This guest blog entry was written by Rhona Kelly - thank you , Rhona for your help. If anyone has anything they would like to post here, please feel free to contact us and we'll make it happen.
It was the end of November, 2014. My younger sister had followed our older sister, and had died of cancer. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a h’anam dilis. I was wondering about this "living" business and what to do.
In January, a friend emailed me the date of beginner’s bee keeping class, and as that guy in "The Shawshank Redemption" said, "Get busy living, or get busy dying". My sister couldn’t do a bee keeping class, and so, on a snowing Monday night, I headed north to Teagasc in Dundalk.
I knew from national school that bees lived in a colony; there was a queen, drones and workers. I knew they collected pollen, converted nectar into honey, and made beeswax. They could sting. That was all I knew. I had never seen a hive, knew nothing about foundation or pheromones, waggle dances or wax by-products.
My newbee friends and I were expertly led through our classes and I had no hesitation in answering "Yes" when, at the end of the classes, we were asked if we wanted to acquire a colony of bees. After all I had passed my exam and knew everything about keeping bees!!!
What had I taken on? I don’t do flatpacks, had only ever used a hammer to hang a picture, hate painting and I wouldn’t like to admit how long it took me to make that first frame and put in foundation. Now I have a tool box, a blowtorch, (wow, useful for crème brulee). I have taken over most of our storeroom and can make and fill a brood frame in jig time. My building skills still need a lot of improving! And that’s even before I start looking after the bees.
It was great to learn the practical end of things with two equally enthusiastic beginners. We were very well assisted by a number of club members and this was, and still is, really appreciated. Unfortunately, one friend decided to stop beekeeping as he suffered an anaphylactic shock after a bee sting. He has confirmed to me that there is absolutely no truth in the rumour that this was caused by the way I incorrectly removed the sting in the first place! My other friend is a fount of knowledge and my Go-To person whenever I have a problem.
My first colony swarmed, sent out casts, dwindled and was robbed by wasps, and I learned I had so much to learn.
I then bought a colony of very calm, healthy bees from a club member, obeying the rule to source my bees from a local reputable source. I was also gifted a colony of bees from a generous neighbouring beekeeper. I was in business again!!
Last year, 2016, was action-packed. I really enjoyed attending the improver’s course which our association runs. And still the mistakes continued. One colony swarmed, I caught a swarm in a bait hive, watched colonies requeen and dealt with a drone laying queen. I caught, clipped and marked a queen for the first time, (what an adrenaline rush, better than, well, lots of things!) I introduced this queen to a colony. (I discovered this year that she was promptly killed and a new queen now heads up this colony!!!) I got some honey and had cut comb honey for my mother-in-law, whose father kept 60 hives before the varroa mite. I even made candles, okay, I used unwired foundation, but my friends were very impressed!!! I also vowed to be much more prepared for the 2017 season, having been told that this preparation begins in August of 2016.
There was also Gormanstown, bee trips, monthly lectures and a bee Christmas party, as well as all the bee themed gifts I now get. What’s not to like??
Already my 2017 season is off to a shaky start, but I will persevere.
Bees have adapted and survived through the ages. I love the history bit and the traditions I had never known about, like the old tradition of telling the bees of their keeper’s death. I often think of my sisters when working with my bees and it’s okay.
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