Beekeeping is by all accounts an enjoyable and educational hobby for yourself while it also benefits the local environment. You have the chance to see bees at close quarters, learn about their biology and way of life with the added bonus of honey. Bees are essential for the pollination and survival of many species of plants, including commercial crops where 84% of Europe’s crops depend on insect pollinators, especially bees (Potts et al 2010). Beekeeper numbers have dropped however and bees are facing threats including Varroa, Colony Collapse Disorder and Climate Change.
Beekeeping requires a suitable location, some equipment and clothing plus some friendly bees! Although bees forage for pollen and nectar in an area of up to a 3km radius from the hive, the hive should take up less than 1m2. However, you do need to have enough space around the hive to access yourself without blocking the flight path and the hive entrance should not directly face areas where you or your neighbours other activities occur (Ryan 2015). You will need to consider the needs of your neighbours when getting bees and situating the hive. A good location for bees will provide shelter such as trees, a hedge or wall and allow for a certain amount of sunlight to warm up the hive without overheating. The space needed to accommodate bees is very small considering the amount of food produced and therefore urban beekeeping is certainly possible even on rooftops in Dublin. If you don’t have a suitable location yourself, it may be possible to have an out apiary situated somewhere else with the landowner’s permission. Commercial crops need to be pollinated and the landowner may welcome a hive or two if asked.
The hive is made up of worker bees, drones and a queen. Worker bees collect nectar, pollen, propolis and water. Other tasks carried out by worker bees are to clean and guard the hive, feed larvae and to control the temperature and humidity in the hive. Drones are male with the sole purpose of mating while the queen is larger than both the workers and the drones. The queen keeps the hive together, lays eggs and is tended to by worker bees.
The essential equipment includes a hive, frames, a hive tool and a smoker. Beehives are generally made of wood though PVC and polystyrene are sometimes used. The hexagonal wax foundation on frames is already put in place for the bees and they will use this to store honey and lay eggs. To protect yourself from stings a veil and gloves are worn or a full beekeeping suit while the smoker is a tool used to calm the bees making them retreat into the hive. You should get your nucleus from a local breeder who has calm bees that are less inclined to swarm and they should be healthy and free from disease. The nucleus is essentially a small hive with a laying queen and some frames from which the hive will be built. But first things first – join an association and take it from there…
Nearly every county has a Beekeepers Association and some counties have several, there are 61 local associations in The Republic of Ireland and 13 across Northern Ireland. The association will provide information, a beginner’s course, help, practical sessions, Public Liability Insurance, an opportunity to meet like-minded people and the use of tools for example to extract the honey which are not feasible to buy yourself. Many associations have an apiary where people can learn from experience; practical sessions are a great introduction to handling bees beforehand rather than being thrown in at the deep end controlling a swarm. A word of warning – before getting bees it’s very important to consider whether you are allergic to beestings. Being an association member also includes a subscription to An Beachaire which is a magazine or journal about all things bees from a beginner’s corner to new research. Many Beekeepers Associations will have an annual Honey Shows which includes a competition in different categories of honey and an opportunity to try their wares. Though some beekeeping associations have talks and courses over the winter, for many the best time to join is early in Spring from now on, while it is also possible to do a residential beekeeping course in the summer.
Honey can of course be used with success in cooking and food but there are other associated crafts, products and hobbies. Meade is a well-known produce using honey but how about beer (see here)? You may include gardening in your repertoire as you seek flowers which are good for pollen or nectar at different times of the year or improve your woodwork skills to make your own hive and frames. Beeswax can be used for candle making but also lip balm, soap, hand cream and furniture polish while propolis is sought after for reputed healing properties (Peacock 2008).
What you can do
- Find your local association, when they meet and when the beginners course is held
- Take a note of what flowers are available in your area for bees
- Don’t cut your lawn! – plants such as dandelion are an important source of pollen for bees throughout the year and wild areas will be appreciated (good excuse yes?)
Here is a list of some beginner’s courses and workshops starting in the coming weeks. For more information see the Federation of Irish Beekeeping Association website , Ulster Beekeepers Association website or the following links.
Ongoing: Longford – Monday evenings every two weeks – Longford Beekeepers, Longford Town (Teagasc Centre) https://www.facebook.com/longford.beekeepers/?fref=ts (ongoing but still welcome to join, catch up practical sessions later in the year)
Ongoing: Newpark Nightschool (8 weeks) http://media.wix.com/ugd/d24da2_d17f276702844c98a5445ce6d890ee01.pdf
Ongoing: Dun Laoighaire Further Education Institute (8 weeks) http://dfei.ie/evenings/a-z-of-Autumn-courses-2016
15th February: Kilkenny (Lavistown House – 4 weeks)
21st February: The Royal County Beekeepers Association (Navan Education Centre)
21st February: Co. Waterford Beekeeping Association (6 weeks)
27th February: The Royal County Beekeepers Association (Headford Arms Hotel, Kells)
7th March: North Kildare Beekeepers Association, Naas Library (8 weeks) https://www.facebook.com/northkildarebees/?fref=ts
1st April: Airfield Estate, Dundrum, Dublin (Introductory Workshop) http://www.airfield.ie/news/introductory-bee-keeping-workshop/
April: Clane http://clanesm.com/courses/night-courses/nature-animals/174-bee-keeping.html (4 weeks after Easter)
30th July: Gormanston, Co. Meath (1 full week) http://www.irishbeekeeping.ie/index.php/gormanston
The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association. Available at: http://www.irishbeekeeping.ie/
The Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association beginners course
Gray, D (2015) “High Hives: Urban Beekeeping”. Available at http://totallydublin.ie/more/opinion/high-hives-urban-beekeeping/ (accessed 24th January 2017)
Ryan, D (2017)“Beginning with Bees” http://www.irishbeekeeping.ie/index.php/about-us/education/beginning-with-bees (accessed 24th January 2017)
Two Sisters Brewing https://twosistersbrewing.com/brigids-ale/
Peacock, P (2008) “Keeping Bees – a complete practical guide”. First edition. Great Britain. Octopus Publishing Group Ltd
Potts, S., Roberts, S., Dean, R., Marris, G., Brown, M., Jones, R., Neumann, P. and Settele, J. (2010) “Decline of managed honey bees and beekeepers in Europe”. Journal of Apicultural Research, 48(1), pp. 15-22