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Sunday 16 December 2018

Irish farmer and top restaurant team up for beekeeping project

Chef Aishling Moore of Elbow Room and Mark Riordan of Hive Mind. Photo: Diane Cusack
Chef Aishling Moore of Elbow Room and Mark Riordan of Hive Mind. Photo: Diane Cusack
Katy McGuinness

Katy McGuinness

In Myrtleville, Co Cork, Mark Riordan has come up with a novel way of operating the beehives that he keeps on his family farm.

Mark's background is in tech, but as part of a master’s degree in organic horticulture at UCC, he wrote a thesis on commercial beekeeping and genetics, and became hooked.

“I had been keeping bees myself for five years and worked with a bee breeder helping to breed queen bees,” he says. “After I completed the thesis, I had surplus bees. I’d been involved in community-supported agriculture projects such as the allotments in Myrtleville, and I wanted to apply the same principles to the bee realm.”

And so Hive Mind — “We keep the hives, you keep the honey” — was born.

Mark set about getting his hives sponsored by different companies and individuals. In exchange for an annual fee — currently around €300 per hive, and customers can sign up for one-third of a hive — he manages the hive and, at harvest time, the sponsor gets the honey. The price works out at about €7.50 per jar.

Currently, Mark has around 50 hives and, after a few bad winters, is focused on increasing this number. The good summer will help the process, and yields are likely to be high this year.

“Many of my corporate customers have got involved in sponsoring hives through their CSR programmes; I had corporate greening in mind when I started out. One of our biggest corporate customers is Airbnb; the company uses the honey in its canteens.”

Late last year, Aishling Moore, a chef at Elbow Lane in Cork, part of the Market Lane Group, spotted an Instagram post from Hive Mind and was intrigued.

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“I thought that it sounded so cool,” she says. “I pitched the idea to Stephen Kehoe, who is our executive chef and the proprietor of Orso [another restaurant in the group]. He thought it was a great idea; Conrad [Howard, one of the owners] agreed and told me to get on with it!" she said.

"I got in touch with Mark and we met in January and agreed to sponsor three hives. Each one will give us around 15kg of honey. It’s not enough for all the requirements of the restaurants, so we’ll use it more as a component than an ingredient. We collected the first batch a few weeks ago.

" Each hive feeds from different meadows and they have distinct flavours — one is fennel; another tastes of blackberries. They are amazing."

“As a group, we are very big on sustainability and waste. We are very conscious of anything we throw out. Mark explained that it takes in the region of 12,000 flower trips to produce one teaspoon of honey.

"It puts it into perspective the way we want to use it. I’m working on developing other dishes and so are the chefs in the other restaurants.”

“Elbow Lane is ahead of the curve,” says Mark. “The cost of the honey works out at about €7.50 per jar. The honey is barely filtered, and we don’t heat it so it’s set rather than runny. Heating ruins the enzymatic nature of the honey.

 "As it passes through the bee’s gut, the nectar picks up enzymes that are beneficial for human gut health.

"A foraging bee collects nectar, brings it back to the hive in its honey stomach and regurgitates it to another bee, which takes it into its own body before regurgitating it into a strategic position in the hive. As the water content is reduced, the honey is capped and will keep forever.”

Anyone interested in sponsoring a hive can fill out an expression-of-interest form on Hive Mind’s website, hivemind.ie; Mark expects to be in a position to take on additional sponsors later this year.

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