Clonmel still a Vale of Honey for beekeepers

Sian Moloughney

Sian Moloughney

The high point of the year for many beekeepers is their local Honey Show, and in South Tipp beekeepers came together in Clonmel, a few weeks ago, for what is one of the largest shows of its kind in the country.

The president of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations, until recently, was also a Clonmel man, Denis Ryan, from Mylerstown.

Denis served as president of the federation for three years, until his term ended this summer. He is still a member of the local association and a fount of knowledge on all things bee-related.

The local association has about 70 members and, according to Denis, there is a huge interest in beekeeping, especially from beginners - there are at least 25 people in the group’s beginners class each year. “In the last few years there has been a huge interest, we see it in the UK too.” Denis puts this down to the media attention given to the plight of the bee in America, where they are ‘disappearing.’ “We don’t have that here, our bees are very healthy. There are different circumstances, we look after our bees better here and there is a greater variety of forage.”

The majority of the association’s members are hobbyists who have between five and 10 hives. Only about 1% of all Irish beekeepers are commercial producers. Denis explains that weather is the real hazard, like in farming, because it affects honey crops and income is unpredictable. “If weather is not good you are not going to get a nectar flow. June and July are important because clover and blackberry, two of our most important sources of nectar, need 20 degree heat.

“Here in Tipperary we can’t complain, we did better than crops up the country,” Denis says of this summer. It’s nice to know the Clonmel area still holds to its old Irish name.

Locally produced honey is readily available in local shops and its health properties are becoming more lauded. Local honey is said to be a good treatment for hay fever, as it contains the local pollen. Denis adds that manuka honey has got a lot of publicity in recent years but local honey has just as many health benefits and anti-bacterial properties. “Honey is attractive to people because it is so natural, local and unprocessed.”

The market for honey in Ireland is huge. 300 tonnes were produced here last year and we import five times that.

The Clonmel Honey Show had a fantastic display of all hive products, including run honey of three different colours (light, medium and dark), as well as many competition classes for comb honey, frame and cut combs. Wax products were also part of the show and included beeswax polish and candle making. Beeswax can also be used in encaustic art, cosmetics and the chemical industry.

“There is a huge opening to develop by-products from a hive but most beekeepers just produce honey,” Denis says.

The show also included a workshop in candle making and in preparing honey for sale, as well as having an observation hive. Denis likes to bring this observation hive around to local schools, to promote the hobby.

Bees are not just honey producers, he stresses, they are important for the pollination of many crops. It is said that one in every three mouthfuls of food we take is thanks to the work of bees! One hive can have a population of 60,000 bees at the height of summer.

Anyone interested in beekeeping can find more information on the local association’s website where you will find information on events and beginners courses, which usually start in the new year.

To start your beekeeping project the cost is relatively low. Prices vary but a hive of bees together with some equipment will cost about E100 approximately. Protective clothing will cost another E120, and other essential tools such as a smoker and hive tool will cost about E30.

In some cases you can keep bees in your garden - it depends on the size and location of your home. A hive needs only a few feet of space but as most non-beekeepers are afraid of bees you should consider your neighbours and at all costs protect them from stings.

If your own garden isn’t suitable then a hive doesn’t take up much space and a small plot of waste land belonging to a nearby landowner may be ideal. The Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Association advises that a piece of waste ground with easy access for a car but hidden from public view is best. Easy access is very important, as bee boxes are heavy even when empty. Always place the hive on a stand such as concrete blocks or a wooden trestle. If placed directly on the ground they will always be damp and the bees will not survive.

In Ireland the main sources of nectar are Sycamore, Horse Chestnut and Whitethorn in May; Blackberry and White Clover in June and July. Lime trees yield nectar in July and Fuchsia and Bell Heather are also good sources.

Honeybees will fly a distance of 1½ to 2 miles from the hive to collect nectar and pollen. Several acres of flowers are required in order to produce a crop of honey.

Beekeeping is not time consuming and a visit once a week is sufficient from mid-April to the end of June. From June to mid-September it depends on what work needs to be done, but should not take up too much time.

Beekeepers take all the honey off together sometime between mid-August and early September.