What Farmers Learn at RRTC Meghalaya About Honey Bee!

Rural Resource and Training Center (RRTC) is an autonomous organization working with farmers and training them on sustainable farming techniques. RRTC trains farmers in organic farming and low-cost agricultural practices to make the best use of their land and other resources. Beekeeping is one such sustainable technique which RRTC offers as training to the farmers. Farmers here are trained on collecting honey, beeswax and taught how it can boost their farming produce. Honey bee culture is called Apiculture.

What We Learned From a Bee-keeper at RRTC

On our recent visit to RRTC we had the privilege of learning and experiencing factual inputs on honey bee from Daman Lakashiang, a  bee-keeping expert at RRTC. As we began our conversation, he exclaimed, “Honey bees are much like humans, they read instincts and can easily sense if danger is approaching. If you have no intention to harm the bees, they will not harm you either.

Bees are peaceful insects who work hard to gather pollen and prepare for adverse weather conditions”. He then went on fueling the conversation with interesting facts on how RRTC is promoting apiculture in their model farm.

Here is what we learned from our chat with Daman Lakashiang.

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Bee Hive Box at RRTC

The beehive box at RRTC is a modern day Langstroth, a wooden square box.
There are four elementary components to this beehive box. The bottom board, the box sections, the frames and the cover(s).

Parts of a beehive box from bottom to top:
  • Hive stand: The hive stand is at the bottom of the beehive box and keeps the hive off the ground. It also comes with a small water pool called the ant well. The ant well is made to keep away ants and other insects that are attracted to honey and other produce. If such a measure is not taken, the bees may abandon their hives.
  • Bottom board: This layer is a flat panel of wood and is the base of a beehive box. The bottom board has a screen on it. The screen serves as an entrance and aids in hive ventilation and pest management.
  • Entrance Reducer: A small piece of wood or metal guard is fitted between the bottom board and lower box section. This is done for protecting the colony from rodents.
  • Lower box section: This is a large size deep.
  • Lower box section frames: These wooden frames are the heart of the beehive. About 8-10 wooden frames are placed vertically into the lower box section. These frames are the foundation for bees to build their hives. It is also called the brood chamber where bees store their eggs, larvae and pollen food.
  • Queen excluder: The lower box section is separated from the upper box section with a queen excluder. It is a flat metal rack with small holes large enough to only fit the worker bee and not the queen bee. This is done so that the queen does not lay eggs in the honey or the upper section.
  • Upper box section: This is a medium size deep box that holds the frames where the bees will store their honey. It has 8 frames that are placed vertically. Bees build wax on these frames and store honey.
  • Cover: A wooden cover goes on top of the beehive box. It protects the bees from rain. Bees only work in the dark which is why the bee hive must always be covered.

Bee hive box at RRTC

Bee Species Reared at RRTC

There are 3 species of bees reared at RRTC - Apis cherana (Indian local bee), Apis melifera (Italian bee), Apis dorsata (giant bee). Wild bees, Apis trigona are also seen regularly around the vicinity. Apis trigona bee is also known as a stingless bee since they do not sting, but bite when threatened.

Bees around a Ksing- a traditional beehive used in Meghalaya
Bees are social insects and depend on one another for a living. Within a bee hive, there is 4 class order of bees – the queen bee, the drone bee, the worker bee and the house bee. House bees are honey bees which are not a fully-grown adult bee.  They stay back and look after the bee hives, feed the eggs, the larvae, and the queen. The house bee also builds and maintains the hive.

Once they are fully grown into their adult form, they begin to leave their hives and start looking for pollen food and nectar. Gradually these house bees become worker bees. Worker bees are mostly female bees, they go out and seek pollen food and nectar from flowers. The worker bee plays an important role in cross-pollination and increasing agricultural produce. Most of the plants we consume are pollinated by worker bees. Even plants which are capable of self-pollination tend to produce a higher quality of produce when pollinated by a honey bee.

Honey on a flower
When a honey bee goes in search of nectar, the pollen from the flower sticks to its legs and since the bee visit several flowers for nectar, some of the pollen falls off on other flowers. Flowers such as orchids have colorful petals and elongated flower parts just to make sure that these parts are dusted with pollen when a bee comes for nectar.

A drone bee is a male bee formed from the unfertilized egg. Drones do not gather nectar and pollen. Its primary role is to mate with the queen during the breeding season. The breeding season depends on the flowering season and begins from March onwards. Once the breeding season is over male bees are chased away from the hive as they do not gather forage and consume more than half of the pollen bread.

A queen bee is considered as the chief of a colony. She feeds on royal jelly which is a different form of food unlike the food consumed by rest of the bees. This jelly is fed to the queen from the early stages (larvae stage) and it increases the life span of the queen to about 3-5 years. The queen is said to lay about 2000 eggs per day. A queen bee is a reason for a colony’s survival and productivity, without her the rest of the species cannot survive.

Bees are specific to their colonies or hives and don’t associate with other bee species. This is because the queen bee secretes a specific pheromone and spreads it to other worker bees of their respective colonies. This way bees do not get lost or intermix with other species. Normally bees do not sting a human but only do when they feel threatened. If stung by a bee you must always wash off the affected areas because the bee’s pheromones will be left in the affected areas. If not done quickly, a swarm of bees may attack you.

Honey bees around a Ksing
Types of Honey Found During Harvest

For bee-keepers knowing when to harvest honey is crucial. There is two types of honey – ripe and unripe honey. Bees seal and cap honeycombs using propolis, a resin-like substance for closing gaps.

Ripe honey: Honey extracted from a completely sealed honeycomb is called ripe honey. It is a concentrated form of honey as there is less than 20% moisture content.

Unripe honey:  When a honeycomb is sealed by less than 80%, the moisture content is high and honey is in its diluted form and thus it is unripe. At RRTC, honey is collected from the combs by slicing them into smaller parts using a slicing machine. Slicing the honeycombs makes it easier to process the honey and remove all the unwanted particles.

Harvest season takes place during the month of November. One beehive box produces 8 to 10 kg of honey each harvest. There are about 180 colonies at RRTC and annually 1000-1200 kg of honey is produced. RRTC sells these produces in the local markets.

Uni-Floral and Multi-Floral Honey

Floral plants attracting bees

Honey bees fly to an average of three-meter radius from their hive to look for nectar, pollen, and propolis. Based on the distance covered by worker bees to look for forage, honey can be classified as Uni- floral and multi-floral honey. When only one species of flower is found around the 4m radius of a worker bee, then the nectar that goes into making the honey is a superior form of honey known as the Uni-floral honey.

Uni-floral honey is expensive for its distinctive flavor due to being predominantly from the nectar of one flower species. Whereas in most cases multiple flowers are around the 4m radius of a bee which is why honey produced are usually a Multi-floral form of honey. These are gist that Daman Lakashiang shared with us on the honey bee, which reflects the depth of knowledge imparted to farmers on beekeeping.

Part of the reason why RRTC provides such a detailed training is for developing a sustainable future for farmers and making them accomplished entrepreneurs. "Meghalaya is home to many flora, both alpine and temperate, supplying pollen and nectar. Minimal use of pesticides in this region provides a good environment for the bees to flourish." - Kong Iba Blah (Lady Entrepreneur of Meghalaya) Zizira is here to create awareness and gives you an insight on how farmers are striving and working towards sustainability. Need more information on where to purchase natural and traditional honey? Contact us!

Do you know of any honey bee facts? You do? We would be happy to hear from you, write to us in the comment section below.

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