My first foray into the weird and wonderful world of bee-keeping.
My first foray into the weird and wonderful world of bee-keeping began more than 10 years ago. Little did I know that the decision to take up a new hobby would eventually become my new business (www.beesontheroof.ie).
It all began with baby steps after going to my local association and signing up to their beekeeping course. It was a whole new group of people and even an entirely different language. I didn’t know anyone else who was a beekeeper and was blissfully unaware of the practicalities involved in pursuing my new hobby in a city environment. All I knew was that I wanted to be a beekeeper and was determined to pursue my new passion. It was much later when I discovered that my grandfather had been a beekeeper many years earlier too so I was inadvertently following in the family footsteps.
When it comes to bee-keeping, people have a huge curiosity about it and usually ask me things like, “why don’t you just buy jars of honey from a shop?” and “why would you want to spend all that time hanging out with insects that most people are not that fond of?” When people ask me if I have a pet, my answer is “yes, I have 50,000!” But when it comes to my passion, I find that while it can be a complicated and sometimes a painstaking process, the rewards are huge.
My knowledge base, my skill-set and my local and international network has increased hugely over the years. It was with awe that I used to attend the Gormanton Summer school for bees to hear lectures from foreign speakers as well as from some of the best of our own. The topics ranged from encaustic art (painting with wax), ley lines (underground energy lines) and their effects on swarms to the more traditional topics like how to grow your number of hives.
I also found that it was usually while chatting during your tea break that you would get some of your best tips.
What have I learned?
First, to slow down and quiet your breathing is the most important thing. This is something we have all learned the hard way during the lockdown but it’s something that bees have known for centuries. They do not like fast or jerky movements. When you approach the hive, your breathing, your steps and especially your hands, all slow down. You are trying not to cause a strong reaction as you examine your bees – the best way is to slow down and be gentle. It is the perfect mindfulness that you read about. And if you don’t practice it well, the bees will soon remind you!
Open your eyes – I stand beside the hives and I watch for a few minutes. What’s happening inside? What can I tell from just standing there, looking and listening. This awareness translates when I am walking in my local parks, I make sure to leave the phone at home and absorb myself in nature. What insects can I see; are they pollinators? Are they rare and unusual or your everyday variety? I have a small chart for bumblebees that I have in my pocket so I can pull it out and try to identify what I see. If necessary, I will log it on the Biodiversity App under the All Ireland Pollinator Plan. https://www.biodiversityireland.ie/
My own actions matter too. I don’t spray chemicals in my garden. I have some vegetables growing in a patch even though my green thumbs are pretty brown. I plant seeds that help the pollinators more, especially a wide range of herbs. I can use these for my cooking as well. I love all the varieties of lavender but also the fennel and the verbena. I am trying to leave the mowing for longer, or maybe not at all in parts. Even though beekeeping would not be for most people, the skills I’ve learned, the scientific topics it has exposed me to, and the network of environmentally-aware people that I have come across has made for great inspiration and involvement. During the Covid pandemic, it has really helped me stay positive, knowing that the small things I’m doing with my bees on a macro level is contributing to Ireland’s biodiversity efforts on a global level.
What can you do to help?
- Plant some bee friendly seeds.
- Let your dandelions bloom in the next few weeks when there isn’t much forage.
- Plant a native tree or fruit bushes.
- Keep in mind that the actions we take to help the honey help the environment at large.
- Ditch the lawnmower for a few weeks and ease off on the pesticides. Your bees will thank you for it!