Getting honey and the future of hives

Clearer boards in use by bees close up.


Mary O’Riordan says this is the month to bring the honey harvest home, but the bees are not doing well, she warns.

In the next month or so beekeepers will be starting to harvest their honey crop, clearing the supers of bees, and bringing home the honey, and extracting the golden harvest. 

The supers are the boxes that contain the honey that is collected during the season.

There are several ways of clearing the supers of bees, but the easiest on the bees is with a clearer board, a clearer board is a board which has porter bee escapes on it, and it is put on over the brood chamber after lifting off the supers. 

The supers are then put back on again — the bee escapes allow the bees to return to the brood chamber, but they cannot come back into the supers, and the supers will be cleared in 24 hours or less. 

It is very important that there are no holes or broken pieces of timber where the flying bees can get into the supers, as all of one’s honey could be stolen in a matter of hours, and one could be left with empty boxes.

Clearer boards in use at the hive during honey extraction.
Clearer boards in use at the hive during honey extraction.

Supers are then brought home to be extracted and some beekeepers have “a honey house” (sounds posh), which is equipped with an extractor, an uncapping tray where the wax capping are left to drain, hot and cold water, a heating cabinet, (which is usually made from an old freezer with a heater connected in it), or it can be extracted in the kitchen with an extractor borrowed/hired from the local association. 

The honey is put into sealed food grade containers, or it can be bottled if you want to sell some.

It has been a very challenging year for beekeepers, there was a lot of losses last autumn and in the spring of this year, and Co Cork seems to have been hit more severely than other parts of the country. 

Queen-rearing was a disaster due mainly, we think, to the bad summer and autumn of last year and there is also problems with viruses due to the Varroa mite. 

Some of the treatments for the mite resulted in queens being badly mated and ending up as drone layers, and some beekeepers lost all their bees, we are awaiting the official COLOSS Winter Colony Loss Survey 2015/2016 from Dr Mary Coffey, at Teagasc in Co Carlow.

In an effort to make up for spring losses, some beekeepers, including myself, put a second brood chamber on top of the strong hives, and fed them, and when they had built up, took away the second brood chamber, and gave them a queen or left the bees to rear a queen themselves, and it has worked out well, and we have built up stocks again.

We have also done a bit of queen rearing, and have taken some of the best cells from swarming stocks, and made up some nukes, (three or four frames, one food, one pollen, one brood, and a good shake of bees) and they have worked out pretty good, too. 

The weak stocks seem to have taken ages to build up, and only seem to be ready for the blackberry and clover crop. 

The Irish beekeeping season is very short and if everything isn’t right, it can make the whole thing very disappointing, especially for beginners. 

But we will stay optimistic, and hope for lots of honey.

This week, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers is holding its annual “Summer Course” at Gormanstown College, Co Meath. 

This year will be the 70th anniversary of this course— fifty-six such events have been held here over the years, and the anniversary will be celebrated with a gala banquet on Wednesday evening of next week. 

It is an event that beekeepers from all over the world like to attend, and there are speakers from the UK and USA. This year, the guest speaker is Jamie Ellis from the University of Florida.


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