Moringa honey: how Italian bees help farmers in the field of confectionery

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Moringa honey is one of the most popular varieties of floral nectar in the food industry. Farmer and beekeeper N Dhandayuthapani is one of those in the Cauvery Delta reaping the benefits of combining apiary and farming

Moringa honey is one of the most popular varieties of floral nectar in the food industry. Farmer and beekeeper N Dhandayuthapani is one of those in the Cauvery Delta reaping the benefits of combining apiary and farming

It’s not easy to describe the taste of fresh, warm honey mixed with natural honeycomb shards. The closest, as we lick it from our palms, on a hot afternoon in the village of Kurumbapatti, Karur district, would be a little piece of sunshine, happiness and the region’s star culture, the murungakkai Where Moringa oleifera.

Outfitted in mesh beekeeper hats, the workers light a small bundle of coconut fiber, place it in a metal container, and let the smoke filter through a wooden beehive into this six-acre moringa field. The hum inside seems to have died down a bit. They then open the top and calmly pull out wooden frames filled with busy insects to check on the progress of the bees. “Another two weeks to harvest,” they say.

In the rapidly growing artisanal food market of Tamil Nadu, moringa honey is a popular floral nectar, as its deeper woody flavor has a unique effect on the taste buds.

“I started my quest for pure honey 20 years ago because the commercial varieties all seemed to use flavor enhancers or sweeteners. It could only be obtained from hives found in the wild” , says N Dhandayuthapani, a farmer who runs the apiaries company Annai Bee Farms.

The 53-year-old is one of at least 300 farmers in the Cauvery delta who are reaping the success of combining apiary and farming. Over the past two decades, in addition to growing moringa in Kurumbapatti, Dhandayuthapani has collaborated with farmers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka by placing his wooden beehives in their fields. His beekeeping business produces five tons of moringa honey in Tamil Nadu and 12 tons in Karnataka per year.

Workers extract honey using centrifuges at Annai Bee Farms.

Workers extract honey using centrifuges at Annai Bee Farms. | Photo credit: M Moorthy

buzz

Dhandayuthapani was trained in beekeeping under the course provided by Department of Agricultural Entomology, Center for Plant Protection Studies, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore in 1998, and started with 10 boxes Indian bees, (Apis cerana indica). But the bees kept deserting the hives, so he started watching the Italian bees. (Apis mellifera liguistica), for which he trained in 2001 as part of a TNAU-Winrock International (US) collaborative workshop.

Italian honey bees have high floral fidelity/constancy. “If it goes to a flower, it will continue to pollinate only that flower until the end of the season. This species is therefore ideal for those who want to produce unifloral honey. Field bees and mountain bees, as for to them, will mix and bring nectars from different flowers.Besides our moringa honey, we also have colonies of bees that work on the nectars of thumb poo(Leucas aspera)mango and chili flowers,” says Dhandayuthapani.

Work the bees

It takes almost a year for a colony of bees to take shape. Regular maintenance is essential for beekeeping.

Annai Bee Farms uses artificial breeding techniques to convert the larvae of a worker bee into a queen bee. “We have a separate facility for this at Pollachi, where we feed the designated larvae ‘royal jelly’ (a milk-like substance made up of proteins, sugars and water secreted by special glands in the bees’ heads A healthy diet helps a queen bee live up to four years; worker bees, however, have a lifespan of only 45 days,” says farmer/beekeeper N Dhandayuthapani.

During the busy flowering months of January and February, a hive box can hold 60,000 to one lakh bees and produce up to 100 kilograms of honey per day.

The remaining beeswax from the frames is pressed into thin “comb foundation sheets” which are used for the next batch of production boxes.

Double boiling extracted honey in a water bath at temperatures below 60 degrees Celsius removes moisture and significantly extends its shelf life.

Farmers usually want to partner with beekeepers, Dhandayuthapani says, because bees help to dramatically increase crop yield through cross-pollination. “We are not charged for keeping our hives on the ground, but we share a kilo or two of honey with the host farmers from each year’s harvest,” he says.

Healthy option

Beekeeping has helped many people rediscover healthy eating. “During confinement, we decided to favor organic honey, because adulteration and artificial sweeteners are rampant in this sector. It was our way of helping the farmers and the bees,” says Aswin Srinivaas, the co-founder of Indian Apiaries with his friends Vignesh Raj and Kasi Vishvanathan who are also certified beekeepers.

The Tiruchi-based company sells its products under the Elite Orgo Honey brand both online and offline.

“There are nearly 80 varieties of honey that can be taken for specific dietary and medical needs. Moringa and neem honey is doing very well in our stock. Right now we have around 40-50 orders per month and we work with at least 30 farmers in the area,” says Aswin.

The price of floral honeys ranges from ₹800 to ₹1,200 per kilo. “Many traders buy from us and resell our honey at a higher price elsewhere. Due to high demand, some people try to pass off honey diluted with jaggery syrup as the pure thing. The hard work of the honey bee should not be impaired,” says Dhandayuthapani.

Moringa honey produced by Indian Apiaries in Tiruchi.

Moringa honey produced by Indian Apiaries in Tiruchi. | Photo credit: M Moorthy

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