Posts Tagged ‘honey’


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’.


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

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.