Saturday 16 December 2017

Buzzing over the long days of summer

Seeing wild swarms means more to Pat than making honey.
Seeing wild swarms means more to Pat than making honey. "It's just a good sign that there are any out there. Up till recently, you wouldn't see many wild bees - there were none last year. But hopefully they are making a comeback."

Fiona O'Connell

Some folk kick back over summer - but that wouldn't include the farmers who are spending the long days hauling trucks of cereal and bales of hay over the bridge in this country town. Local farmer Pat has likewise been busy as a bee - quite literally. For this farmer is also a beekeeper.

He tells me that things aren't buzzing as much as they could be this year. Because apparently bees have something in common with sun-deprived Paddies, as they need a steady run of warm weather to thrive.

Another factor in declining numbers has been hedge cutting.

"That's a disaster for the bees," Pat says, with blackberries in particular being "a big thing" for these pollinators of the planet. Fortunately, attempts to extend the hedge-cutting season have not succeeded so far, giving the population a chance to prosper. This should have us buzzing, in turn. Because, as Pat puts it: "If we had no bees, then we'd have nothing."

He thinks it's a pity more people aren't involved in beekeeping. Perhaps it should be mandatory for ministers who make decisions that affect our environment. Because ironically, donning a bee-keeper veil opens your eyes to the importance of these buzzing barometers - as the owner of a store that Pat got talking to recently discovered. His fruit trees have nearly doubled their crops after only one year of keeping bees, thanks to all the powered up pollination. Pat, himself, is an old hand when it comes to hives, having kept bees since he "was a young fella". He stopped after a lethal sort of infestation killed them off. But as he is not one to get a bee in his bonnet for long, he resumed once the issue was resolved. He started with two and now has 10 hives, having added a couple of wild swarms last year. (Though the one that a local alerted him to in her garden had buzzed off by the time Pat arrived.)

He tries to attract them by putting lemon-grass oil on a cotton bud. This "draws them in" he says, as it has a similar scent to the queen bee. But you have to get the amount just right, as too much turns them away.

Seeing wild swarms means more to Pat than making honey. "It's just a good sign that there are any out there. Up till recently, you wouldn't see many wild bees - there were none last year. But hopefully they are making a comeback."

One wonders if Pat's 'honesty shop' can do the same. For it closed because "we just couldn't compete" with a certain duo of German-owned supermarkets. "They were selling cheap vegetables that are not a patch on our own," Pat says, with a laugh. "But 'tis the money people would be watching. So we gave up."

This is a real shame, as Pat's farm has been organic for two years now, which is excellent news for the environment. Indeed, it includes a field of wild clover that the bees love.

Pat says they would open the shop again, "if enough people were interested".

Let's hope they get interested before the bees buzz off too, leaving us to suffer the sting in that tail.

Sunday Independent

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