How to Do Urban Beekeeping

The bee population in our cities is declining at an alarming rate. One should not go by their small size as they do a lot of work than we can ever imagine, and one of them is helping us preserve our fragile ecosystem. Here is one such organization – the Mumbai Bees an Urban Beekeeping initiative of Under The Mango Tree that is working very hard to bring back the bee population in our cities. We caught up with Mumbai Bees to find out why bees are so important and what we can do to save them and in turn save our planet!

How did it all begin?

Under the Mango Tree takes pride in being a social enterprise with the aim of promoting beekeeping with the indigenous bee Apis cerana indica to increase agricultural productivity and incomes of marginal farmers in India, which in turn will help to improve their livelihoods. Under the Mango Tree boasts of having trained more than 1500 marginal farmers from Gujarat and Maharashtra in beekeeping over the past 2 years, and has market access for the honey produced for another 1500.

Sujana Krishnamoorthy, the Programme Leader at Under The Mango Tree says, “We’ve had honey lovers, gardening enthusiasts in Mumbai frequently asking us to offer something for urban residents, so that’s how we got into Urban Bee-Keeping as well. Now we have also branched into urban beekeeping to bridge the gap between rural producers and urban consumers of honey, and increase awareness about the vital role that honeybees play in our fragile biodiversity.”

She further mentions, “Since the last few years, urban beekeeping has been a popular hobby in Europe and North America, but this trend is yet to make its mark in India. We wanted to start the movement here in Mumbai and inspire urban Indians to take up the practice as well.”

The main reason the team at Under the Mango Tree took up urban beekeeping is to encourage increased education and awareness about the importance of honeybees, pollination, and urban biodiversity and sadly, there is a huge gap in Mumbai residents’ knowledge about these issues feels Sujana.

Why do we need to protect our Bees?

“BEES ARE SO IMPORTANT,” exclaims Gurushabd Khalsa, the urban beekeeping coordinator, while the list is endless, she points out some of the important reasons why we should protect our bees.

1)   Four out of five foods we eat – pulses, oil-seeds, fruits and veggies – require a natural pollinator such as bees, butterflies for their reproduction.

2)   Honeybees are THE MOST prolific and abundant pollinators, approx. 70% of all flowering plants rely on bees specifically to reproduce. Imagine a world without 70% of flowers?

3)   Pollinators the world over is on the decline – their numbers are dwindling both in cities and rural areas.

She adds, that one should go through the study by the UN Environment Programme – titled ‘UNEP Emerging Issues’ to gain a greater insight.

How do they Work

Presently, the team works mainly with the indigenous Indian honeybee Apis cerana indica, which is primarily found in India but dwindling in numbers at an alarming rate. Under the Mango Tree is therefore, constantly checking to make sure the bees are healthy and doing what they naturally do well in their natural surroundings.

Sujana mentions, “At certain times of the year especially during growth season and honey harvest, there are special skills one needs to know, and you may have to check on your box more frequently (1 / 2 days). In general you want to leave the bees to themselves and not disturb them as they do all the work!”

She further adds, “It is difficult to get a box for oneself at the outset. We encourage people to first learn the ropes of beekeeping and then think of keeping a bee box. It is difficult to keep a bee box in flats in Mumbai so we are setting up ‘public sites’ like at Maharashtra Nature Park where people can keep their boxes and take care of them.”

Training and Course Duration

If you’re keen on getting involved in Urban Beekeeping in your city, you need to undergo training. Sujana explains, “There are introductory training workshops held on selected weekends, seasonal beekeeping skill are taught in eight workshops and beekeeping training manual and equipment costs extra and is optional. We have a monthly session on one Sunday, which has a walk in fee of Rs 500 (from March-June 2012). From September 2012 we may start a new batch depending on the response. To participate, you can contact mumbaibees@underthemangotree.org.”

All these workshops are conducted by Atar Singh, a Beekeeping Expert from Dehradun who is associated with Under the Mango Tree who also helps train farmers in beekeeping as well.

The entire Urban Beekeeping course will run across 9 months especially during the beekeeping seasons, from October 2011-June 2012.These trainings will be held in Maharashtra Nature Park at Dharavi and the registration cost of the training program is Rs. 6,500 which includes introduction to basic training weekend, 8 monthly seasonal skill workshops and training manual.

The basic beekeeping starter kit cost (which is optional) is worth Rs 4,560, which includes 2 bee boxes, 1 bee colony, 1 bee veil, 1 swarm bag, 4 wax sheets.

The Journey so far…

Sujana explains that this being one of the first urban bee keeping experiments in India, there seems to be a willingness to invest half an hour every week on maintaining the box by the participants. She adds, “The training response has been very good. We have almost 1 person writing to us every week asking to join in even though half the course is finished. 2 people have started keeping bee boxes at home and they are doing well.”

Urban setting

The first thing that comes to our mind, especially when we live in cities like Mumbai, is that whether we can opt for beekeeping in our homes; well the answer is yes. Gurushabd explains, “Urban beekeeping can be done on private rooftops, terraces, and obviously, gardens work best! Basically, the bees need a place where they won’t be disturbed by people and where there is enough room for the bees to have a clear flight path.”

If you think you’re super busy and have no time for beekeeping, yet are interested, there is good news for you. Gurushabd further adds, “Urban beekeeping can be very easy as it takes very little time and the bees do all the work! All you need to devote is 1/2 hour per week on an average to check on your bee box and make sure everything is functioning well!”

If you’re worried about safety issues, Gurushabd mentions, “ This will not at all be dangerous in your building as long as you have a suitable site, the bees won’t go into the building, but yes, you need to get approval from your neighbours and housing societies first!”

And in the worst case scenario, if you don’t have a suitable private space, you can contact Maharashtra Nature Park (Dharavi) and BNHS-CEC (Goregaon) who offer trainees space to keep their bees in the park!

Awareness

In a city that is struck by glamour and glitz, will something as sensitive as Urban Beekeeping be as popular? The answer is maybe. This most certainly poses a challenge to the team and the only way that they can promote Urban Beekeeping is by regularly hosting Urban Beekeeping Orientation Workshops, and a ‘Bee Walk’ in Maharashtra Nature Park, public events to increase the awareness about urban pollinators (bee walks, movie screenings, children’s events, hive visits – the works!

Get in touch with Under the Mango Tree:

If you’d like to know more about urban beekeeping in your town or city then get in touch with Under the Mango Tree:

Phone: 91-22-65157953
Email: utmt.in@gmail.com
Address: 54 Naju Mansion,
Wodehouse Road,
Opposite Naval Transport Camp,
Colaba,
Mumbai 400005.
India.
Share your Bee Story/ Nature Conservation stories with us:
We invite NGOs, social enterprises, individuals and groups who’re into such similar Bee Keeping/ Nature Conservation activities in your locality to write to us to share your story with our readers. Send us an email to tanya@tanyamunshi.com with all your details about your organisation/ personal efforts – we look forward to hearing from you.
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