They may not be the most beautiful of God’s creations and the power of their sting is a part of cultural folklore, yet it would be hard to imagine a world without bees and the honey they produce. Now, to increase awareness about the importance of honeybees, pollination, and urban biodiversity as well fill the gaps in the average Mumbaikar’s knowledge on these issues, the organisation known as Under The Mango Tree (UTMT) will offer city slickers a course in urban beekeeping. Starting on October 15, the course will span over a period of nine months and teach participants everything related to bee welfare and honey harvesting.
“Urban beekeeping is a popular hobby in Europe and North America these days, but this trend has not spread to India. We wanted to start the movement here in Mumbai and inspire urban Indians to take up this practice,” says Gurushabd Khalsa, urban beekeeping project coordinator, UTMT, a group that has trained marginal farmers in Gujarat and Maharashtra for the past two years and ways to keep honeybees.
The course will commence on October 15 with an introductory class that will extend to the next day as well. Thereafter, participants will attend seasonal beekeeping skill workshops that will go on from November-June (eight workshops) and also pick up tricks from a training manual (equipment costs extra and optional). Atar Singh, UTMT's beekeeping expert from Dehradun, will conduct the sessions and there is no specific requirement needed to join in. “We only use the indigenous Indian honeybee (Apis cerana indica), which is found in Mumbai but is dwindling in numbers,” says Khalsa.
Khalsa adds that beekeeping in a city is not as difficult as it seems. “Private rooftops, terraces and gardens work best as the bees need a place where they won't be disturbed by people. Also, there is enough room for them to have a clear flightpath,” she says, adding that it won't be dangerous to have a hive in your building as long as you have a suitable site, “But you need to get approval from your neighbours and housing societies.” If you don't have a private space, Maharashtra Nature Park (Dharavi) and BNHS-CEC (Goregaon) are offering trainees space to keep their bees in the park.
Also, to create awareness about urban pollinators, the group will be hosting public events like bee walks, movie screenings and hive visits. Once the course is done, participants will also have the option to either keep or return their hive. Registrations for the programme are currently open, and 20 people have already signed up.
Honeybees are aggressive and you'll get stung: No, they only stinging as a last resort and that too if they feel their hive is threatened. So you are unlikely to get stung if you are suited up and working properly and calmly with your bees.
Beekeeping can’t be done in the city: These bees actually thrive in cities due to the vast variety of flora available (as opposed to farming areas where there is a monoculture). A variety of plants means also that there will be flowers for the bees to gather honey and nectar from all year round.
I don't have time for beekeeping: It is actually super easy and takes very little time. The bees do all the work! Thirty minutes per week (on an average) is all that is needed to check on your bee box and make sure everything is functioning well.