Posts Tagged ‘beekeepers’


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.


First step when planning to open the hive is allow smell of smoke to waft across the entrance of the brood box. It masks human smells and distracts the bees into thinking a fire is more of a threat than the beekeeper.

Not a good year for my bees. With the frequent showers, the queen bee was thwarted in her efforts to fly high and mate with as many drones as she can in the ‘drone zone’. The drones congregate 30 – 90 feet above the ground. The queen needs good dry weather during the first 10 – 20 days of her life so she can fly high and mate profusely to collect all the sperm she needs for the egg laying season ahead.

Given the lack of good queen mating conditions this year, I was surprised that  I got any honey at all. The more established of my two hives showed a healthy population of bees. They managed to make the best of any dry days to forage for pollen, nectar, water and propolis, with the result that two ‘supers’ ( the boxes of honey storing frames placed above the brood box) had a reasonable weight of honey when I checked them in the last week.

Another downside to the inhospitable bee-weather is that the bees are tetchy and irritable when I have to open the hive. The fact that I am effectively stealing their winter stores of honey is another upsetting factor for the bees. However, I do replace the honey removed with a thick mixture of dissolved sugar in water. After the honey has been (partially) extracted from the combs in the ‘supers’, then these ‘supers’ are returned to the hive to be cleaned up by the bees. The bees will no doubt make good use of any residual honey I have left behind.

The honey extractor is owned by the Fingal North Dublin Beekeepers, . As a member I can hire it for a modest amount to carry out the one day operation of extracting the honey from the frames in each ‘super’. To find out more see for more information about your nearest beekeeping association. In my case Thursday, 6th September in the CBS secondary school, Dublin Road, Swords at 8pm, is my next meeting to help me get my bees ready for the winter. Meanwhile, I hope you can see and enjoy our  video about ‘Getting Honey from the Hive to the House’.