Monday, April 29, 2013

Top Bar Beekeeping in Jamaica: A Personal Account by F2F Volunteer, Jessie Brown

I've been back Stateside for a few days after spending 2 weeks traveling through Jamaica teaching Top Bar Hive Beekeeping, Treatment Free Beekeeping, Queen Rearing and Beeswax Products through the Partners of the America's Farmer to Farmer Program.

Top bar model apiary at Yerba Buena Farm in St. Mary
In a nutshell, I taught 152 beekeepers on Top Bar Hives and Sustainable Beekeeping from one end of Jamaica to the other, in Kingston, Westmoreland, Bartons, St. Thomas, St. Mary and Portland.

Jamaica has banned the importation of beeswax to the country, so they can't make enough beeswax to support the foundation needed for Langstroth hives. Each apiary is suggested to have 10% Top Bar hives, solely for wax production, but nobody knows how to use this style of hive yet! I was there continuing the education of previous trainers, New Mexico's own Les Crowder and Megan Mahoney! Tom Hebert from Honduras has also participated in the program.

Jessie's Top 9 Teaching List:

1. Top Bar Beekeeping is Awesome
By the time I had given my 45-minute demo about how awesome Top Bar Beekeeping is, people were pulling out their measuring tapes to find out dimensions and make their own hives. The benefits of these hives are huge to this country:
• Cheap, hives can even be made out of woven bamboo, burlap coffee bags or bundled straw to cut costs even further
• More beeswax production to make Langstroth foundation or start producing beeswax products.
• No hidden places for Hive Beetles to make a home
• No equipment storage
• No extra parts, no extractors, or frames, or foundation or boxes, or queen excluders
• Lightweight - anybody can lift a 10 pound comb

Grafting Queens - Portland
Bee Farmers Association
2. Queen Rearing
The idea of rearing queens that are resistant to disease and pathogens is rocking their world! Every queen rearing talk would lead to people telling me about their new treatment for mites. I just kept telling them, "Why put a bandaid on the problem, when you can make it so they don't get sick to begin with, through genetics."

3. Happy Birthday!
There were 8 queen bees born on my birthday, April 14th, at the Yerba Buena Model Top Bar Apiary. We just kept caging virgin queen after queen.

Cutting a Langstroth frame to fit a Top Bar comb saver

4. Transferring a Langstroth Hive to a Top Bar Hive
• You can do this by making comb savers and cutting 4 fully capped brood frames from a strong
and healthy Langstroth hive during a nectar flow. Put the frames and any bees remaining into the Langstroth for them to draw it out with new beeswax.
• You add the queen to the Top Bar Hive and shake in 4-6 frames of bees
• Then put the Top Bar hive in place of the original Langstroth so it can gain all the worker bees and move the Langstroth hive to a new location.
• The Langstroth hive will raise a new queen with all of their hefty resources.

5. Candle Making
I taught candle making/wax products classes to groups that had already had a top bar hive donated and transferred from a Langstroth so that they have a way to make money with the wax they would begin harvesting. There is no local wick manufacturer so I pressed the idea of wick experimentation. Try using hemp rope, strips of wood, wicker harvested from the jungle.

Jessie showing beekeepers how to make candles and other
wax-based products
6. Recipe Building
As Jamaicans start producing more beeswax, I gave them a basic lip balm recipe and taught them how to build on it to produce different products including lotion, mosquito Balm, healing salve, and petroleum jelly. People pay more money for beeswax that has not been treated with miticides.

7. No Winter
Did you know that there is no winter in Jamaica? I had to keep wrapping my brain about the idea of nectar flow and dearth instead of winter and summer. In the height of summer (July-August) it is so hot that trees aren't producing nectar. You have to view this as our winter and build up your hives to have at least 12 combs to survive these tough months.

St. Mary Bee Club
8. Top Bar Hive Management
Pests, disease? No worries, try different management techniques that I use all the time with Top Bar:
• Wax Moths: harvest some of your comb, the bees have too much to protect.
• Foulbrood: if you hold your comb up to the sun and can't see through it, time to harvest it out of the hive and let the bees draw new comb. That black comb harbors disease, feces, cocoon buildup. As Agape Adams calls it, a sewer!
• Chalkbrood: Requeen and make sure they aren't getting exposed to fungicides
• Mites: Re-queen for hygienic behavior, aka. bees clean the mites off each other

9. Jamaicans laugh at all my jokes
No seriously, Jamaicans get New Mexico dry humor and I went to great lengths to help beekeepers enjoy learning Top Bar Hives. I love this country and would love to return!

Monday, April 22, 2013

GIS and the Farmer to Farmer Program

Partners of the Americas Farmer to Farmer Program intern Sebastian Insfran is working on a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) project with program information from Haiti and the DR. GIS is a way to visualize, analyze, interpret, and understand data to show relationships, patterns, and trends. Specifically, he was looking at the island of Hispaniola and comparing regional information on childhood malnutrition, maps of Farmer to Farmer project sites, and maps showing the number of hosts in these places. The goals is to visualize the presence of  Farmer to Farmer as it relates with some food security and agricultural development indicators, through spatial data analysis. Some samples maps are below:
The visualization of Farmer to Farmer host organizations’ location was one of the main goals of his  assignment and he used several tools to create maps that showed the data. 
While the project is still underway, and there are some data limitations, it is interesting to see some of the potential uses of an ICT tool like GIS. Farmer to Farmer is always looking to use available tools and technologies to benefit and/or analyze our work in the region.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Unified Disease Management Plan for the Constanza Valley, DR

Dr. Thomas Evans recently presented a case study on integrated pest and disease management at the 69th Annual Meeting of the Potomac Division of the American Phytopathological Society held in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.  The findings presented by Dr. Evans were based on his team's Farmer to Farmer trips to the Dominican Republic's Constanza valley. Dr. Evans is a professor of plant pathology at the University of Delaware and his teammate Dr. Keil is a professor of Enthomology at the Catholic University of Ecuador, South America.  They have worked together on eight volunteer assignments in the Dominican Republic since 2008.  A final F2F assignment is planned for May 2013 where part of their agenda includes a Tomato Spotted Wilt Tospovirus (TSWV)/ Thrips Summit meeting with key packers and growers in the Constanza Valley. The findings presented in West Virginia will serve as a framework for the planned Summit meeting.

Google Earth Map identifying the location of the Constanza Valley
The Constanza Valley is located in the center of the island of Hispaniola at the height of 4,000 feet (1220 meters) in the middle of the Cordillera Central (Central Range). Open field production dates to the 1950s-1980s, the start of the large-scale greenhouse vegetable industry began in 2002 through grants and support from the Spanish government. Dr. Evans and Dr. Keil have focused their work on integrated pest and disease management as a way to address the re-emergence of the Tomato Spotted Wilt Tospovirus (TSWV) and Western Flower Thrips (WFT) observed in the Constanza Valley since 2009.  Substrate from burned rice hulls have been used in the greenhouse productions in Constanza, resulting in excessive fertigation and have been found to be directly correlated with higher thrips populations. TSWV has a wide host range in both greenhouse and open field productions, making it an enormous challenge to develop and implement effective disease management programs.

Western Flower Thrips threaten a variety of crops including peppers
As part of the disease management plan, Dr. Evans and Dr. Keil have promoted the mapping of the Constanza Valley with Google Earth tools and smart phones to determine the locations of all the susceptible crops and vegetable greenhouses. Part of the plan was also the selection of 5 fields and greenhouses that had thrips populations in varied crops for scouting during March, April and May. In addition to mapping and scouting, the plan includes conducting immunostrip testings of select plants to measure the incidence of TSWV and promote biological controls.  For the Constanza Valley Summit, the team will present the valley-wide issues, possible solutions and hope to foster a discussion for a unified management plan for thrips and TSWV in open fields and greenhouse vegetable productions.
FTF volunteers make use of GIS mapping tools as a way to monitor and contain thrips populations

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Information and Communication Technology in Agricultural Development

Information and communication technologies (ICT) can play an important role in agricultural development, particularly in helping address the need for technical training, knowledge about markets, advertising, and more. ICT can help improve the livelihoods of farmers as well as the overall efficiency of agricultural sectors in developing countries.

Partners has increased the use of ICT tools in the Farmer to Farmer (F2F) program and is seeing results. Videos, for example, have been developed to help promote the products or work of host organizations, or serve as agricultural training tools. Information management specialists have helped universities develop library and catalog systems to better train students. And F2F currently has someone using a geographic information system (GIS) to map country projects against sub-regional data on stats like malnutrition to see how the program relates to poverty levels. As video has been a popular tool, below are some links to current and past videos, many of which have been highlighted elsewhere on the blog.
  • This F2F video features the activities and impact of our program in Haiti. The history and activities of Haiti's own Makouti Agro Enterprise is also highlighted, and farmer beneficiaries share their stories. This video was created by three talented F2F volunteers. They have captured on film what many of our volunteers have experienced - a Program that is making a difference in Haiti's agricultural industry and the lives of farmers. (
  • F2F works with the whole dairy value chain in Nicaragua and volunteers interviewed farmers, business owners and others to bring to light the importance of consuming local dairy and meat products for nutritional and health reasons and it helps the local economy. The video is being aired on local TV stations and in schools, and is being promoted by cattle and dairy farmer associations. (
  • In Guyana, F2F volunteers combined an overview of a highly successful hydroponic shadehouse project with a training video. In the video, women offer their testimonials as well as their expertise on such topics as shadehouse bed preparation and how to mix and apply fertilizers. This video therefore serves to inspire potential shadehouse producers and to teach them technical skills. (
  • Also from Guyana is an example of a video on the Carambola Fruit Fly produced in collaboration with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and the Ministry of Agriculture. In Guyana, carambola (also known as star fruit) is an important source of income for many farmers and the spread of the carambola fruit fly is of great concern to farmers and government agencies alike. In this eight minute video, a representative from the National Plant Protection Organization in Guyana is able to cover topics ranging from how to identify the fly larvae to how to create traps for the pest. (
And we expect additional videos and increased use of ICT tools in the future.