THE ALOE FLOWERING SEASON
THE MOST INTERESTING HONEY-FLOW FOR SOUTH
JAMES WILLIAMS KANNALAND HEUNING PLAAS OUDTSHOORN LITTLE KAROO SOUTH AFRlCA
The Davyana aloe:
Aloes are characterized by triangular to lance-shaped succulent leaves carried in a rosette. Leaf margins are armed with sharp, dark brown teeth or thorns (1). The inflorescence is a candle-like raceme with a red/orange or yellow colour. Aloes belong to the family Aloacea (2). Aloes basically only occur naturally in Africa and Madagascar.
The Aloe which is mostly utilised by beekeepers is a small, quite in-impressive aloe called the "bont aalwyn" namely, Aloe greatheadii
var. davyana. This aloe although small, flowers profusely in winter from early June to end of August (3).
The Davyana aloe, as popularly known by beekeepers, occurs in the northern provinces of South Africa but particularly dense stands occur from Zeerust in the west to Groblersdal
(+/-380km) in the east. It is these dense stands which are commercially utilised by beekeepers. This is bushveld area with a yearly rainfall
of 625 to 750mm. The summers are hot and in winter the days are mild and
the nights very cold
often with frost (4). The best honey production season is when it is very dry.
Working in the bushveld is a pleasure; it's like working in a typical African Game Reserve with lots
of interesting plants, birds and animals around.
The Aloe produces a pale, very light coloured, smooth honey. The honey crystallizes very quickly and sometimes even on the hives during a cold spell. This Aloe's honey crystallizes to a fine texture, but solid mass, and is mostly used to make a very palatable creamed honey. Due to its high water concentration and the fact that it crystallizes so quickly, as well as a large number of yeast cells in the honey, care must be taken to prevent fermentation. Although the aloes produce a lot of nectar, the flowers have long and slender calyx tubes making it very difficult for the honeybees to get to the nectar, and therefore honey yields are low and 6 to 10kg/hive can be considered average. The fact that the bees consume a lot of nectar themselves for reproduction and an excessive amount of high quality pollen is stored in the combs, also hinders surplus honey production.
My best harvest was 21kg/hive, but a friend, Gert Potgieter once produced 30kgs/ hive from 1 600 hives.
The pollen of aloes is pink-red and large volumes are collected by the bees. Pollen stored in the supers above the brood nest cause problems
during extraction. Sometimes up to 30% of the frames in the first and the second super are filled with pollen. Pollen-laden frames
are sometimes removed and stored by beekeepers to be used later in supplemental feeding during pollen-dearth periods. In the peak season
nectar sometimes comes in so fast that the bees store nectar over pollen in the frames. The aloe pollen tastes very sweet.