Lulu Letlape is on a mission to change the world with her honey – one jar at a time
Owned by Lulu Letlape, Bongi Bees is a woman-owned beekeeping business based in Tshwane. After leaving her high-level job in the corporate sector after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, Lulu was ready to find a less stressful job, so she could have room to focus on her healing. Even though she has a hearing impairment caused by her disease, she has a new lease on life. Leaving her job was a good decision, as she is now happily producing organic honey. Supplying this product is her passion, as she is able to provide consumers with a healthier option to sugar. We caught up with Lulu to learn more about how she got started.
How did you get into beekeeping?
‘Beekeeping was not something that I grew up wanting to do but when my friend recommended it, my curiosity inspired me to explore the idea. I did some research, studied beekeeping and networked with beekeepers where I could learn more about bees. I even joined three WhatsApp groups where I would chat with other beekeepers about the challenges in our day, and I received such great support from them. I found it easy to engage with beekeepers, which was a great help.’
‘I spent 2016 preparing and researching and in 2017, I decided to start my business. I bought five hives, protective gear, and equipment. I also had a great mentor who guided me on what to get, buy and order – they essentially helped me set up my hives. Having someone guide me was super useful and after four months, I produced my first harvest.’
What was it like producing that first harvest?
‘I went into it telling myself that I could enjoy the process and have fun, and that’s exactly what happened. There’s so much life in a hive – even the stinging is fun! After the first harvest, I saw that this could be a successful business. I gave the very first lot away to family. The positive feedback was overwhelming, which showed me that I needed to continue on this journey.’
How is it going now? Tell us what it’s like being an entrepreneur in this industry?
‘It’s quite hard and at the moment I am dependant on the income that comes from the sales in order to grow the business. I currently have 32 hives and counting, and the bees produce different flavoured honey. It’s doing well in terms of marketing
– I am selling the honey just outside of the farm, and even though I have a lot of demand, I still want to get more hives to produce more honey.’
What has been a highlight of your career thus far?
‘One of my friends is planting butternut and even though he couldn’t afford pollination, we decided to place my hive on his land. I was so excited to see yellow honey from that harvest, and I can’t wait to harvest another lot to make some butternut honey.’
What are some of the challenges that you are facing as a beekeeper?
‘Entrepreneurship and running a beekeeping business comes with their challenges. Some of the challenges of being a beekeeper are daily maintenance of the bees, sometimes getting stung by them during harvest (despite wearing protective gear) and the high costs of running a farm.’
‘I do maintenance in the afternoon, which is where I make sure that there are no foreign insects in the hives. Sometimes when the hives are too full, the bees become aggressive and try to attack you, which is where our smoker gun comes in to try to get them away from us. If they are aggressive, then we close the hive and wait for them to cool down before going back.’
‘I harvest honey every two to three months and am currently exploring ways to produce different flavoured honey. I am growing different vegetation, plants and flowers on the farm for the bees to get pollen from, which will create different flavours.’
How much honey do you produce from one harvest and how long does the process take?
‘It depends on the bees, but there is so much hard work that goes into it. The other day we extracted 15 kg of honey from 10 frames, which was incredible! It takes two hours to harvest eight frames, and it can take a day to harvest all.
What is it about your honey that makes it so special?
‘We have localised vegetation, which I am very proud of – this means that our bees get exposed to our fruit trees, which are all organic. In winter we have a lot of aloe plants so we sell aloe honey, which tastes so different to summer honey. Our summer honey tastes of peaches and plums, and you can taste the different honey that was made in different seasons. Sometimes you can taste nuts! I am also planting butternut and watermelon to give more of a variety to the taste and colour
of my honey.’
What’s next for Bongi Bees?
‘I have so many goals for the business but now, I want to produce healthy and organic honey across the world and inspire consumers to eat better!’
Words by Fatima Saib
Photography: Courtesy Images
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