Rain, Queenlessness and Even a Little Bit of Honey
It’s been a minute, but our favourite foreign beekeeper, Anthony “The Irish Drone” Morgan, checks back in following a challenging second season keeping bees on his semi-rural property in County Wexford.
From the start the '21 Irish beekeeping season was slow and wet. The spring months of April and May seemingly had even more rain than normal. To maintain the title of the “Emerald Isle” a land requires a certain level of moisture, and so the wet spring was not a shock to me and probably will not surprise the Kiwi readers either, but still it was very disappointing to the beekeeper.
With several of my hives queenless, following spring inspections, obtaining replacement well-mated queens did not just prove difficult, but impossible. Almost nobody here produces mated queens for sale.
With my own queen-rearing skills in their infancy, I was resigned to taking frames of eggs and brood from the best hives in my own apiary, but still from underperforming queens, and unavoidably ensuring well below-par genetic continuity.
Having been unable to join my local beekeepers association, because they would not take any new members due to Covid, I decided to hang in as best as I could and “go it alone”, so to speak. I ended up making a wise investment at least – I bought my own honey extractor, as there was no possible use of a club's.
Fed up with getting told “unfortunately not” or “no” or “I'll get back to you” by fellow beekeepers, I decided that, although there is undoubtedly a great wealth of knowledge out there, I have no real access to it. So, short of returning to NZ to be trained again by the Kiwi “ixperts”, Youtube should be a great source of reference going forward.
To be fair to my bees though, despite the disastrous start to our beekeeping season – and you may laugh – they did actually produce 180lbs (82kg) of honey. That's 10 or 11 hives out of 14 producing, but an average of 8kg each!
I knew you would laugh.
Several hives simply had no honey to give because they had no queen, and so very few bees. They'll be the first hives to get Frankensteined next year!
While the weather might not have played ball, I did my best to provide some extra forage for the 14 hives on my small property for when the sun did briefly emerge. Last September I planted what I hoped to be a wildflower haven and it turned out to be what I would call a 15 percent success, in terms of ground coverage.
Some of the wildflower mix is biennial, so I can't realistically expect to see those bloom until next year. But the wet start to the season may have hampered things. Or it could even have been Covid? We’ve been hard hit in Ireland and I fear that somehow it made my wildflowers lag…
Next year should herald a new era in my wildflower meadow, but the flowers which did emerge this year were much loved by the bees, hoverflies, ladybirds, bumblebees and moths. The area where they grew best was in the soil heap around my new pond, which itself did end up attracting damselflies and dragonflies, even daddy longlegs who seemed to be laying eggs on top of the algae which formed on the pond surface. The bees took full advantage of the algae – the perfect landing pad upon which to take a saturated sip, without fear of being pulled under by… The Pond Predator…
The Pond Predator, in fact, turned out not to be a creature of the deep, dark abyss, but a cowardly grey heron who flies off every time I open the kitchen door. I don't know why he even bothers going back to the pond, he already has all my goldfish either terrorised into invisibility or else and – more likely – eaten.
The local garden centre sells plastic herons but says the jury is out on whether they scare the real heron away or not. So, I strung a few CD's across the pond with fishing line, hoping the shimmering reflections would scare the heron away, but obviously not. Any ideas for managing goldfish eating herons? Complete “pists”, I tell ya!
Anyway, that’s a look into The Irish Drone’s second season of keeping the Irish black bee (and some further asides!). It’s obviously not without its challenges over here, but there is usually a solution. Speaking of which, next month I might regal you with a grand plan I have to overcome the dearth of quality mated queens in Ireland, but it might require a bit more contemplation and a few Guinesses. So, until then…
Anthony Morgan welcomes correspondence from beekeepers (or heron experts), drop him a line at email@example.com.