Busy As A Bee

By TheHindu on 10 Jun 2015 | read
Green notes S.A. John is a keen apiculturist and one of the pioneer ornamental flower cultivators in the city, says G.S. Unnikrishnan

W hile feeding sugar syrup to his honeybees, S.A. John says: “What Albert Einstein once said is correct. If the honeybee disappears from earth, man would have not more than four years to live. They are that much important for our planet and to us.”

John, a retired principal of Government Model Higher Secondary School, who resides at Malayam near Pappanamcode, has had a life-long attachment with bees and plants.

Rearing bees

“During my childhood, my father, S. Appulose, used to rear honeybees. He even used to supply various types of honey to the Kowdiar Palace. So I was very familiar with these tiny insects and with rearing them. Now I grow three types of honeybees, namely, Indian honeybee (Apis cerana indica), Italian honeybee (Apis mellifera) and Stingless bee (Trigona iridipennis). I rear around a 100 colonies of bees,” says John adding that bee boxes used for rearing are made using ‘Punna' wood (Calophyllum inophyllum). For the smaller Stingless bees small wooden boxes and/or bamboo hollows are used.

These bee boxes find their place around John's house and on the terrace as well. Nectar yielding plants are essential for growing bees. Hence, John has a good collection of plants such as Antigonon (Antigonon leptopus), Bird Cherry Tree (Prunus padus) and Portulaca (Portulaca oleracea). The bees also collect nectar from nearby rubber plantations too. The petiole of young rubber leaves and fleshy scales of young shoots are good sources of nectar. During the rainy season the bees have to be fed with sugar syrup.

“I have been observing and studying honeybees for a long time. The Indian bee travels up to four 4 km in search of nectar and pollen while the Italian bee has an eight 8 km home range, and the Stingless bee, up to one km. An Indian bee colony can yield about 12 to 18 kg honey per year. An Italian bee colony yields 40 to 80 kg honey and the Stingless bee around 400 gm to one kg. The costliest honey is that of the Stingless bee, which is supposed to have anti-cancer properties. It fetches a price of Rs. 1,200 per kg or so. Indian bee honey sells at around Rs. 160 to 200 and Italian bee honey at Rs. 350. Furthermore, a colony yields about 300 gm honey wax, which fetches around Rs. 120 per kilo,” says John.

“Apart from giving honey, honeybees do great service to us by pollinating many crops. Saint Christostem once said: ‘The bee is more honoured than other animals, not because she labours, but because she labours for others,” quotes the apiculturist. According to John, honeybee rearing is also a self-employment venture, with lots of potential. He claims that a 100 bee boxes will give a net profit of Rs. 50,000 or so per annum. For attracting more youngsters to the field, John also conducts practical training classes under various programmes of the Department of Agriculture.

John, the apiculturist, is equally passionate about growing anthuriums. In fact, John is one of those pioneers who initiated orchid and anthurium farming in the city during the 1980's. In 2003, after his retirement, he started anthurium farming on a commercial scale. Today John grows about 10,000 anthurium plants in his green house. He has even developed a variety of his own named ‘Arun Gold.' The other varieties that he cultivates include Tropical Red, Mauritius Orange, Mauritius White, Liver Red, Acropolis, Hawaii Orange, Avo Anneke, Avonette, Choco and Lima White.

“Anthurium farming is a profitable venture. I grow my anthuriums in pots filled with coconut husk, charcoal and sand. Diluted cow dung slurry, fermented oilcakes and so on are used as manure. The green house protects the plants from excess sunlight and I have sprinkler irrigation to maintain optimum humidity. From 10,000 plants I get about 300 flowers daily. I sell them through florists in the city, who give me between Rs. 3 and Rs. 7 for a flower. For me profit is only secondary. What is more important is that I get to live in this ambiance.”

John's wife, J. Matilda, is also a plant lover as are their son and daughter. Their home garden is full of ornamental flowers including breeds such as Pineapple Orchid, Dove Orchid, Ginger Lilly and Bird Nest fern.


S. A. John has won the National Award for Best Teacher in 2002 and the Udyan Pandit Award for the best floriculturist given by the National Horticultural Board. He conducts training in both apiculture and anthurium cultivation.

Contact: 0471-2282277; 94471 02577