PUTTING NATURE BACK INTO BEEKEEPING
Farmer's Weekly|November 13, 2020
With bee populations dwindling globally, beekeepers are looking for ways to improve the resilience of their colonies. Albertus van Zyl spoke to Glenneis Kriel about how he achieves this.
Glenneis Kriel

The beekeeping journey of the Van Zyls, who farm fruit, wine grapes and honey at Redbeard farm near Ashton in the Western Cape, started out as a holiday activity more than 30 years ago.

Albertus van Zyl, who was only nine years old at the time, suspects that his father, Louré, might have been rather bored while they were on a family holiday at Mossel Bay. So the two ended up helping the late Hannes Londt, a missionary who kept bees on his son’s farm near Gouritz, harvest honey.

The excursion turned into an annual ritual, and some years later Londt gave them 10 hives to start their own beekeeping operation on Redbeard farm.

“Hannes had over 50 years’ beekeeping experience, so we learnt everything we needed to be successful beekeepers from him,” says Van Zyl.

Their beekeeping enterprise gradually increased in size, reaching a maximum of 50 hives yielding about 1t of honey a year. Unfortunately, drought conditions in recent years reduced the availablity of forage for the bees, and in 2018 the Van Zyls were forced to downscale to just 20 hives.

Conditions have been more favourable this year, however, and they managed to harvest 300kg of honey in two weeks in October, equalling the entire harvest of 2019!

“The farm has about 20ha under irrigation, with the rest of our land spanning the Langeberg Mountains. Hannes calculated that we could keep up to 100 hives, but I think that would be pushing it, as the absence of access roads makes it difficult to move and work hives in these fynbos-covered mountains,” says Van Zyl.

Despite the drought, his bees have never suffered from major pests or diseases that required the use of antimicrobials or other harsh control measures. Van Zyl ascribes this to the farm being relatively isolated and to his strong focus on colony vigour.

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