Tag Archives: Apis cerana

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!


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.




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.


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]

July 2013: Araku welcomes the Indian monsoon

17 Jul

After the harsh summer, farmers can finally rejoice, monsoons have arrived!  Most farmers in our emerald valley don’t have access to irrigation systems and can only rely heavily on the rain. When the monsoon skies open, farmers plough their lands and start sowing rice and vegetables. In a week’s time the dry, arid landscape transforms itself into a lush green landscape.

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There is little info available as to where the bees migrate to during the monsoon, they become scarce in this region when the monsoon start. Apis cerana builds its nest in October, which often gets flooded during monsoon and the honey bees evacuate. I was surprised to see this swarm at one of our empty hives a couple weeks ago.


That morning I went to a particular village to monitor the bees and inform the villagers about monsoon management techniques. When we reached one of our new beekeepers came to us, telling us that there is a group of bees hanging on her empty hive. I was delighted to be greeted by lively swarm! The colony found its new house all by itself! Taking established colony count to 15!


Our first trained beekeeper, Laxmi,  is now ready to teach other women of her village. She looks like a pro and she isn’t the least bit scared of the bees anymore. She has a passion for her bees and when she opens her hive, she takes great care not to disturb them too much.The team is extremely proud of her!


June Timeline: Celebration of the Pollinator week

14 Jun



This month, from the 17 to 23rd, the world will celebrate pollinator week. To  mark the event, our post of the month will be focused on the different insect pollinators that we find in the region, actually more specifically the ones that I was able to photograph.



Of course, we are working with Apis Cerena, the Indian honey bee, I think everyone knows how our little friend looks by now.


Apis cerana

I was able to capture a couple other honey bee species which are not domesticable.

Apis Dorsata, or Rock bees (as they’re popularly called) are usually double the size of their European counterpart. In India, Honey harvesting from A. Dorsata is a tradition. The honey hunters are renowned for their bravery and skill. A nest can contain 60 kilogram of honey! JACKPOT!


Apis dorsata nest

Apis florea, on the other hand is 2 times smaller than their European brethren. Their nest is not bigger than 20 cm and a colony produce an average of 200 gram of honey yearly.  I found it quite strange to see the 2 distinctly different species side by side, but hey, this is India for you.

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Honey bees are the best known pollinators but there are others as well. Some of the most beautiful and graceful are butterflies. They are not as efficient as bees, because butterflies are perching feeders, they do not come as close to the flower therefor to the pollen. Still, they do their part in pollination and who doesn’t like watching them, they are so colorful and elegant!

Papilio polytes

Common Mormon- Papilio polytes

Euthalia aconthea

Simple Baron- Euthalia aconthea

There are also more discrete pollinators, that you may not even noticed or just mistake with a honey bee: the solitary bee. They are not social insect, which mean they have no queens and all female are fertile. Also they do not produce honey or wax. Around the world 90% of the bee species are solitary. Solitary bees are important pollinators and have advanced pollen collecting structures on their bodies with which to collect the pollen.

Bee hotel

Bee hotel

In Araku we want to create a bee sanctuary or should I say a pollinator sanctuary. Our main focus is Apis Cerana, but we do not for a moment forget to consider the various other pollinators. This month we have started creating bee-hotel for solitary bees to nest in. We used bamboo sticks of different size for the first one, but for the next one, we’ll try to vary the material to offer more habitat options to these guys. Can’t wait to go back there to see the first customers!

Timeline 2012

9 Jan


Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, India

Kotagiri, Tamil Nadu, India

The buzz began in Kotagiri with the able guidance of the Keystone foundation.

Cupid’s arrow struck me in the form of my first bee sting, and there was no looking back from there. I just knew what I wanted to do.

First meeting with Apis cerana introduced by Leo Robert

First meeting with Apis cerana introduced by Leo Robert

It was here that my interest in Indian honey bees came to life. During my time at the foundation I learnt the basic beekeeping practices and guidelines to follow.

My interaction with the Keystone foundation was crucial in developing my understanding of apiculture and best practices to follow whilst implementing the same.

Region of Araku valley

The scenic valley

After reading boatloads of documentation on honey bees we initiated our project in the emerald-green Araku Valley in A.P., with Naandi foundation. The Pollinator Project focuses on the domestication of the indigenous Asiatic honey bees Apis cerana.

The chief goal of the project is to train women farmers in various beekeeping methods and encourage other women to do the same.

July 2012 

10 First beneficiaries

The first 10 beneficiaries

5 villages from the area were selected to be a part of the Apiculture project. Each village has seen two horticulture farmers nominated.
10 farmers have been chosen for the job including 8 women. We distributed the first hive received from the good folks at the Keystone.

An happy beneficiary receiving her first hive

A happy beneficiary receiving her first hive

In addition to this we’re providing the selected apiculturists basic training and an understanding of how to go about beekeeping as efficiently as possible. We hope to see them imbibe the importance of honey bees in agriculture and embrace their role as pollinators.

August 2012

Training with one of our beekeeper

Training with one of our beekeepers

Only one of our new beekeepers was able to capture a colony and house them successfully in his hive. The others absconded, a common response for Indian bees.  The Indian monsoons are the worst season to capture a colony as the majority of the bees have migrated.

October 2012

Newton hive made by our local carpenter

Newton hive made by our local carpenter

A local carpenter has been trained to replicate the newton hive, the hive used by Indian bees.

November 2012

Sunshine returns, and along with it the honey bees make their way back! Hives are buzzing with activity. The beekeepers are in the process of completing their training.

We are teaching them how to extract wax from the old combs and make candles. Wax candles are a great source of light for them. They are cost-effective, natural and easy to make. In certain villages in the area (where electricity lines have not even been installed) even the light luminance of a candle can be of great use.

December 2012

First honey of Araku Region prepared by misses A.c

First honey of Araku Region prepared by misses A.c

The hives are being filled; the total stands at about 7 colonies now.

New beneficiaries are joining the activity of beekeeping. It’s encouraging to see the local women keenly seeking to learn about and practice apiculture.

Also our first hive had the super (honey portion) added to it, and in a matter of a couple weeks, it’s chock-full of honey.Our first harvest is just around the corner!

The Sun Hive

The Sun Hive

Saved the best for the last! The highlight of the month is the arrival of the first sun hive in India. The shape of the hive harmonizes with the movement patterns of the bee colony and enables the bees to design their brood nests according to their own innate criteria.