Beekeeping or apiculture is one of the oldest tradition. It is basically rearing of honey bees for the production of honey and other beneficial products while utilizing commercial methods. The name apiculture is given due to the scientific name of the honeybees which is ‘Apis’. It is the art and science of rearing honeybee colonies of desired species at appropriate sites for the production of honey. The beekeeper is known as the apiarist and the entire colony set up is called the Apiary.
Beekeeping has grown in popularity in recent years and is practiced through the world. It does not involve any land ownership, it can be started with simple tools that can be obtained locally. As a business enterprise it offers not only valuable products but also play important role in crop pollination. Honeybees can be managed for pollination of both field and horticulture crops and for hybrid seed production in vegetables. Moreover, bee products improve family nutrition and offer for traditional health care remedies.
Beekeeping is a profitable trade and involves simple management techniques. It fits well with small scale farmer’s livelihoods. It is not intrusive as bees work along the natural patterns of local climatic conditions and provides positive impacts to the fauna and flora found within. It helps in generation of employment, income and economic security in rural areas. It requires little start–up investments and does not require complex techniques to start, as bees usually look after themselves, with little need for tendering.
Generally, a colony consist of a queen, several thousand workers and a few drones. There is division of labor for the performance of various functions. They build nests which are called as combs and contains wax, are secreted from the wax glands of worker bees. The bees use their cells to rear thin brood and store food. Honey is stored in the upper part of comb. Under the comb, rows are available for pollen storage cells, worker brood cells and drone brood cells. Some bees species build a single comb in open where as others build multiple combs. The method used depend on the type of bees and resources available to the bee keeper.
- Honey bees are excellent pollinating agents and thus increases agricultural productivity. They pollinate flowering plants and cultivated crops and thereby maintain the ecosystem.
- It provides honey, a valuable energetic and nutritional food. Honey acts as a laxative and prevents cold, cough and fever.
- Provides beeswax and other products such as propolis, pollen and royal jelly. These products have many uses, and can be used to generate income.
- Few resources are needed. Beekeeping is feasible even for people with minimal resources. Bees are obtained from the wild. Equipment and tools can be made locally. Bees do not need the beekeeper to feed them.
- Land ownership is not essential. Hives can be placed at suitable places, and beekeeping does not require valuable land. Bees collect nectar and pollen wherever they can find it, so wild, cultivated and wasteland areas all can be used for beekeeping.
- Nectar and pollen are not used by other livestock: only bees harvest these resources, so there is no competition. Without bees these valuable resources could not be harvested.
- Different sectors and trades benefit from a strong beekeeping industry other local traders benefit by making hives and equipment, and from using and selling the products.
- Beekeeping encourages ecological awareness. Beekeepers have a financial reason to conserve the environment: ensuring that flowers are available and bees are protected.
- Bees can be kept by people of all ages. Bees do not need daily care and it can be managed with other work.
- Beekeeping is environmental friendly. It encourages the maintenance of biodiversity and generates income without destroying habitat.
Species of Honeybee:
There are four common species of honey bee under a single genus Apis.
1. Apis dorsata (The rock- bee)
This is the largest honeybee. Builds single large open comb on high branches of trees and rocks. It produces large amount of honey, but this bee is hard to domesticate. This bee is wild, stings severely causing fever and sometimes even death.
2. Apis indica (The Indian bee)
This is medium sized hive and consists of several parallel combs in dark places such as cavities of tree trunks, mud walls, earthen posts, etc. This bee is not so ferocious and can be domesticated.
3. Apis florea (The little bee)
Small sized hive and builds single small combs in bushes, hedges, etc. Honey yield is poor.
4. Apis mellifera
It is also known as the European bee, somewhat like the Indian bee (Apis indica). This has been introduced in many parts of the world. It is easily domesticated.
The Bee Colony
A honey bee colony has three castes
- Queen – only one; functional female
- Workers – 20,000-30,000, sterile females
- Drones – a few only, functional males available prior to swarming.
Queen bee is the only perfectly developed female that has well developed organs of female reproductive system. She is largest in size. Its wings are smaller and are shrunken. Mouth parts for sucking food are shorter than that of workers. A queen is easily differentiated from other members of the colony. Her body is normally much longer than either the drones or workers. Especially during the egg-laying period her abdomen is greatly elongated. Her wings cover only about two thirds of the abdomen, whereas the wings of both workers and drones almost reach the tip of the abdomen when folded. A queen’s thorax is slightly larger than that of a worker, and she has neither pollen baskets nor functional wax glands.
She lay two types of eggs:
- Fertilized-eggs that produce females (either sterile workers or fertile females (new queens).
- Unfertilized-eggs which produce drones.
Workers are the smallest bodied adults and inhabit the majority of the colony. They are sexually undeveloped females and do not lay eggs. They have specialized structures, such as brood food glands, scent glands, wax glands, and pollen baskets, which enable them to perform all the activities of the hive. They clean and polish the cells, nourish the brood, care for the queen, remove debris, handle incoming nectar, form beeswax combs, safeguard the entrance and maintain ventilation in the hive during their initial few weeks as adults. Later as a field bees they search for nectar, pollen, water, and propolis (plant sap). The life period of the worker during summer is about 6 weeks. Workers nurtured in the fall live as long as 6 months, allowing the colony to spend the winter and helping in the rearing of new generations in the spring before they die.
Drones are male bees and are also the largest bees in the colony. They are usually present only during late spring and summer. Head of the drone is much larger than that of queen and worker. Its compound eyes meet at the top of its head. They don’t have no stinger, pollen baskets, or any wax glands. Their main function is to fertilize the virgin queen during her mating flight, but only a small number of drones perform this function. Drones become sexually mature about a week after emerging and die instantly upon mating. Although drones do not perform any beneficial work for the hive but their presence is believed to be vital for normal colony functioning.