KOCHI: Stingless bee farming or meliponiculture is slowly gaining momentum in Kerala. But even before it became popular, Kasaragod-native Udayan K has been rearing bees, especially Trigona, one of the largest species of stingless bees, in wooden boxes since 2013. He is also well-trained to handle them and extract honey from them. At his residence, he has almost 300 bee colonies. Wherever you look, you can find them — on the roof and walls.
Udayan wasn’t familiar with beekeeping at all. Due to his living conditions, almost a decade ago, it was hard to make it a part of his life. He was struggling to take care of a family of four with the meagre income he earned working as a temporary bus driver with KSRTC. “I was on the lookout for a job that could help me earn additional income. That’s when I came across an advertisement in a local newspaper about training programmes on stingless beekeeping at Krishi Vigyan Kendra,” says Udayan.
As stingless bees can be reared in small places, it is convenient for farmers. After the three-day training programme, Udayan arranged bee boxes of standard specifications and started having natural colonies. In a year, he could make 100 colonies. The 60-year-old also mastered the art of giving and collecting bees from the wild. Apart from keeping empty boxes in his house for the bee to form a colony, Udayan also sources bees from the wild too. This practice requires immense patience and skill.
“There are bees everywhere around us. They live in enclosed spaces and are found mostly on bamboo poles. All they require is a dark space that can store at least 2 litres of nectar,” he says. “Stingless bees improve pollination and will enhance biodiversity in a farm. They enter even small flowers, making them ideal agents for augmenting farm productivity and thereby increasing farmers income,” says Udayan. From among the many stingless bees, Udayan carefully picks a Queen bee first. Then he picks virgin bees, a few male, and many female bees or the worker bees to form a new colony.
“One colony can be split into two. The bees themselves will go in search of other spaces once their shelter gets full. So before that happens, we can create another colony either by taking the queen bee, pollen, nectar and bees or eggs. In one batch we can get at least ten eggs, repeating the same could help us make many colonies,” says Udayan who mainly gets his income from selling the colonies.
Only one entrance of the wooden box will be open. All other holes will be closed using the wax secreted by the bees and the resin they collect from trees. This year, Udayan sold at least 496 colonies to organisations such as National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and Agriculture Technology Management Agency. “Meliponiculture fetches good income. One colony costs at least `1500,” he adds.
QUALITY AND HEALTH
The honey procured from stingless bees are of high quality and have many medicinal properties, but the quantity harvested at a time is less. Due to its small size, it can even enter tiny flowers of medicinal plants, herbs, and shrubs. According to Udayan, the lifespan of a stingless bee is 60 days. During this time, it can only collect a spoonful of honey from a colony. “For them to have a spoonful of honey, they have to approach at least 200 flowers. The honey of stingless bees is not sweet when compared with apis bee honey. It tastes a bit sour. After harvesting, we don’t have to reduce the water content, because the bee already removes moisture by flapping its wings differently. In the market they are priced ten times higher than the honey procured from agriculture,” says Udayan. Contact: 8547994801