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Bensislas G with freshly harvested honeycomb of stingless bees   | Photo Credit: Harikumar J S

Bensislas G gently taps an end of a rectangular beehive box and drives the buzzing stingless bees into a porous plastic bottle. The beekeeper from Anchamada, Vattiyoorkkavu, then gets ready to harvest honey from the colony that has been well-preserved in his garden for about a year. “You must be careful not to harm the bees, especially the queen,” says the 55-year-old.
A former electronics repairman, Bensislas, today, is a busy bee whose Amma Honey buzzes with business. As you enter his house, walking past a modest “nectar garden”, one can’t help but notice bees flying about the flowers and honey kettles. “They are harmless,” the apiarist assures.

Bensislas G examining a beehive box before its harvesting honey

Bensislas G examining a beehive box before its harvesting honey   | Photo Credit: Harikumar J S

Bensislas says he took to beekeeping eight years ago “as an experiment”. “When prices of rubber nosedived, I tried my hand at animal husbandry and reared goats, rabbits, ornamental fish and chicken after taking training from Livestock Management Training Centre at Kudappanakunnu but none of it proved a success. I then attempted apiculture. This time it clicked, perhaps due to the low maintenance cost,” he says. The accomplishment gave Bensislas such a buzz that he soon plunged into beekeeping full-time, utilising his rubber plantations at Kattakada and Aruvikkara to expand the practice.
The apiculturist keeps Indian bees, Italian bees and stingless bees in corresponding colony boxes placed strategically around his house. “Stingless bees are not attracted to light sources and hence do not enter the house. Indian bees, which produce perunthen, however, do not behave the same. But their yield is much bigger. Italian bees, originally an imported species, are big in size and have a higher honey yield but are prone to being eaten by a species of bee-eating birds,” he explains.

Eggs of stingless bees

Eggs of stingless bees   | Photo Credit: Harikumar J S

Bensislas recollects that it wasn’t all milk and honey when he started out with apiculture, having endured many painful bites while cutting his teeth on the venture. “One time, I couldn’t step out for two days due to a swollen face. But I was inexperienced then, it’s almost second nature for me now,” he says with a laugh.
Bensislas, who had put up a stall of Amma Honey at the recent National Beekeepers’ Meet and Honey Fest in the city, points out that quality and texture of honey harvested depends as much on the nectar source as the bee species. “Many beekeepers like to set up colonies in rubber plantations as they offers ample space and are a perennial source of nectar. But such honey is also thinner and that also has to do with the Kerala weather. I find honey from Tamil Nadu thicker,” says Bensislas, a member of Federation of Indigenous Apiculturists.

  • A highlight of Amma Honey is ‘moringa honey’ that is derived from nectar collected by bees from moringa blossoms. “It’s darker and thicker and is believed to have high medicinal value,” says Bensislas. Due to paucity of large-scale moringa farms in the State, Bensislas sets ups bee colonies in a moringa plantation in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu for the honey. “July-December period is the season as that’s when moringa usually blooms. But as the flowers are small, the yield is also low,” he says. Due to the transportation cost, Bensislas says he ties up with a couple of other apiculturists who extract moringa honey. “It’s a win-win deal as the plantation owners are offered a cut of the profit. Moreover, the presence bees helps in pollination too, improving yield from the moringa trees,” he adds.

The beekeeper says he harvests approximately 1.5 tonnes of honey in a year, while other derivatives he sells include beeswax and nectar-based value-added products such as then kanthari (bird’s eye chilli), then veluthulli (garlic), then eethapazham (dates) and so on. “The edibles must be thoroughly desiccated before mixing with honey as the moisture can turn it rancid,” he points out.
Bensislas affirms that anyone with “a bit of practice and patience” can practice beekeeping, even in urban zones, either as a hobby for domestic use or even on a commercial scale. “It’s quite cost-effective. After all, the bees will do all the hard work to bring the honey,” he says with a chuckle, adding that bees need to be fed sugar syrup during low efflorescence seasons.

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Printable version | Jan 5, 2022 12:00:43 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/apiarist-bensislas-g-from-vattiyoorkkavu-keeps-himself-busy-in-the-company-of-bees/article29203359.ece
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