Though he was skilled at repairing television sets and radios, Bensislas, a resident of Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram, says that he had to give up his profession after he lost the sharpness of his vision, which was essential for the kind of job he was doing.
“I started working as a mechanic at the age of 25. But after a few years, I noticed that the sharpness of my eyesight has reduced, which started affecting my work. So, I had no other option but to quit my job,” says Bensislas, who then decided to try his hands at agriculture.
He started with rubber farming and, over the years, experimented with animal husbandry; raising rabbits, ornamental fish, chicken and finally, bees. He says beekeeping was the only trade in which he succeeded.
Cut to 2022, Bensislas now beekeeps full-time and has been able to harvest around 1200 kg of honey yearly, through his brand — Amma Honey — thereby earning a decent income in lakhs.
A successful experiment
After leaving the mechanic job, Bensislas says that he decided to sell his land to buy a rubber plantation at Kallikkad in Thiruvananthapuram, expecting a steady source of income.
“I used all my savings to buy three acres of rubber plantation, and it did turn out to be profitable, at least for a few years. Later at one point, there was a huge fall in the rubber price and I struggled a lot, as I didn’t have any other means of income or savings left. It became a necessity to look beyond doing just rubber cultivation,” says the 58-year-old.
That’s when he heard about the training provided by the Livestock Management Training Centre at Kudappanakunnu. Thus, he decided to try his hands at animal husbandry after attending the free training courses.
“I learnt how to rear rabbits, fish, goats, chickens, and so on from the centre and started attempting each. But none of my efforts worked out. I faced losses one after the other. Finally, I heard about the scope of beekeeping and decided to experiment with that as well,” he recalls.
Thus in 2010, Bensislas took training for beekeeping and set up his first five boxes in his rubber plantation at Kallikkad.
“Though I took initial training for beekeeping, I eventually realised that it wasn’t enough to ace it. In the beginning, there were several instances where I lost boxes full of bees as I was an amateur. But I was determined to try again and kept new boxes,” he says, adding that as time passed, he learnt more tricks of the trade and mastered it eventually.
When it comes to beekeeping, there are a lot of things that need to be taken care of, says Bensislas, who now masters beekeeping and owns over 180 beehive boxes placed at different places.
“From the quality of the boxes to the site of its placement, there are a lot of nuances that need attention when it comes to beekeeping. I learnt it over the years and have a good share of experiences where I had to endure bee stings,” he says, recalling one such instance from the initial days where a bee stung on his face.
“I couldn’t leave my house for two days due to my swollen face,” he laughs over the phone. “But now it’s all a cakewalk, as I have a good understanding of their behaviour,” he adds.
Bensislas currently places his beehive boxes on his three acres of rubber plantation as well as on a moringa farm in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu.
“The quality of the honey produced by the bees depends on the species of the bees as well as the source from which they collect the nectar,” he points out, adding that there are different types of bees among which he currently maintains Indian and stingless bees.
Talking about the placement of boxes or the sources of nectar, Bensislas says that the quality and the texture of the honey is highly influenced by it. “Wherever we place the box, the bees try to source nectar from its immediate surroundings. Therefore it’s important to see where we place the boxes. I place my boxes in my rubber plantation as well as in a moringa farm according to the season of leaf formation and flowering.” He says the source of nectar in rubber is the new tender leaves, and for moringa, it’s the flowers.
What is Moringa honey?
Moringa honey is something that Bensislas specialises in. It is a unique type of honey derived by the bees from the nectar of moringa flowers during the flowering season.
Moringa honey is thick in consistency, dark in colour and has a unique woody flavour. Besides, it carries all the goodness and nutritional benefits of the moringa plant.
The moringa leaves are packed with several nutrients like Vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, amino acids, proteins and so on. Also, they are rich in antioxidants with strong anti-inflammatory properties.
“The moringa honey is, therefore, healthier than the normal honey,” says Bensislias, who, along with a few other farmers, have been collaborating with a moringa farm in Tirunelveli, where they place their boxes every season by giving some money to the owners.
“The season of moringa flowers is usually during the months from July to December. So, after the harvest of the moringa honey, I place the boxes at my rubber plantation around February till April, which is the season of leaf formation,” he explains, adding that he receives approximately around 11 to 12 kg per box in each season of honey from each box.
Other than the rubber honey and moringa honey, Bensislas also harvests stingless bee honey from the ones in a few boxes placed around his house and also in the houses of a few relatives. “Yearly, I receive around 1,500 kg (1.5 tonnes) of honey,” says Bensislas, who sells rubber honey for Rs 330 per kg and moringa honey for Rs 750 per kg.
Dr TV George from Thiruvananthapuram has been a regular customer of Amma Honey. He says the quality of the honey is excellent as it’s procured organically. “It’s been ages since I switched to honey instead of using sugar because it is a healthier option. I have been buying from Bensislas for the past few years and the quality of the honey has always stayed consistent. I usually buy it in bulk and it is a relief, since it’s usually difficult to find unadulterated honey in the market,” says the 70-year-old.
Amma Honey also sells a few value-added products such as honey garlic, honey bird’s eye chilli, honey dates, beeswax, and so on. “I never had to do marketing for honey, as it happens through word-of-mouth and people usually buy it directly from my house. I make around Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month from the sales,” says Bensislas.