August 2013: The mighty Indian Monsoon and the Araku Valley

17 Aug

August saw us face a number of setbacks, in addition to the weather-related roadblocks we were faced with a bee predator – the Asian hornet. While we’d had minor incidents in the past, this month saw us lose 2 colonies were killed (or hopefully absconding) out of the 4 hives that faced attack. It is always heart-breaking to open a hive and find no sign of life đŸ˜¦

Just a little info on Asian hornets. They are voracious predators that feed bees and bee larvae to their young. A single giant hornet can kill over 10,000 honeybees! They attack in groups of three to thirty, and once under attack, a beehive is destroyed within two to forty-eight hours. Apis cerana can defend itself by forming a fire ball which consist to create a bee ball around the hornet and kill it by increasing the temperature. Unfortunately they are not able to win every battle.hornet

On our way to Thurukulametta where we were working, a farmer from Bakuru who heard about the program stopped us and told us that he was interested in become a beekeeper. He reported seeing a swarm earlier that morning but he didn’t have a hive to capture it. We came back in a few hours with a hive and walked 15 minutes away from the village to find the small treasure. The swarm was tiny, no more than 5,000 bees. It seems like these little chaps had to leave their previous beehive in an emergency. There are two possible explanations for this off season swarming. Due to the heavy rain,  these colonies may have faced flooded hives or perhaps they were attacked by the hornets.DSC_1256 DSC_0010DSC_0012DSC_0014DSC_0049

The area we are working in has patches of shrubbery (consisting mainly of silver oak and coffee) not exactly a food paradise for our little friends. One of our main objectives is to transform this area where the bees will have food all round the year and for this we need to plant. Since all our farmers don’t have easy access to water, we are focusing  during during this monsoon on sowing seeds and planting bee-friendly plants. Since the beginning of the month, my assistant and myself have been running all over the places locating seeds and distributing them to our beekeepers. Moringa, hibiscus, wild flowers found in the area, roses, vegetables etc….

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One of our other objectives is to spread the good word about the threat honey bees are facing around the world. as well as create awareness about natural beekeeping and share our vision to create a bee sanctuary in the Araku region. I was invited to deliver a lecture in Auroville, Tamil Nadu recently. My audience for these 3 days was diverse. Apprentice farmers from different nationalities, high-school students from Chennai with an interest in agriculture and environmentalists from around the country.

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All in all, a fantastic experience although I discovered a lack of knowledge wherever I went with only a handful of people being truly conscious about the worldwide decline of honeybees. It’s time to join the buzz and help us spread the word.

photo credit by [Thomas]

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