Memories of starting beekeeping – Micheál Byrne (summer 2007)

I grew up on a mixed farm, too many years ago now to remember.  In the summer time, in order to keep me out of mischief and give me some responsibility, my father would send me on my high nellie (no 4×4 or land cruisers in those days) to check the livestock.  I had to make sure the count was right (I always counted them twice) and make sure they were in good health and that there was plenty of water and grass available.

It was on one such expedition that awakened the beekeeper in me.  At the end of an outlying farm there lived a little old lady (she was probably 45!) who was a very good friend of ours, and she always kept 3 or 4 hives of bees. By the way, she is still a little old lady. As part of my daily chores I would always end up checking the beehives, as well as the cattle.  I was fascinated by the activity at the hive entrance.  When Mary noticed my interest in the bees she encouraged me to set up my own apiary, and I immediately said that I knew nothing about bees. Mary turned and said I will give all the advice you need and gave me an armful of An Beachaire.  I was not the flavour of the month at the breakfast table when I mentioned keeping bees.  Two years passed, and I decided to give it a go.

Lack of preparation from the word go left me in all sorts of trouble.  I followed up a “Bees for Sale” ad in the paper.  I arrived at the beekeeper’s home with my trailer.  A nice retiring beekeeper gave me more information as we examined the colony, showing me the queen in the process.  We loaded up but I had no way of securing the hive.  My first mistake!  Boy was that a long journey home, stopping several times to straighten up what was becoming a total mess.  Arriving eventually at an outlying field, I unloaded a very aggressive hive of bees.  Little did they know that they also had a very aggressive owner!  Proper clothing is a must, as I found out the following evening when looking for the queen.  I used a veil, gloves and a boiler suit.  I paid dearly for not stitching up the pockets of the suit. The result was that hundreds of bees came up inside the veil and gave me a stinging that almost put me out of commission before I even started.  I did not see the queen on that visit to the hive.  Panic set in over the following days, I convinced myself there was no queen.  Away I go to Fr. Maurus in Collon with my tale of woe.  He asked me was there any eggs in the hive and my reply was, wait for it: “A hen cannot get into the hive”!

He gave one look to the heavens and said, leave the bees alone for the rest of the year and they will sort it out themselves. I took his advice.  In the autumn, due to lack of preparation again, I did not secure the site with the result that cattle tumbled the hive.  I reassembled the hive and hoped for the best. Alas, they never came through the winter.

A few years passed, I built a new house and decided to have another go at beekeeping.  I bought a nucleus this time, brought it home at dusk, and again with no proper preparation, brought the nucleus to the woodland behind the house.  The nucleus was sealed properly this time!  Now I was trying to prepare a site in the dark.  I brought a couple of cement blocks and a shovel in a barrow.  I proceeded to level out a small area of ground, but the more I dug the more I heard the noise of the bees, as I thought.  With no suit on I was stung on the legs and arms.  I abandoned all operations for the night but still wondered how the bees escaped.  When I went back the next morning fully bee-proofed I realised what had happened the previous night:  I had dug directly on top of a wasp nest!  In my opinion, good preparation pays dividends in the end.

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