Archive for the ‘Honey’ Category


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 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. ( 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.



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,) 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.


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