Mary O’Riordan: The art of beekeeping

Mary O’Riordan, who has a share in over 40 hives, begins a new series of columns introducing the art of beekeeping to our readers.

Beekeeping can be a full-time job, a sideline business or a hobby. There are thousands of hobby beekeepers in Ireland. It is a relatively inexpensive pastime that not only provides a sweet harvest each year, but keeps gardeners and farmers happy.

In a series of articles over the next few months, I will be encouraging you to join the growing brigade of beekeepers.

However, there are three considerations to consider before committing yourself to beekeeping: the sting, squeamishness and your back.

Stings can be a major deterrent for the would-be beekeeper. If you keep bees, there is no doubt that you will be stung by them. For most people, a bee sting is slightly painful for a brief period.

Mary O’Riordan: The art of beekeeping

Luckily, though, most beekeepers develop immunity to the poison over time. For about one in every 300 people, there is a danger of death from anaphylactic shock brought on by the bee sting. You will probably know your own reaction by now, but you can check with your doctor to determine if you are one of the unlucky people who are allergic to bee stings.

If you are squeamish around insects, then you will have to develop the courage to face thousands of bees each time you open up a hive, which you will be doing often.

This can be daunting, initially, but with time it is awesome; dare I say, you will get a buzz out of it.

You do not have to be physically strong to keep bees, but it is helpful, at times, to have someone to help with the heavy lifting. If the stings can be endured and you don’t suffer from insectophobia, and if the lifting can be accommodated, then go ahead and become a beekeeper.

Mary O’Riordan: The art of beekeeping

The initial cost of beekeeping is relatively cheap. You will, however, need to invest in supplies such as a hive, protective clothing, a smoker and hive supplies.

As of this writing, a single, new hive may cost €250 and clothing and gear may cost €120, and new bees may cost €150. Which isn’t that cheap, after all, but you can find starter kits with bees, boxes, and gear for a better combined price.

The first year can be tough. On top of learning the ins and outs of beekeeping, you may not get a large return of honey.

Be patient with yourself and your bees. Be sure to talk to local beekeepers and beekeeping organisations. Beekeepers tend to be members of local associations, of which there are 57 in Ireland.

Details of your local association may be found at the website of the Federation of Irish Beekeeper Associations (www.irishbeekeeping.ie). Each association has its own programme of lectures and apiary demonstrations. Your local secretary and website will inform you of what’s on.

County Cork Beekeepers’ Association, of which I am a member, hold yearly seminars as well as meetings, and details are on their website: www.cocorkbka.org.

Many local associations have beginners’ courses over the winter and it’s an excellent way to learn about the craft.

It’s always a good idea to go out with an experienced beekeeper, a few times, before raising your own bees.

Basic beekeeping doesn’t require huge amounts of money, time or space, and it can be done in your own back garden, if it is big enough, or you might get a bit of waste ground from a farmer — you can repay him/her with honey.

The head office of Allied Irish Bank, in Dublin, has a hive on the roof, and is looked after by a member of staff. A lot of buildings in London and New York have hives on the roofs.

If you like to drizzle amber honey on your morning toast or just want to help our biodiversity, you might want to give beekeeping — or apiculture — a try.


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