the plants were not identified and their floral calendar was not established. Hence, this study was designed to identify important honeybee plants and develop floral calendar of two watersheds. It was also designed to draw the interactive effect of the seasonal availability of bee plants with swarming, absconding and honey harvesting in Debrekidan and Begasheka watersheds of Tigray Regional State. For this study, thirty farmer beekeepers were selected using purposive random sampling technique from each watershed. The data were collected using unstructured questioner, group and key informants discussion, and personal observation.

From Debrekidan 80 and Begasheka 89 important honeybee plants were identified and their floral calendar was established. Nineteen from Debrekidan and fifteen from Begasheka different plants species were identified as major honeybee plants. Having high availability of honeybee plants from July to November in Debrekidan and from August to December in Begasheka, high swarming was recorded from August to September in both watersheds. September to November and October to December were recognized as honey harvesting time in Debrekidan and Begasheka, respectively. Due to critical dearth period from December to May in Debrekidan and from January to July in Begasheka watersheds, high absconding problem was illustrated in February. Thus, variation on seasonal availability of honeybee plants, honey harvesting, swarming and absconding was indicated between the two watersheds. Finally, it is recommended to use floral calendar to implement proper seasonal honeybee colonies and apiary management.

Key words: honeybee, floral calendar, bee forage


Introduction

Beekeeping is one of the important farming activities in Ethiopia since ancient times (Ayalew and Gezahegn1991). Ethiopia is gifted with diverse and unique flowering plants of 6000 to 7000 species. Thus making it highly suitable for large number of colonies (Admasu1996; Fitchel and Admasu 1994; Gezahegn 2007; Gidey and Mekonen 2010).Tigray region is one of the potential beekeeping areas of Ethiopia (Haftom and Tesfay 2012) and apiculture is a good source of income for smallholder farmers. Moreover the region is endowed with diversified plant types due to diversified plant habitat, climatic condition, topography, and rainfall distribution. As a result quite large number of honeybee colonies exists in the region (Alemtsehay 2011). To improve yield and quality of honeybee products, the regional government and nongovernmental organizations have been introducing a lot of modern beehives and accessories (Gidey and Mekonen 2009). Being a non-land based enterprise with multipurpose output; the demand of beekeeping has been increased tremendously in the region year after year. 

Success in beekeeping depends upon many factors, among them availability of honeybee forage are the fundamental one. Apiculture is floral based industry and bees wholly depend on Plants for their food (Crane 1990). Plant types and their flowering duration differ from one place to other due to variation in topography, climate and farming practices. Moreover, all plants are not important for honeybees and those plants that supply both nectar and pollen abundantly when in bloom are often called honeybee plants (FAOa 1990). Identification of bee plants, plant communities and the relationship between bee plants and honeybees has paramount importance for practical beekeeping and assessing the potential area for beekeeping (Amsalu 2006). 

Floral calendar for beekeeping is a time-table that indicates to the beekeeper; the approximate date and duration of the blossoming periods of the important honey and pollen plants (Haftom et al 2011). It is one of the most useful tools of apicultural extension workers. It enables to inform beekeepers on what and to expect forage availability, so that they can manage their colonies in the most rational manner.Such information enable beekeepers to utilize them at the maximum level, so that, they can harvest a good yield of honey and other bee products. In any specific area modern beekeeping cannot develop without an understanding of the floral calendar, and for migratory beekeeping, special calendars for the different foraging zones along the migration route are required (Robert et al 2009).  

Regardless of the beekeeping potential of Tigray region little is done to identify the existing honeybee plants. In addition, the floral cycle of the bee plants were not established. This has contributed to the prevailing traditional bee practice in the region. Moreover, the farmers lack a basis to undertake their beekeeping activities based on possible information on seasonal floral calendar. For this reason the beekeepers that are living in the same agro ecology with similar availability of honeybee forages harvest honey and multiply their colonies at different seasons (Alemtsehay 2011; Gidey et al 2012). This indicates that farmers usually do not make use of the different flowering seasons for better honey harvest and honeybee colony management. This would have a negative effect on practicing appropriate hive and apiary management, honeybee feeding, honey harvesting and controlling natural swarming. Considering these facts, the present study was undertaken to identify important honeybee forage and develop their floral calendar. It was also designed to draw the interactive effect of the seasonal availability of honeybee plants with the seasonal farmers’ honeybee management. This would have a paramount importance on selectively and strategically introduction of honeybee plants to the specific area based on the floral gap and beekeeping activities would be done accordingly. 


Methodology

Study Area 

The study was conducted in Begasheka and Debrekidan watersheds. Begasheka is found in Kolatemben district, central zone of Tigray regional state. It is situated at an altitude ranging from 1600 to 1750 m.a.s.l and between 13o40’ and 13o45’N longitude and 38o55’ and 39o00’E latitude. Debrekidan watershed is found in Hawzen district, eastern zone of Tigray region. Debrekidan is located between 13o50’and 13o53’N longitude and 39o26’ and 39o29’E latitude. It is situated at an altitude ranging from 2060 to 2450 m.a.s.l with an annual average rain fall of 479mm. 

Sampling size and Techniques 

For this study thirty beekeeper farmers were selected using purposive random sampling from each watershed. The farmers were selected based on their experience in beekeeping, knowledge on locally available honeybee forages and honeybee colonies ownership.  

Data Collection and analysis 

A full understanding of the complexities involved in the identification and floral cycle preparation of honeybee flora were achieved by different methods. These were interviewing, personal observation, key informants and focus group discussion. To collect information regarding bee forage plants and related parameters like identification of common bee flora with their flowering time, seasonal bee forage availability in relation to colony strength, swarming, absconding and honey production,  the respondents were individually interviewed with un-structured questionnaire. Group discussion was also carried out to select and rank the major honeybee floras. 

Focus group discussions were conducted in the study area with purposively selected section of the communities such as model beekeepers, development agents, bee technician and beekeeping experts. During the survey personal observation was also undertaken on some area closures of both watersheds. The specific sites under observation were namely Dateklehaimanot, Dakidanamhret, and Adimaadu and Wetlako, Bega, and Datsion area closures from Debrekidan and Begasheka watersheds respectively. These sites were selected based on their vegetation coverage, and plant diversity. The observation was supportive to identify the type of vegetation, type of crop cultivated, plant distribution, bee plant population, and understand the types of food source (nectar or pollen) and investigate their flowering pattern. Moreover, the observation was used to triangulate with the response of the respondents.    

Informants from beekeeping and forestry experts of bureau of agriculture of each district and forestry researchers from Mekelle Agricultural Research Center were involved to classify the honeybee floras of the watersheds to shrub, bush, trees, grass, herbs and weed and to correspond to their local, common and scientific names of each of the bee flora. Secondary data were collected from different sources such as books and research publications to get additional information about the scientific name and common name.  

Data analysis 

The generated information was analyzed using descriptive statistics of SPSS (SPSS , Version 12). The parameters analyzed were the response of the respondents on the seasonal availability of bee forage, time of honey harvesting, time of honeybee swarming and the seasonal strength of the colonies.


Results and discussion

Seasonal honeybee forage availability, swarming and absconding  

Variation in seasonal availability of honeybee forages was observed in both watersheds. High availability of honeybee plants from July to November in Debrekidan and from August to December in Begasheka watershed was recorded. Similarly, in the central highlands of Ethiopia 58% of flowering species diversity occurs from September to November (Amssalu 2006). Having high availability of honeybee plants in these seasons, high swarming was illustrated from August to September in both watersheds (Table 1 and Table 2). Honeybee colony strength is directly correlated with high flowering intensity (Alemtshehay 2011; Amssalu 2006). Honeybees collecting more pollen during the major flowering seasonand colony population increases with it (FAO1990a). Swarm cells are typically found in very strong colonies and this cause honeybee colony to swarm (The Pennsylvania State University 2011). More queens also emerge during honey flow period or the major flowering season and this causes honeybee colonies to swarm (Solomon2009). As a result, these seasons give an opportunity for beekeepers to prepare their colonies for colony multiplication purpose or to maximize their honey production. 

While, scarcity of honeybee forage was stated from December to June in Debrekidan and in January, February and July in Begasheka watersheds. This is similar with the results of Tesfaye and Tesfaye (2007).The respondents also indicated high absconding problem in February (Table 1 and Table 2). This might be due to shortage of honeybee forage. Absconding correlates with low flowering intensity and shortage of honeybee forage causes honeybee colonies to abscond (Amssalu 2006; Gidey and Mekonen 2010).  Shortage of honeybee forage is also indicated as the most important constraints that hinder the development of beekeeping (Haftom and Tesfay 2012; Gidey et al 2012; Workneh and Ranjitha 2011; Gidey and Kibrom 2010). In line with these absconding could also be caused by drought, overgrazing, deforestation, honeybee disease and pests, shortage of water, poor bee manipulation and lack of protection against bad weather (Tesfaye and Tesfaye 2007; Workneh and Ranjitha 2011; Gidey and Mokenen 2010). This problem happens in improved and traditional hives and causes high financial loss (Gidey et al 2012). Hence, farmers should consider feed supplementation and protection of colonies from natural enemies and pesticides during the dearth period.

 

Table 1: Farmers response related to beekeeping calendar  in Debrekidan Watershed

Month

NPFM

 % (N 1= 80)

NFHHM

% (N 2= 30)

NFCSM

% (N 2= 30)

NFCAM

% (N 2= 30)

September

43

54

16

53

23

77

0

0

October

47

59

27

90

2

7

0

0

November

22

28

28

93

0

0

0

0

December

7

9

4

13

0

0

0

0

January

6

8

0

0

0

0

3

10

February

8

10

0

0

0

0

18

60

March

8

10

0

0

1

3

16

53

April

6

8

0

0

1

3

4

13

May

7

9

5

17

0

0

5

17

June

8

10

12

40

1

3

2

7

July

11

14

6

20

4

13

0

0

Augst

20

25

6

20

20

67

0

0

Where N1 is the total number of plants identified, N2 is number of respondents, NPFM is Number of plants with flower   per month; NFHHM is Number of farmers harvest honey on each months; NFCSM is number of farmers whose colonies swarmson each month; and NFCAM is number of farmers whose colonies abscond on each months.

  

Table 2: Farmers response related to beekeeping calendar  in Begasheka Watershed

Month

NPFM

 % (N 1= 89)

NFHHM

% (N 2= 30)

NFCSM

% (N 2= 30)

NFCAM

% (N 2= 30)

September

40

45

8

27

26

87

0

0

October

49

61

26

87

8

27

0

0

November

27

34

12

40

2

7

0

0

December

19

24

0

0

0

0

0

0

January

14

16

0

0

0

0

6

20

February

13

16

0

0

0

0

7

23

March

24

30

0

0

1

3

0

0

April

19

24

0

0

1

3

0

0

May

16

20

1

3

0

0

0

0

June

15

19

1

3

1

3

5

17

July

11

14

1

3

4

13

0

0

Augst

19

24

0

0

20

67

0

0

Where  N1  is the total number of plants identified , N2 is number of respondents , NPFM is Number of plants  with flower   per month;  NFHHM is Number of farmers harvest honey on each months; NFCSM is number of farmers whose colonies swarm on each month; and NFCAM is number of farmers whose colonies abscond on each months.

Honey harvesting season  

In both watersheds two honey harvesting seasons were indicated. The major honey harvesting time was stated from September to November and from October to December in Debrekidan and Begasheka watersheds, respectively (Table 1 and Table 2). This is similar with Tewelde (2006).This might be due to high availability of bee forage from July to November and from August to December in Debrekidan and Begasheka watersheds, respectively. Gidey et al (2012) also revealed that honey harvesting period matches with peak flowering period. In AsgedeTsimbla district the major honey harvesting period was also indicated from October to November (Gidey et al 2012). The variation on the time of honey harvesting between the two watersheds might be due to variation on the seasonal availability of honeybee forages and the type of plants exist in the watersheds. In both watersheds the minor honey harvesting season was also illustrated from June to July when there is rainfall in the middle of the dry season. And this is similar with the result of Tesfayeand Tesfaye (2007) and Gidey and Mekonen (2010).  

Major honeybee forages of Debrekidan and Begasheka watersheds  

In this study 80 and 89 plant species were identified as important honeybee forage from Debrekidan and Begasheka watersheds, respectively (Annex 1 and Annex 2). As demonstrated in Annex 1 and Annex 2 the plants give flower in different seasons.  This indicates the plant diversity potential of the watersheds.This would help to have pollen or/and nectar availability in different seasons. Ideally, a good beekeeping area is one in which nectar and pollen plants grow abundantly and with a relatively long blooming season with different flowering seasons (Rajan 1980). Plant flowers are the food source of honeybees. Honeybee visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar. However, not all plants are important for honeybees and those plants that supply both nectar and pollen abundantly when in bloom and these are often called honeybee plants (FAO 1990b). Moreover, all honeybee plants do not have the same importance for beekeepers (Haftom et al 2012). Hence, the respondents had shown their own mechanism to select major honeybee plants for their bees. Understanding of these criteria would help to consider the farmers interest and criteria in introducing and multiplying honeybee plants. To select the major honeybee plants (Table 3 and Table 4) the respondents mentioned the following criteria.  

 

Accordingly, 19 and 15 plant species were selected and recognized as a major honeybee plants (Table 3 and Table 4) in Debrekidan and Begasheka watersheds, respectively by the respondents. Similarlyin Kola Tembien district Cordia Africana, Euphorbium candelabrum, Bidensmacroptera, Eucalyptus spp, Carduuscamaecephalus , Guizotiaabyssinica, Croton macrostachys,  Shinus moleand Aloe berhanawere selected as major honeybee forages (Tewelde 2006).  As demonstrated in Table 3 and Table 4, most of the identified major honeybee plants were tree, shrub and herb.Gidey and Mekonen (2010) also indicated that trees, herbs, weeds, cultivated crops, and shrubs are the main honey sources of Northern Ethiopia.

 

Table 3. Major Honeybee flora of Debrekidan watersheds with their rank and floral calendar

Vernacular name

 ( Local name)

Scientific name of the plant

Plant type

Rank

Flowering period

Starting

Ending

Awhi

Cordia Africana

Tree

 1st

October

November

Tebeb

Beciumgrandiflorum

Shrub

2nd

August

September

Girbia

Hypostusariculatal

Herb

3rd

September

October

Kolkal

Euphorbium candelabrum

Tree

4th

October

November

Beles

Opuntiaficus-indica

Shrub

5th

February

May

Demhala

Andropogonabyssinicus

Grass

6th

September

October

Adeyabeba, Tnigti

Bidenspachyloma

Herb

7th

September

October

Gelgelemeskel

Bidensmacroptera

Herb

8th

September

October

TsaedaBahrzaf

Euccalyptus globules

Tree

9th

Year round

Hamliadri

Cassia arereh

Herb

10th

September

October

SufBahri

Carthamustinetorius

Crob

11th

September

October

Dander

Carduuscamaecephalus

Shrub

12th

October

November

Nihug

Guizotiaabyssinica

Crop

13th

September

October

Sesegwukaria

Saturejapunctata

Herb

14th

September

October

Tambuh/k

Croton macrostachys

Tree

15th

October

December

Awlie

Olea  Africana

Tree

16th

March

April

Chea

Acacia Seyal

Tree

17th

September

November

Momona

Acacia albia

Tree

18th

October

November

Ekatalian

Agave sisalana

Tree

19th

October

September

 

Table 4.  Major Honeybee floras of Begasheka watershed with their rank and floral calendars

Vernacular name Tigrigna

Scientific name of the plant

Plant type

Rank

Flowering period

starting

Ending

Awhi

Cardia Africana

Tree

 1st

October

November

Gelgelemeskel

Bidensprestinaria

Herb

2nd

August

September

Kliaw

Eucleashimpleri

Bush

3rd

January

February

Giba/ Gaba

Ziziphesspina-chrisfic

Tree

4th

September

October

Trmi

 

Tree

5th

March

April

Sasbania

Sasbania

Tree

6th

October

November

Sesegwukaria

Saturejapunctata

Herb

7th

September

October

Tambuh/K

Croton macrostachys

Tree

8th

October

December

SufBahri

Carthamustinetorius

Crop

9th

September

October

KeyhBahrzaf

Euccalyptuscamaldulenisis

Tree

10th

Year round

Chea

Acacia Seyal

Tree

11th

November

December

Girbia

Hypostusariculatal

Herb

12th

September

October

Dander

Carduuscamaecephalus

Shrub

13th

September

September

Tikurberbere

Shinus mole

Tree

14th

Year round

Ere

Aloe berhana

Shrub

15th

October

November


Conclusions


Acknowledgement

Thanks to Tigray Agricultural Research Institute, operational research project and Mekelle Agricultural Research Center for the grant to conduct this study.


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Received 23 November 2012; Accepted 12 March 2013; Published 2 April 2013

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