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March Timeline: Visitors time

8 Apr

Students from Mahindra pride school paid a visit to our bee garden this month to observe and learn the best practices of bee gardening. They looked at the wide variety of plants that were growing in the garden. Plants in the bee garden serve as fuel for bees and they flock the garden for nectar and pollen. Multi-fold benefits of a bee garden, which include serving bees and humans, were explained to the students at our bee garden; nectar from Chia is a great source for Omega 3.DSC_0254 - Copy

We picked up seeds from our own bee garden to start our own biodynamic seed bank! When we have enough number of seeds, we may also plan to distribute these seeds in the village.DSC_0524

We are continuing to teach our partners how to make candles from the wasted wax, which can be really useful in the village – electricity is a luxury there!DSC_0288 - Copy

 To celebrate the end of the harvesting season of coffee, we organized an event that saw coffee taster from around the world get together to taste our coffee and to meet their makers. Our CEO Manoj Kumar was present at this event along with Mr. Rajeev Dubey (President – Mahindra & Mahindra Group HR, Corporate Services & After-Market and Member of the Mahindra & Mahindra Group Executive Board). We also planted 3,000,000’th tree in the region during this event – an important milestone for Project Hariyali!

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Coffee flowers started blossoming – do you remember my article on the effect that coffee has on bees? I could not capture a bee on the flower but here’s a picture of the coffee flower blossom.DSC_0373

We also introduced our programme to a new village, Gangaiguda, which incidentally had more women than men, who sat in groups.DSC_0437 - Copy

 

February Timeline: Swarming season and the Indian summer

8 Mar

DSC_0239 - CopyWe’re happy to report a very fruitful February for the Pollinator Programme. The month started with the partners learning to divide colonies more efficiently. We’ve trained our partners to divide the hive during swarming season. According to the region and the climatic conditions, the period of swarming varies greatly from one site to another. It generally happens a few months after the beginning of the flowering season. In Araku, swarming happens from January to March, as well as at the beginning of the monsoon, in June. We were pleasantly surprised to find one of the colonies we divided in Kotagumam had more than 5 queen cells! The hive was carried around a kilometer from the mother hive,  to avoid the possibility of worker bees coming back to their initial address. The new colony has been put in a coffee plantation on a tree which is locally called Madi tree.

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We also had a visit from our mother bee, Briony Young, who brought us the original Sunhive last year. We loved sharing our ideas with her and have constantly been in touch with her throughout the last year for her valuable inputs on the programme. She was impressed by the progress that our partners had made and offered a training session on how to plant bee-friendly trees and plants around hives. She is an expert biodynamic farmer and spends her time shuttling between her native Zimbabwe and England.

With the onset of summer our bee garden has suffered. The soil is becoming harder and we are doing a séance of CPP (Cow Pat Pit) Biodynamic method to improve the quality of the soil- can be called a super fertilizer. The sultry South Indian summer does have a silver lining, with the mango flower season starting. Mango is more of a pollen supplier tree, meaning our bees are in for a treat!

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Back to Hyderabad were I visited the farm of our good friend and biodynamic farmer, Anjali Rudraraju. She is working on creating a Sunhive on her biodynamic farm as well. She has a lot of Apis florea on her plot and we also observed the presence on the Borage flower of our little friends Apis cerana. You can check out more about Anjali’s farm and her work on her Mitti and Mango Nation Facebook page.

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Timeline January 2014: Happy New Year from the Araku Valley

6 Feb

We’ve been busy over the new year period and haven’t been able to update everybody. A belated New Year greetings to all! The new year promises much for the women beekeepers of the Araku Valley.

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As per the lunar calendar the residents of the Emerald Valley celebrated their new year, two weeks into the year on Makar Sankranti. Celebrated across India and even parts of Nepal, the Hindu harvest festival holds a special significance for farmers. As the Araku Valley found itself amidst festive revelry, we were engaged on Dr. Patel’s bio-dynamic farm in Baroda, Gujarat.

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At the farm, we spoke about the bio-dynamic Sun hive which is currently in the process of being redesigned to adapt to the local bee population. We were happy to present it to the people present at the workshop. Thanks to the natural beekeeping trust of England we We also highlighted our efforts towards natural beekeeping practices.

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To have healthy bees, we need healthy plants and for this the soil needs to be nutritious. The practice of bio-dynamic agriculture ensures the soil is revitalized. If you are interested and want to know know more about this type of agriculture, check their website: http://www.biodynamics.in

Back in Araku, our partners are slowly filling their hives. What a joy to see the girls learning how to handle the bees without fear. The bees are also extremely active at this time of the year. The buzzing of bees is music to our ears, we’re expecting several colonies to swarm to our specially built hives

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The bee garden is growing and slowly changing. We recently made a Pagoda and introduce one Newton hive and one sun hive. And for the first time in history, a swarm established in the redesigned hive and started making a comb. It is an immense hope to have our sun hive filled with the Asian bees. After so many effort on adapting the Size, make the template, find someone who could do it and which was able to do it in bulk and constantly. We are making it in rice straw and they are not using a plastic bottle to respect the size they can do it only with their hands! Amazing, right?

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December 2013: The Bee Garden comes to the Araku Valley

22 Jan

Of late, we’ve observed a great improvement in beekeeping skills of our women beneficiaries. We’ve reached out to over eighty women in Araku Valley and there are encouraging signs for the near future.

copyThe majority of our women beneficiaries have overcome their fear of bees and showing a keen interest in taking up the task. We recently had a visit from Senior Advisor Sustainability and Shared Value Creation at Danone, Bernard Giraud. Danone, in partnership with Naandi Foundation has been working towards livelihoods solutions in the Araku Valley. He was impressed by what he saw and amazed by the lack of fear among our women while handling the bees. The local tribes people in Araku  have an ingrained sense of harmony with nature, as do each and every one of our beneficiaries.Visit

Another bit of exciting news, the Pagoda of the bee garden has been built and is ready to welcome the bees.  The Hariyali (Greenery) Project has helped us ensure that we have the most bee-friendly plants around our ‘Bee Shangri-La.’ Plants. A range of tomatoes, basil, lychees and even strawberries snugly wrap our bee sanctuary in the Central Nursery in Hukumpetta. To guaranty to  establish a bee sanctuary, and thanks to the practice of biodynamic agriculture, we are slowly improving the soil which will lead to healthy bees.

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beeWe’re welcoming visitors in Araku Valley to come check us out and let us know what you think.

November 2013: Empowering women

4 Dec

After the deluge we witnessed in October, the sun gods have smiled upon our serene valley. Remember our ladies from Santhari featured on ApiAnon last month? In a month, they had 3 established colonies in this village!

We’re delighted to announce that we hosted our first visitor for the Pollinator programme. Anjali is an organic farmer and co-founder of  my choices  where she works in women empowerment and strengthening the girl child. She is native from Andhra Pradesh and volunteerly came to meet and discuss with the women partners to speak about organic farming and women empowerment. It was great to have her for a few days.

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We organised meetings in 2 villages, one is Santhari with our strong women and the other one is called Merkachinta, a village where all our partners are between 16 to 21 years old. In this village we have now 3 colonies. And they made their own bee garden.

We also started a bee garden in our Central nursery.  A bee garden is a flower-rich habitat, a place where bees are free to forage and pollinate. Providing an abundance of nectar and pollen and creating special bee shelters, we hope to create a safe haven for honey bees and all pollinators in the region. The garden is also serving as an outreach tool for advising farmers, beekeepers, visitors and others on the importance of pollinators and on planning their own garden that will encourage bee and other flower visitors.

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We are welcoming a new village and 5 new partners who joined the program. Kotagumam is one of the remote village where they have already caught a colony. When we monitored the colony, the first thing we saw was the beautiful Queen. Can you see her ?

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September 2013: Education takes the Araku Pollinator Program forward

23 Sep

This month we received an educational kit from Bee for development to help us train and empower  the tribal women of the Pollinator Program. Thanks to the visual cards provided we can now help our beneficiaries understand the program easily and also organize and structure our meetings in a better.

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We experimented with the educational kit in a village called Karaput. The first meeting was about the awareness on honey bees primary role. The group of 12 women gave different answers – “bees make honey which is medicinal”,” they sit on flowers and drink the juice”, but they didn’t really seem to know why bees did this. The visual cues assisted us in explaining the the role of honey bees as pollinators. At the end of the session, all the women insisted on doing a group picture with me to commemorate our first meeting!

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We are also preparing for swarming season which will occur when the monsoon comes to an end and the flowers of the forest trees will begin blooming. We have started building bait hives which will hopefully attract a swarm. We’ve put some drops of lemon grass oil in all our empty hives in an attempt to attract swarms.

In the nearby village of Kodaput, we took the time to speak to elders from the community. They told us of how in these 2 last decades the lush-green forest around them has slowly disappeared. Back in the day, you couldn’t walk 2 meters without stumbling upon a beehive, the village had 6 households (they now have around 30). Trees and wild flowers were there all yearlong, to cross rivers they used the tree’s branches, It’s hard to believe that all this was just 15-20 years ago! I was really touch by their words and they helped me reinforce the need for the pollinator program in light of disappearing bee populations

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At current, it is not easy to work and travel in this region. Since the beginning of the month, region has been paralyzed by daily strikes and bandhs over the division of the state of Andhra Pradesh. Roads are blocked, public transport options are sparse and power cuts have increased due to the weekly strike of the electricity department. Due to this our work is disturbed on a daily basis and its difficult for us to reach our weekly targets. We’ve been forced to take smaller steps.

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 😦

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]