A Day Spent with Atar Singh ji

A Day Spent with Atar Singh ji

Atar Singh ji has chief involvement in the inception of UTMT Society with his extraordinary understanding in bee science. He has experience of over 2 decades in different parts of India and majorly at the honey hub-north India. I had heard of him from colleagues at UTMT Society. This time I got a heads up from our team lead about his visit. Tukaram ji (UTMTS technical head) and I had to accompany him through it. Tukaram ji always praised him; he had met him during his beekeeping training and spoke about the time with delight. This was one opportunity to learn from the best.

We received him and his wife early in the morning from the railway station. Our plan for the day included a couple of visits at our trained beekeeper’s farm and a day end meeting to know his insights/feedbacks in understanding the crux of the on-going project. We were on a field visit, gaining as much insight as we could from him, theoretically and practically. It was colony division/growth season so we performed a few of those in his presence to get feedback on technical performance.

We halted at a farmer’s house to sit and discuss more with the technical trainers. Atarji opened one of the bee boxes, lifted each comb frame with utmost care and patience without letting the bees know of any movement. It was magnificent to watch his keen observation during the scrutiny which indeed was much more than a glance. The explanations were so easily understandable. It’s true, to explain something in the easiest way possible, one has to understand it in depth. It is difficult to say whether the farmers were as inspired by him as I was.

“We can only keep bees if they like their house, not like cattle that can be tied forcefully; after all, they have wings. If bees don’t like the space to live and decide to leave, then nothing can stop them.” These examples were more than enough to look at bees from a different perspective, to empathize and improve beekeeping practices. “It is very important to understand honey bees likes and dislikes being a master beekeeper.”

One might have all the knowledge on bees but when it comes to practical situations, experience, and savviness play a major role whereas theories often go for a toss.
At the end of the day, all of us got together at the BRC (Bee Resource Centre) and sat down in a circle to hear more from Atarji. We discussed a few key points that he thought could be improved upon for a more successful and sustainable project.

He was telling us about his usual day in the field, the number of colonies they used to transfer in boxes; more than 10 colonies a day, all the farmers looked surprised knowing the efforts it requires to transfer just one of those. Spending every moment with bees throughout the day resulted in bees taking over his dreams. It was very relatable as a few days back I had also been dreaming of bees because of being on the field transferring colonies every day.

According to him, the final motive of conserving bees is to raise them in similar way cattle has been raised over the years. Of course, not all species of honey bees can be kept in boxes but it brings about awareness to conserve all bee species. Farmers have been raising cattle since generations by passing on the tradition and they can do the same with bees, it’s just that it’s going to take some time.

Karan Sethi
India Fellow 2018

Bee cause

Bee cause

Bee CauseChintabhai with his wife Girjaben and their granddaughters
Picture Courtesy: Manilal Vaghera

Chintabhai Dhakalbhai Kakar, 55, lives with his wife Girjaben, 55. The couple has two sons and a daughter who are in their 20s and 30s respectively. The daughter is married at an early age in a nearby village but often stays with her daughters in Painkhed. One of the son works as a daily wage labor in a factory in the nearby city of Valsad. The other son lives with his parents and assists them in farming.

The family lives in a small village called Painkhed. The village is as small as it is difficult to find it on Google search. It comprises of 79 houses with an approximation of 500 people residing in it. Located at the uphill of Western Ghat in southern Gujarat, climatic conditions remain dry and hot most of the year. Villagers eagerly wait for monsoon, which brings adequate rainfall and scenic beauty to the surrounding. “…this is the time of the year where we have maximum production in the farms, with good monsoon we grow food for an entire year some years…” says Girjaben.

The community broadly practices subsistence farming which supports them target their survival and local requirements with minimum trade. A journey through Painkhed and the neighboring villages repeatedly throws up one visual-occasional narrow strip of cultivation with hardly much cash in hand.

“…you will not find many below the age of 40 in the field…it is people like us who are into farming…” says Chintabhai with a disquiet that farming helps them feed the family but hardly brings any money. Tall and clad in a white fabric chewing areca nut without a break, Chintabhai shares his story of beekeeping “I heard about beekeeping through my brother in law from the nearby village…I was expectant to make some money in hand if it worked well…”.

Chintabhai started beekeeping five years back and took training under UTMT Society in 2017 when he heard about the UTMTS-Kalpataru project through his friend in the same cluster. After a proper training and getting skilled in beekeeping, Chintabhai started it with two bee boxes. But as it is said that sometimes bad things have to happen before the goods can, Chintabhai was socially disturbed for keeping bee boxes. Neighbors started accusing that the bees would affect everyone’s yield in the farms and would hence lower the agricultural production. “…they damaged my boxes and stole the honey during Holi…it was a big loss for me that year…” sadly says Chintabhai.

“During my training I learnt that bees do affect in agriculture through steady pollination, affecting the yield adversely though just the other way round.”The family has experienced a considerable amount of increase in their crop yield since they have started practicing beekeeping. According to the family there has been a considerable increase in production of mangoes, nuts, pigeon-peas and egg plants recently.

Chintabhai and Girjaben with their UTMTS bee box
Chintabhai and Girjaben with their UTMTS bee box
Picture Courtesy: Manilal Vaghera

Chintabhai’s wife Girjaben equally supports him in beekeeping. Her prime task is to monitor and feed the bees when necessary.

Chintabhai, standing beside her proudly boasts: “…she is an expert in bee colony transfer and honey extraction, which requires a lot of care and skills…” Chintabhai started beekeeping with one box and currently owns ten bee boxes.

It brings them a profit of about 3000-4000 INR per box, twice a year. “…initially we were afraid of the bees but now we are not… bees are a blessing to us, they bring us healthy crop with high yield, honey and a substantial amount of money for us…” says Girjaben.

“Beekeeping and the training has addressed me with confidence and recognition in the village. Few years back I could not confront people tormenting me and damaging my bee boxes. Now being the master trainer, villagers come to me for learning beekeeping skills…”

The couple have never been to school but are positively hopeful for their next generations,“…now that our honey brings us some money, we can send our children to school…everyone aspires for a better life and I don’t want them to grow as farmers…” affirms Chintabhai.

Chintabhai also aspires to expand the number of bee boxes for a better income. In recent future he wishes to teach his son about beekeeping. This will help him not go far off places for tough manual industrial works for a very low earning. According to him, this will help him stay home and healthy. He says “…young boys in our village go distant places for little money; the hard labor physically weakens them at an early age. We can make similar and sometimes more money than those works at our home by beekeeping, only if we are actively and accurately doing it…”

Karan Sethi
Cohort (2017-18) of India Fellowship Programme

Worker Bee: A Mentor

Worker Bee: A Mentor

Never did I imagine that a flying insect can illuminate me on life lessons with its working capabilities and ethics. The tremendous hard worker spends its complete life working in and out of the hive. The worker bee is an epitome of industriousness, one of the types in a social colony of honeybees.

Honeybee colony has one Queen, Drones (male) and Worker bees (female). The Queen bee’s role is to mate and collect sperms for the lifetime (2-3 yrs) and the drone bee’s are specifically for mating. Worker bee plays a vital part while doing multiple jobs. There are 20,000-80,000 worker bees in one colony. They are female but infertile. It can live up to 3 years but usually dies between 4-6 weeks if born during summers as it wears out itself working extremely hard for the colony and 4-6 months during autumn.

During the life cycle, it progresses from basic tasks to advanced tasks, starting with in house activities, referred as house bees and with age venture out of the hive, referred to as field bees.

Days 1-3: Newly hatched worker bee begins life with cleaning the hive cells and repeating it until done with perfection.

Days 4-12: It is time to nurse the baby worker larvae with inspection and feeding of royal jelly. It can inspect one larva almost 1200 times a day on average.

Days 7-12: Queen Bee needs worker bees for the most basic needs like eating, cleaning. Nurse worker bee helps her with the tasks.

Days 12-17: Worker bee is mature and has developed glands to exude wax that it uses to build the comb. They are involved in additional activities like fanning, for climate control and collecting nectar from foraging bees to store it in specific cells meant for honey,

Days 18 and onwards: After completing and experiencing most of the in house operations its fate is in the hands of a selection committee of worker bees.

  • The brainy ones are selected as the Scout and Forager bees (field bees). Forager collects nectar, pollen, and propolis relentlessly between sunrise and sunset. Calculations of distance, direction, nutrition in food (propolis, pollen, nectar, water) and its quantity are communicated by scouts to foragers by performing bee dance called waggling.
  • The mighty ones are selected as Gatekeepers and called Guard bee. They keep time check on foragers and fight the enemies (wasps, robber bees, etc.). Stinger is the final defence of a worker bee and it ejects a part of their body resulting in death.
  • The comparatively less brainy ones are kept to manage and guard the queen. They perform in housework and makes sure the queen is doing justice with eggs laying.

Isn’t it just astonishing to know how organized a colony of honey bee can be? I was amazed to know and it took me a while to believe the nature of it being true. The relentless efforts to keep the colony running and withstanding the harsh conditions is more than admirable. If a bee makes up its mind then not a thing can change it and it’ll do it with perfection until complete.

It keeps reminding me to be focused on whatever I do and do it with perfection. I take them as a mentor considering the scope of learning and unalterable ethics.

Karan Sethi
Cohort (2017-18) of India Fellowship Programme
*All the information mentioned above is a mix of the first-hand experience, learning’s from experts and secondary research.