Terrible summer leaves sour taste in Limerick beekeepers’ mouths

Donal O’Regan

Reporter:

Donal O’Regan

FOOD producers will remember this year as having a sting in the middle and tail end of 2012. Beekeepers are no different as the breeding season has been hit badly by rain.

FOOD producers will remember this year as having a sting in the middle and tail end of 2012. Beekeepers are no different as the breeding season has been hit badly by rain.

Leslie Hartigan, of Natural Wild Castleconnell Honey, says the honey crop has been severely diminished as bees don’t go out in the rain.

“If you get tremendously heavy rain the bees get beaten down and they can drown. If it is ordinary light rain like we normally get they don’t get out to forage. Because they are not going out they can’t bring anything in so they are consuming all their food, so we don’t get anything out of them at the end of it. It has reduced the honey crop a huge amount,” said Mr Hartigan, who has been a full-time beekeeper for 12 years.

As well as the bees not venturing out due to the rain, it has affected their reproductive season.

“The reproductive season is mainly May and June. The old queen will leave the hive with an entourage of around 25,000 bees. She leaves behind her a new queen, which has just been born or not even born yet. That queen only has a window of 10 to 15 days to get mated. She has to leave the hive to get mated which she doesn’t do if the weather is very bad like it was this year,” said Mr Hartigan.

And if she doesn’t get mated her eggs will not be fertilised. These become drones or male bees, which don’t collect food – they just consume it. Fertilised eggs produce worker bees, which make the honey and pollinate trees and plants.

“I’m getting calls on a regular basis from people with drone laying queens which don’t produce anything. They have a hive full of drones and they just die off,” he explained.

A lot of plants are so wet that the pollen is also drenched so the bees can’t collect it. However, Mr Hartigan is lucky in that there is an abundance of Himalayan balsam not too far from his home in Castleconnell.

“It is an invasive weed which has taken over river edges. It’s a huge producer of white flowers. You can always tell they are working in balsam because they come back with a white stripe,” said Mr Hartigan.

But as it is taking over from our native weeds attempts are underway to eradicate it.

But Mr Hartigan has a trick up his sleeve with the bee bee tree.

For years a tree in the People’s Park in Limerick City has intrigued him. It produces white flowers late in the year - from August to November.

At every beekeepers association meeting in September the members couldn’t get over the amount of bees around that tree.

After much research the Botanic Gardens confirmed to Mr Hartigan last November it was called Tetradium Daniellii Hupehensis or the bee bee tree.

He managed to source 11 of the rare trees from Holland and has also planted cuttings at home from the tree in the People’s Park.

So if we ever get another year like 2012 Mr Hartigan’s bees will still be buzzing.

For more on Natural Wild Castleconnell Honey contact 061-377269.