The honey bee does so much more than produce honey. A by-product of collecting nectar is crop pollination. The value of this farming service has been estimated per colony of bees as around €1,500 worth of pollination a year. In order to collect a pound of honey, a bee flies on average a distance equivalent to flying twice around the world visiting crops and other flowers more than 10,000 times.
With runner beans, sweetpea, fushia, geraniums, nasturtiums, lavender and various wildflowers blossoming now in my garden, there is reasonably good bee activity to pollinate the edible and inedible flora. However, bee populations are under pressure worldwide. Half of Italy’s bees died in 2007. A third of Argentina’s bees as well as England’s honey bees have been lost. French and German beekeepers link this massive bee deaths with nicotine-based pesticides. Others blame diseases while some blame untrained or novice beekeepers. While the jury argues about why so many bees are dying, it seems prudent to encourage more biodiversity, farm if possible without toxic chemicals and take up bee-keeping and indeed bee-breeding to increase the bee population. (Check out www.irishbeekeeping.ie)
This week I am taking a further step along this road thanks to Jim Donohue and his Mullingar beekeeping colleagues who I met up with over the weekend. In Belvedere House, we located a new swarm which had left their parents behind in the old hive. Protected from head to toe we gently coaxed the 30,000 or so group of bees in to a special basket known as a skep ready for their newly prepared wooden hive. Jim tells me this can be my hive which will be looked after by the Midlands Beekeeping Association until such time as I find a friendly landowner with a spare corner of a field for me to borrow as a location for a hive. My own garden is just a bit small to accommodate a couple of hives. However I do want to encourage as many bees as possible to visit the kitchen garden. Next year I will plant even more ornamental flowers along with the vegetables with the bees in mind. Meanwhile a big ‘go raibh mile maith agaibh’ to Jim and all at Belvedere House.
Here are some pictures taken on the day, with thanks to C.Finn for taking them in potentially challenging conditions.