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A beginning guide to beekeeping

By Wilfred Murry
There are more then 20,000 species of bees found all over the world except in Antarctica. The queen bee can lay eggs up to 2,000 per day on a cell and one pound of honey contain the essence of about 2 million flowers. It can be a wonder that honey bees wings stroke 11,400 times per minute thus making their distinctive buzz.

Honeybees are one of the most valuable insects for mankind, they produce honey, enhance crops production also sustains plant biodiversity through their pollinating services. There are four different species of honeybee available in Nagaland (a) common honeybee (b) Gaint bee (c) stingless bee (d) Little bee out of these the common honeybee and stingless bees can be domesticated.

Traditionally, bees have been raised since time immemorial in crude wooden or log hives, while modern beekeeping involves scientifically designed hives. Bee keeping can be taken as hobby and agro based industry or can be as a commercial venture. Honey is a product of nector collected by bees from different flowers, which are highly nutritional and medicinal properties.

Beekeeping is rewarding occupational for many people, which requires minimal investment and yields profit within a year. It does not consume time like other livelihood activities but can be considered as an additional income for the farmers. Beekeeping and hunting are long traditional of the Nagas because the state is rich of floral resources, which provides ample scope for varieties of bee's species to thrive and thus provide honey to flow in the market.

There is several system of beekeeping in Nagaland practice traditionally since time immemorial however it was found not encouraging. Therefore the Nagaland Beekeeping and Honey Mission (NBHM) has come out with an attempts to provide the basic scientific startup knowledge on various management aspects of beekeeping by incorporating with some farmers tested traditional who has knowledge on beekeeping. The attempt is to serve and guide for correct and easy management of bees, harvesting of honey and post harvest management of honey.

Honeybees depend for food upon pollen and nectars from flowering plants, and to produce one pound of honey, bees collect nectars from millions of flowers. The bees are also responsible for pollinating a variety of fruits, vegetable, legumes etc they can be reached without being fed by us unlike other domesticated animals and in returned they do things that are beneficial to human and environment.

The bees colony consists of a queen, several drones and thousand of workers, the three castes of bees are inter-dependent on one another for their existence. The queen is the mother of the colony and the largest in size among the three castes and has the life spans of 3-5 years. The drone is the laziest of the three they are stouter and larger then the workers bees. The function of the drone is to impregnate the new queen in the air. Once they mate with the queen they die and if they do not mate with the queen they may live for 45-60 days. The workers bees live for 5-7 weeks during the lean season.

We can start beekeeping where there is an area with abundant flora and natural colonies and also where there is unifloral or multifloral pollen and nectar bearing plants that bloom year round. The best to set up for optimum production of honey and increment in the bee colonies is preferred to set up in the forested area instead of nearby human settlement. We can start bee keeping in the availability of space and is not good practice to hives in rows and in one direction to avoid drifting and confusion to recognised one's colony because of the same flight path. There should be at least of two metres wide 4-5 metres gap between the rows. The best time to start bee keeping is the active season, i.e. where sufficient bee flora is available and early part of the flowering season.

To be a successful bee keeper the right and timely management practice is required. One should know the behaviour of the bees and need to operate accordingly. The best way to start with is, with a few bee colonies and increase the number when one gain the experience. The most ideal time to inspect or operate upon hives is when the day is calm and steady or either in the morning or evening before sunset. Ants sand termites, cockroaches and lizards disturb the bees inside the hives also eat up the bee hives and the young bee larva and make the bees restless. The wasp and hornets are the other two enemies of the bees they create with havoc in the apiary, they adapt the adult forage bees directly and the yellow band wasp (vespa orientalis) is the most harmful predator, which effect greatly on the working system. If the attack is massive the bees venture outside the hives thereby starvation starts.

Since there is certain disadvantage in practice of traditional beekeeping, scientifically system is more encouraging. To analyses few points: Traditional it destroy the nest, it contaminate the honey by squeezing the honey from comb prone that leds to fermentation due to impurities. These are a limited harvest in a year, the colony desert the nest immediately after harvest and breeding of bees is not possible. Traditionally to inspect for management and natural crop pollination cannot be possible. Scientifically the nest can be preserved, can prevent from contamination and fermentation of the honey. It can harvest many times in a year. Scientifically the colony can be saved from starvations by giving them feeding prevent them from migrations and can take measures against diseases, pests and enemies. It helps in breeding of bees and higher yield, also can move the frames and box set up to manipulates in the hives for better livelihood of the bees. It can also control crops pollination by moving them from one place to another.

Honey is harvested from the ripe honey combs of the super chamber and when at least 80% of the comb is a frame it is fully capped by a thin layer of wax honey scientifically. Following steps are adopted during harvest - i) Smoke some puffs at the entrance/top of the hives to tame the bees temporarily, ii) Stand behind the hives and remove the top cover and crown board, iii) Remove the super frame and brush off the bees, iv) Remove only the capped or partially capped honey combs of the ripe honey.

To extract honey safely following steps are taken - i) A thin wax layer covering the ripe honey is sliced off from a honey comb with the help of stainless steel knife, it should avoid deep cuts as this may damage the combs. For easy cutting the knife can be deep in warm water. After one side of the comb is removed hold the frame upwards over the uncapping tray to drip the honey into the tray than uncapped the other side. After this process the uncapped combs are than put into the extractor and is gently extracted by rotating the handle.   

To remove foreign matters such as pollen grains, dead bees, dust particles etc. present in the honey it can be filtered by using filter materials like fine mesh nylon, muslin clothes etc. which could be manually done. In order to destroy the yeast cell to avoid fermentation and to reduce the cohesive form of honey it is indirectly heated to 60°C to 65°C for fifteen minutes. Excessive and repeated heating of the honey decomposes fructose resulting into formation of hydroxyl-methyl-furfural (HMF). While heating the honey it should be properly stirred to heat the honey to its desire temperature uniformly. The honey should be heated in a water bath indirectly in an enclosed container finally allowing the honey to cool off and settle for 24 hours before packaging.              
September 2010  The writer is a journalist based in Nagaland