Dr. Banarsi Lal
Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir is said to be one of the most important and suitable beekeeping places in India. This territory is suitable for the stationary and migratory beekeeping because of its favourable climatic conditions and diverse natural sources. Beekeeping with Apis mellifera is popular in Jammu &Kashmir. Beekeepers undertake bees’ migration for honey production and there is an immense potential in J&K to improve honey production. Knowledge of floral resources and appropriate migration schedules in different beekeeping regions can increase the quality and quantity of honey. Researchers at the Central Bee Research and Training Institute, Pune studied the floral resources for A. mellifera and suggest various migration schedules for different phytogeographic regions in J&K and also in other parts of the country. Beekeeping has been practised since ancient times in the Union Territory of J&K mainly for the precious honey stored by the bees in combs. It was practised in its simplest form in the forest areas. The indigenous oriental honey bee, Apis cerana, was kept in wall niches, clay pots or other receptacles by the beekeepers. With the introduction of scientific beekeeping, now the bees are kept in wooden boxes and it can be observed across J&K.
Since 1880 efforts are being made to introduce the European bees in India. Modern scientific beekeeping was introduced in India through import of the Italian race of the European honey bee, A. mellifera ligustica, in Langstroth and British Standard hives. The present day A. mellifera colonies in the country have descended from the successfully introduced colonies during the sixth decennial of the last century. Side by side with the development apiculture is using the indigenous bee, A. cerana, apiculture using the European bee gained popularity. Introduction of A. mellifera bee species has revolutionized beekeeping and honey production industry in the Union Territory of J&K. There are many attributes that make A. mellifera more successful and better suited than the indigenous bees for commercial beekeeping. Its worker bees are larger than those of A. cerana, and have larger foraging range and high forage carrying capacity. But A. mellifera need plentiful floral sources and cannot survive in the regions with scant supply of pollen and nectar. It has been observed that A. mellifera beekeeping has made rapid progress and production of honey from the last few years in J&K. Beekeepers of J&K need new vegetation regions to keep the bees’ colonies for production and they need information on the availability of pollen and nectar from different plants species. One of the important constraints for progress of A. mellifera beekeeping is the scanty information available on their floral resources. Commercial beekeeping with A. mellifera honey yield can be increased in J&K by adopting migration as a regular management practice. Migration is important because (i) the bee adopt well to farms and orchards with large areas under a single crop; (ii) the colonies need a large amount of pollen and nectar for their survival and growth and (iii) productive efficiency can be achieved only when a large number of colonies are maintained in an apiary in good strength. It is difficult to get adequate bee forage throughout the year in one location. Thus, it is necessary for mellifera beekeepers to have detailed information on the availability of different floral sources near their apiaries, seasons of their availability and migration schedules for optimal utilization of the available floral resources. The migration of bee colonies from forests in hills to farms and orchards in the adjacent plains in order to utilize the local bee flora and improve bee forage availability to bee colonies has been observed by the researchers. It has also been observed that migratory beekeeping in the hilly areas enhances honey production and colony multiplication. Migration is an important beekeeping practice for A. mellifera.
Mustard, gram, eucalyptus, shisham, berseem, toria, maize, citrus, guava, cucurbits etc., are the crops which are preferred by the bee colonies. Migratory beekeeping in the Union Territory of J&K helps to maximize honey yields. Bees chose certain migratory routes for honey production and colony multiplication. The natural flora of J&K forests is more varied than many other parts of the country. Union Territory of J&K has vast geographical area, varying climate from temperate to tropical, torrid to arctic and from total aridity to a maximum of humidity. Forests cover about 19.95 per cent of the area in J&K. Large quantities of deodar, fir, toon, teak and other trees are grown for timber. Several of these species provide forage to honey bees. India’s forest land shrinks each year because people cut more trees than they plant. The government encourages planting mostly of fast growing eucalyptus and pine. Recently karanj is also grown for bio-fuel. Eucalyptus and karanj also provide bee forage. A. mellifera beekeeping is mainly dependent on cultivated and agricultural crops. A little over 70 per cent of cultivated land is under food grains including rice, wheat, jowar, bajra, maize, gram and other pulse crops. Oilseed crops like toria, mustard etc. are grown in the Union Territory of J&K and are very useful to honey bees. Among other commonly cultivated plant species useful to honey are mango, lemon, apple, orange, plum, litchi, pear, peach, cherry, jamun, fodder legumes, coriander, fennel, fenugreek, onion and other spices and condiment crops. Road-side plantations that contribute to honey production include eucalyptus, karanj, gulmohr, hedges and fence plants like Duranta, mulberry, Justicia and Jatropha also add to the bee forage value of farms and orchards.
Jammu region has large areas under litchi orchards that constitute an excellent source of nectar during March to May. Litchi tree is an important source of nectar for honey bees. Agricultural crops are seasonal and provide bee forage for limited periods only. Bee colonies cannot be sustained throughout the year in any cultivated area, unless it has an integrated intensive agriculture, agro-forestry and social forestry systems. During the forage scarcity periods between two crop seasons, bee colonies will have to be moved to another area. Thus, the beekeeping potential for the cultivated vegetation becomes a part of the potential contained in the natural vegetation. In the Union Territory of J&K, Apis mellifera beekeeping is now well established and beekeepers generally undertake migration as a matter of course. White honey of Ramban has gained popularity and needs promotion. It is distinct not only in its colour and taste but also has its medicinal properties. There is an ample scope for migration to enhance honey production in J&K by adopting appropriate migration schedules for apiaries in different locations. In J&K there are many success stories of honey beekeepers. They have established various beekeeping units at their farms and earning a good amount of money. They are benefitting the other farmers of J&K to increase their crops production as the honey bees help to increase the crops production by the pollination process. In Jammu and Kashmir, colonies from Jammu can be migrated to locations around or near Srinagar for Robinia pseudoacacia during March-April. This species is dependable source of nectar and colonies can produce surplus honey. It has been observed that honey yield increases from 40 to 80 kg/colony/season by this species. In J&K, the colonies are situated in different locations in the plains where mustard and toria are cultivated. During the severe cold in January, the colonies perform well even when they get very short foraging time between 1100 to 1500 h. In the months of February and March colonies get flows from mustard and eucalypts. Honey yield can be increased in September from Citrus spp. In J&K, mustards and eucalypts flower later, i.e., in February-March. Colonies can therefore be taken to areas for flow from mustards, sisham and eucalypts. Colonies can then be migrated to litchi growing areas in March-April for the main flow from litchi. Union Territory of J&K possesses a variety of crops and tree species and thus present good opportunities for migratory beekeeping. Migration should be a common beekeeping practice for beekeepers who kept A. mellifera. It is possible to increase honey production further by optimal utilization of the floral resources available in J&K.
(The writer is Sr. Scientist & Head of KVK, Reasi (SKUAST-J).