Archive for the ‘Bees’ Category

MONOCULTURE CANNOT FEED THE WORLD AFTER PEAK OIL – 1st wk in Feb 2013

In the last week, the Banner Beekeepers have held their Annual Conference in Ennistymon, Co. Clare,  and the Irish Organic Farmers & Growers Association (IOFGA) have held their AGM in Birr, Co. Offaly.

As a novice beekeeper, I found the apiculture lectures very useful. Ethel Irvine from Co. Fermanagh spoke about the vital role of the drone which can smell a queen bee at 50 metres and see her with the 8000 lens in each eye. Natura in minimis maxime miranda (Nature is at its most awesome in miniature form). Keith Pierce spoke about breeding good queen bees. Dara Scott recommended ways to tackle the bee disease ‘nosema’ and Eoghan Mac Giolla Códa compared the strengths of the native Irish Dark Bee with Italian and other non-native bee varieties. John Donoghue as an expert judge at Honey Shows shared the criteria he uses to select the very best honey displays, (see photograph).

The IOFGA AGM was packed with farmers from all parts of Ireland. Gillian Westbrook, the IOFGA Manager set the scene with an overview of the CAP reform talks and some stark facts. 80% of organic food bought in Ireland is imported. Much of that could be grown here. Much of those imports are fruit and vegetables. Yet only a miniscule 1.3% of organic production in Ireland is vegetables and herbs. God bless the likes of organic growers like Philip Dreaper in Offaly, Jason Horner in Clare,  my near neighbour, Jenny Mc Nally near Balbriggan and Paddy Byrne down the road near Skerries, but Ireland needs more organic growers as food imports waste diminishing oil resources. Check out www.organicgrowersireland.org and drop along to their gathering in the County Arms Hotel, Birr, Co. Offaly,  on Wednesday 20th February next.

Organic farmer Stephen Briggs from England made a fascinating presentation about agroforestry, ie. combining growing of trees with cultivating poultry, pigs, wheat or maize etc between these N – S lines of nut trees, cherry trees in France or poplar trees in Ontario, Canada. This is how more food and fuel can be obtainable from the same piece of land, rather than depending on the future claims of  genetically modified monoculture. We had ‘green revolution’ monoculture in the 1960’s which increased oil consumption more than food production. Now a similar mindset is arguing for a ‘gene revolution’ in the belief that a GM form of monoculture is sustainable into the future.

Dr. Colin Sage from UCC, speaking at the IOFGA Conference,  referred to the 2009 IAASTD World Bank report, ‘Agriculture at a Crossroads’. This report had 580 authors, took 3 years to write and was endorsed by the WHO, FAO and 58 countries including Ireland. The key recommendations were that feeding a growing number of human beings worldwide requires an ‘agro-ecological approach’. Consumers aswell as farmers need to be urged to think and act in this more holistic way. Most of the world’s 525 million farmers produce food on less that 2 hectare holdings. Modern organic research and training can seriously boost their food production capacity.  GM, says this authoritative report,  has such a limited role that is represents a distraction to the really practical ways humanity must learn to feed itself. This is not Trevor Sargent talking, this is a global comprehensive World Bank initiated report ‘talking’!

Modern monoculture currently requires 10 calories of fossil fuels to deliver 1 calorie of food on a plate. Dr Colin Sage told his audience that there is a 95% correlation between the cost of energy and the cost of food at present. It is time for farmers to quickly get off the dependency on fossil fuels in food production. Because organic farming uses less fossil fuels than agrichemical farming, it is only a matter of time before organic food will cost less that the unaffordable chemically grown counterpart. However unless each able bodied person  grows more food organically, all food grown after fossil fuel prices rocket, will cost a far higher percentage of disposable income than is the norm at present. Ipso facto, present Government policy will mean that future food riots are sadly inevitable, I believe. Read more about this IAASTD* World Bank report in my book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’, pp.35 – 36. (www.orpenpress.com). Whatever about the European Central Bank, Nature does not do negotiations!

Learning from master judge John Donoghue about producing top quality honey for sale at the Banner Beekeepers' Conference, Sun. 3 Feb.

Learning from master judge John Donoghue about producing top quality honey for sale at the Banner Beekeepers’ Conference, Sun. 3 Feb.

*International Assessment of Agicultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development.

HIVES NEED FEEDING AS MILD WEATHER IS CAUSING BEES TO FLY BUT FEW PLANTS IN FLOWER – 1st wk in January 2013

Weather is more like June than January to the bees, except the flowers of June are absent so the hives could starve if they are not fed now.

Weather is more like June than January to the bees, except the flowers of June are absent so the hives could starve if they are not fed now.

The weather today was an unusually warm 10 – 14 c. In ways the mild weather  is welcome for doing the outdoor jobs like tidying the shed or sowing onion seeds in trays or carrot seed in the greenhouse soil. However, the temperature is noticeably higher than many days were in July or August last year. If this is bizarre to humans, imagine the effect it has on other animals. These temperatures trick them in to behaving as if it was spring or summer already.

In the case of my beehives, the bees should be clustered for the winter at this time. By clustering in a ball a hive of honey bees can maintain a steady temperature in the hive of 37 c, even if the temperature outside was to plummet as low as minus 37 c. This is not likely in Ireland as long as the Gulf Stream keeps warmer water from the Caribbean lapping our shores. However, the weather is remarkably mild and more like spring or summer as far as Irish bees are concerned.

The advice I read about in ‘An Beachaire;, the magazine of  FIBKA, the Federation of Irish Bee Keeping Associations, (see www.irishbeekeeping.ie,) is to visit the hives and feed the bees on such a mild January day as this. Before my visit  I prepared a few resealable freezer bags, filling each with some ‘bakers’ fondant’. A bucket of this white sugary thick goo I bought in Superquinn at the in-store bakery in Swords. Before opening the hives I cut two slits crossways in the middle of each feed bag. Open side down I placed a feed of fondant gently on the top of the frames, between opening and closing the lid of each hive as quickly and gently as possible. I’m glad I wore the bee suit, even for this quick operation, as the bees were wide awake and ready to defend the hive at a moment’s notice.

Even if the bees have enough of their own honey in store, the presence of fondant will do no harm. As Philip Mc Cabe, the FIBKA (Irish beekeepers’) PRO is wont to say: ‘Better for the bees to be looking at the feed, than looking for it’! Handy as the mild weather is, I do hope we get a bit of a cold snap to kill off a few of those slug eggs lying in wait in the soil. Last year’s mild winter was a big boost to the slug number, making it difficult to protect young seedlings in spring especially.

LAST APPLE JUICED AND HONEY POTTED, TIME TO CLEAR GARDEN FOR AUTUMN PLANTING – SECOND WEEK IN OCTOBER 2010.

Made a start on clearing the spent pea and bean stalks and haulms. I did not dig them out, just chopped them at ground level so their roots remained in the soil. These legume roots have nodules of nitrogen fixed from the air during their growing season. I’m told this is valuable for the cabbage plants I hope to plant in this patch shortly as all the brassica family are hungry for nitrogen.

Still have beetroot to dig up and bottle for storage over the winter. Before long I will need to spread the mature compost from the composter around the garden and make a new batch by layering the compost tumbler contents with the greenery from spent veg and hedge clipping. However I’ll need to set aside a Sunday sometime soon to get a good run at that job which comes around every 6 months, autumn and spring.

BALBRIGGAN FOOD FESTIVAL STRESSES LOCAL FOOD CULTURE GOOD FOR JOBS AND BIODIVERSITY – FIRST WEEK IN OCTOBER 2010

Ar an chéad lá de Dheireadh Fómhair, d’fhreastail a lán daoine ar Fhéile Bia Bhaile Brigín a bhí urraithe as Bridgestone. Deireadh Fómhair or October literally means ‘end of Harvest’ so the first of October was a good day for the first ever Balbriggan Food Festival. The sponsorship of Bridgestone was a big help and linked the Bridgestone Food Guide with the town where Bridgestone in Ireland is based and employs many local people.

Joe English as Chairperson of Balbriggan Chamber of Commerce and Zoe Nelson, a local business woman along with the Organizing Committee deserve huge credit for the effort and intelligent planning they brought to the project. All this resulted in over 40 stands showcasing a huge range of local businesses. The scope covered hobbyist food producers like me, GIY Balbriggan and Fingal North Dublin Beekeepers….to local restaurants….to nearby farmers like Clarkes Fruit Farm and Countrycrest feeding Ireland throught supplying the big supermarkets.

About 8 of the stalls were displaying under the award winning Balbriggan Fish and Farmers’ Market which feeds the town every Friday morning on the Square from 9am – 2pm as well as being a sociable place to start or finish a shopping trip to other town centre shops and businesses.

At my own stall (below) the apples, apple juice and honey from my 2 hives were a popular sampling point at the Festival.

Aisling Kennedy of the Fingal North Dublin Beekepers Association shares a glass of apple juice with Trevor

Michael Griimes, Co-ordinator of Balbriggan Fish & Farmers Market and John McKenna, Bridgestone Food Guide author, sampling some of Trevor's apple juice

THANKS TO ST TERESA’S SCHOOL VISIT, THE KITCHEN GARDEN GETS A SLOT ON TV3 – FIRST WEEK IN AUGUST 2010.

Got a call from TV3 to come on the Morning Show programme on Tuesday 3rd August to discuss this website. The spark of interest was

On the set of The Morning Show with hosts Brian Daly and Sybil Mulcahy

lit by the impromptu visit by pupils from St Teresa’s National School and the al fresco recording of ‘The Garden Song’, I think. So a big thank you again to Ms. Lee and her young vegetable growing and singing students. The number of visitors to the website after the TV3 broadcast would have filled the garden itself many times over! Take a look here.

Meanwhile the Mammoth Russian sunflowers are flowering one by one. They are the skyscrapers of the garden and the bees love them. The lavender also is in full bloom and festooned with bumblebees and honey bees. The bees are not in the least bit bothered by me or any other mammal moving about the garden. It saddens me to hear about the phobia people mention about bees and wasps. I would be more cautious about wasps as they can sting and sting again later. However a bee will not sting unless the hive is threatened. After all, a bee dies in a gruesome way once it has stung, laying down its life for the hive.

Bees enjoying the Sunflower

This is the time of year to enjoy the fruits of earlier labour in the garden. However, the forward thinking gardener will be preparing to sow Spring Cabbage, Pak Choi and other salads, Radish every week or two and even Potatoes with harvest at Christmas in mind. Myself, I’ve put in a few more radish seeds and in a tub of soil, some lettuce seeds. Not very confident with the lettuce however as the packet says ‘ will not germinate over 18 degrees’. So fingers crossed. I’m not too worried as the garden is full of leafy plants which when mixed together make very interesting salads, such as chard, cabbage, nasturtium, dandelion, lettuces and various herbs. Even rose petals grown organically make an exotic addition to a salad bowl. As the person who said it said, variety is the spice of life (in as salad bowl).

APPRECIATING THE ROLE WEEDS PLAY AND TRYING TO SEE WEEDING AS A SORT OF THERAPY – FOURTH WEEK IN MAY 2010

I have just finished making a DVD (with friends from Glasnevin, Balbriggan and Lusk Tidy Towns Association,)  called ‘The Wildflowers of Fingal’. As a result I have a new perspective on what we gardeners call ‘weeds’. The dandelion flower for example is an important food source for bees. Humans need bees not just for honey but more critically to pollinate many of our food plants, whether courgette and tomato flowers or clover which in turn creates meat and dairy products.

So it is good to know weeds are doing some good next time someone casts a disapproving look at your ‘wilderness’. Mind you I do like a fairly tidy garden so I can see what I need to see growing and so I can reach plants, water them and pick crops as they ripen. So I weed as necessary.

It is good to hear some agricultural advisors speak well of some deep-rooted weeds. Plants such as dock and dandelion take up  and make available again nutrients which have been washed down out of reach of shallow rooting grasses and clovers etc. Dr Charles Merfield, Organic Agriculture Research Scientist when he worked in Johnstown Castle for Teagasc spoke in detail about the biological feed back systems at work in fertile soil. Roots excrete  what soil needs to make food for roots. So while weeds may be a problem in one way, in another they are helping maintain a healthy soil for the plants you actually want to grow strong, tall and tasty.

Not so tall but very tasty are the radishes which I have begun to sample this week. The crisp bite and peppery flavour is undoubtably best when picked , washed and eaten fresh from fertile soil. However if I had let the weeds go unchecked, I may not have seen these new season radishes.

While I will not panic if I see a few weeds, I am geared up to keep the kitchen garden manageable and as tidy as it needs to be. I have between now and the 10th June 2010 to put my words into practice and I invite you to come then and see if I have succeeded or not.

ON THURSDAY 10th JUNE AT 7pm, THE GROW IT YOURSELF NAUL GROUP AND SOME GIY-ers FROM SWORDS AND DUBLIN  ALONG WITH NEIGHBOURS ARE DROPPING IN TO SEE THE GARDEN. I’LL BE TAKING BETS ON THE NUMBER OF VISITORS WHO SAY ‘IT IS SMALLER THAN IT LOOKS ON THE U-TUBE VIDEO CLIPS’! IF I HAVE ENOUGH CUPS YOU ARE WELCOME TO A CUP OF ‘REAL TEA’ (AS PEOPLE SAY) OR SAMPLE AN AROMATIC BREW MADE FROM FRESH PEPPERMINT WHICH IS GROWING PROFUSELY  UNDER THE APPLE TREE BETTER THAN ANY WEED I KNOW RIGHT NOW!  CALL THE CONSTITUENCY OFFICE IN SWORDS ON (01) 89 00 360 FOR MORE DETAILS AND DIRECTIONS.

PLAN TO BOOST YIELDS OF FRUIT, VEG AND FLOWERS BY TAKING UP BEEKEEPING, AND THE HONEY WILL BE A BONUS – SECOND WEEK IN MARCH 2010.

The infectious enthusiasm of beekeepers for their craft has rubbed off on me. One of my jobs in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (and Forestry indeed) was to be ‘Minister for Beekeeping’. Reading around the subject, I was amazed to learn that a third of the human diet depends on bee pollination and honeybees are the best adapted to this vital task. However in the USA alone in 2007, about 800,000 bee colonies died out and in the 2008 another 1,000,000 colonies died. That means one in three American hives were lifeless at the start of 2008. In France the deathrate is more than 60%. In Britain, a Government Minister warned that honeybees could be extinct within a decade.  At their rate of decline the USA will have no honeybees by 2035. For more information, you can read ‘A World Without Bees’ by Benjamin and Mc Callum which I bought in Hodges and Figgis, Dame St, Dublin 2, or check out www.guardianbooks.co.uk.

The cause of this decline varies depending on the research. It blames disease, poor standards among rogue beekeepers, certain agrichemicals, lack of biodiversity, chaotic weather patterns or a combination of these and other factors. We know already that in the Chinese province of Sichuan, widespread use of pesticides in the 1980’s is believed to have killed off all the bees there. As a result, human workers have to patiently attempt to pollinate the crops when in flower and the results are a poor second rate service compared  to what the bees used to do for free. If the USA was to lose its bee population, the cost of providing any reasonable level of human labour to pollinate crops would cost in the region of $90 billion per annum. Watch the cost of food rocket worldwide if that scenario was to unfold as the USA is huge food and animal feed exporter to Ireland and many other countries including China.

It is not surprising therfore that I jumped at any requests for help or invitations to attend events organized by the Federation of Irish Beekeepers or F.I.B.K.A.. For more information see www.irishbeekeeping.ie. One such invitation came from Mr. Jim Donohue, Secretary of the Midland Beekeepers Association to become a beekeeper myself. This all came about when I was opening a Self-Sufficiency Fair at Belvedere House near Mullingar. I ended up donning the white bee proof overalls and helping Jim to capture a swarm of several thousand bees, I kid you not!

Recognising I was in the company of an expert and a great teacher, I enrolled to attend the next beekeeping course he was organizing. The sessions are monthly on a Sunday on Norman Kenny’s organic farm near Broadford. In one way it is a great way to relax on the odd Sunday. In another way it is a very practical way to learn how to help boost the yield of farmers and gardeners in Fingal, once I get my own couple of hives. When large numbers of hives were introduced to the almond groves in California, the yield jumped sixfold since the 1980’s. Now 80% of the world’s almonds are produced in California.

In case you are a neighbour of mine reading this,  fear not. The hives will not be in my own small kitchen garden. Instead I am fortunate enough to know a friendly orchard owner who is delighted to host the two hives I will look after. However, bees are not keen to sting anyone as once they sting they die. So the motto is respect the bees and they will respect you. In return a hive will enthusiastically pollinate any flower the bees encounter within a 5 km radius – and produce a few pounds of honey into the bargain.

The last beekeeper to make a name for himself  in the north Fingal area was St Mologa after whom the Lambeecher estate in Balbriggan was named. Lambeecher comes from (Welsh) ‘church’ and (Irish) ‘beekeeper’. It is about time we had our own honey once more.