Often I have come across fields with wooden boxes covered with black plastics and straws on the sides of roads while touring parts of North 24 Parganas of West Bengal in totos (battery operated auto-rickshaws). These are honey bee farms, and I had the opportunity to talk to 2 honey bee farmers while in Gobardanga- a town roughly 62 km from Kolkata. These 2 brothers' bee farm with some 55 boxes is adjacent to their houses. The frames inside the boxes, a fresh wax sheet on the left frame
Honey bees are reared in wooden boxes. Each box has 9 frames or in case of a smaller box, it has 5 frames. Frames are made out of wood with a sheet of wax paper. These wax sheets are priced at Rs 300 per kg. The wax sheets are fixed in the frame with the help of aluminium wires. The honey bees then make their honeycombs on the sheets. The sheets make it easier for the bees to make the combs. Not all 9 frames are put inside the box at first. Few frames are put inside the box at first. When the bees start making combs in the vacant space inside the box, the other frames are put inside.
Nectar consumed by the queen bee
Each box has a queen bee, distinguished from the other worker bees by her red stripes instead of black and her elongated abdomen. Each queen bee is kept for one year; after a year, the queen is killed by the beekeeper. The new queen is then produced during the monsoons by putting an egg, "milk" - as termed by the bee keepers, from the bees called “royal jelly”, and a stick dipped in mustard oil inside a wax chamber, in a box of bees which has no queen. After seven days a queen bee is produced with the help of the other bees, according to the bee keeper. “The milk is produced by the bees after their queen is killed, because their mother is no more”, said the bee farmer, however, I have googled and read that royal jelly is always present in the beehive and essentially works to feed all larvae, the queen’s larva is fed with more of this fluid so that her reproductive organs develop. “There are many different ways of producing a queen bee, this is just one kind that we use”, the beekeeper told.
A wax comb made by the bees in the vacant space inside the box
The honey bees are purchased frame wise. The honey season is only during the winters, and lasts till March-April. These boxes are firstly taken to places which have mustard cultivation, then they are taken to places which have litchi cultivation and eucalyptus plantations, places such as Bankura (a town roughly 215 km from Gobardanga); lastly they are taken to Sunderbans. When boxes are taken to these locations, the owners and the helpers go in trucks and camp at the site. "When we go to Sundarbans or Bankura, then every week we extract the honey", says one of the bee keepers. During the summers, bees are fed water mixed with sugar, they also need to be fed glucose. "The bees work for 6 months and for 6 months they rest", says a bee farmer's wife, on whose name a micro loan has been given for the purpose of bee rearing. Bee farmers' wives do not know much about honey bee rearing- it's not a work done by women.
The bee keeper pointing at the queen bee of the box
According to one bee farmer, bees fly 22 times to the same flower.
The queen bee consumes only nectar, brought by the worker bees with their feet. “The queen lays 250 eggs each day. The honey is only until the 1/4th part of the frame, rest is filled with eggs”, says the bee farmer. Again I have googled and found out that the queen can produce a maximum of 2,000 eggs a day.
A Honey Extractor
He brought out a honey extractor from his house. In this honey extractor, 3 frames are fixed, and the handle is rotated. Each frame yields 1 kg of honey. Frames are fixed in the holders, 3 frames can be fixed in one extractor at once. The honey is collected inside the extractor and taken out through the nozzle at the bottom of the extractor. According to one of them, the honey comes out, and not the eggs. These frames are then returned to the boxes.
“This year we would suffer loses, the price of honey has come down to Rs 60 per kg. Last year also we suffered loses. Bee farmers suffered Rs 1-1.5 lakh loses. Last to last year it was Rs 120-130 per kg. Our honey is exported to China, they are mixing adulterants and bringing down the price of honey. We also suffer losses when the weather is bad. Good weather is when it’s chilly, with less fog. For going to Dinajpur (a town 400 km from Gobardanga) it costs us Rs 50,000-60,000 and if we don’t get honey after going there, then we suffer heavy losses”, the bee farmer lamented.