Native Irish Beekeeping

March Jobs

Plan any planting and tidy up the apiary

Decide what you are going to plant/sow/grow for your bees this year. Clear vegetation away from the front of the hives. A bright tile below the entrance ensures it stays clear and allows you to see the corpses; more than 100 deserves investigation.

While winter bees often live 150 days or more, by now many will be dying. Early in the month, check hive entrances for dead bees choking them. Turn entrance blocks upside-down as it helps the living ones get out.

A swift first inspection

Only disturb the brood if it really is mild, 15°C, better to do this in early April. Swiftly check that the colony is building up as it should be; four good seams of bees is fine and, importantly, that they have enough food. As brood rearing will really be starting, more colonies starve at this time of year than at any other. If necessary, feed a medium strength syrup (1 kg: 1 litre); they should take it from a rapid feeder if you have good insulation above.

If there are no bees to be seen when the crown-board is lifted, start worrying. If your bees are dead, clear up everything straight away or close the hive until you can. This prevents robbing and/or disease transfer to other colonies. The commonest cause of loss over winter is starvation. While even a well provisioned colony can become isolated from its stores, if there are now no stores and the bees are head down in the cells, it means that you did not feed them well enough last August/September.

There may or may not be a heap of dead bees and/or plenty of stores. If the cause is not obvious, it might be virus vectored by Varroa. Did you treat for Varroa last summer? Faeces may also be seen inside. If in doubt, destroy the frames. Woodwork scorched with a blow-torch can be re-used with new frames and foundation.

At your first inspection, check queens are not drone-layers. If one is, she did not mate properly so has run out of sperm. If you think the colony is otherwise healthy, catch and kill her, move them next to another colony and unite.

Check Varroa levels and signs of disease

On a better day, put an upturned roof on the ground, lift the brood chamber on to it and scrape any dead bees off the floor. After reassembly, insert Varroa trays and monitor mite fall over four days; there should be no more than eight or nine per day. Look for streaks of bee faeces around entrances. If there are any, the bees may be suffering from dysentery or Nosema. Clean comb helps. Prepare frames for the season ahead. Add foundation to the frames you have made up.

December Jobs in the Apiary

  • Check to see if any hives have lost their roofs or gotten knocked over.
  • Heft the hives to gauge the level of stores. If they are light, feed fondant on the top bars directly over the cluster on top of the crown boards.
  • Fit insulation to keep the colony warm. Use an empty super to support the inner cover and roof.
  • Review last years records to plan for the coming year.
  • Buy any additional equipment you need.
  • Discuss and swap ideas with other bee-keepers.
  • Re-read your bee books, or buy a new one for Christmas!

Mentor System and Swarm Removal

As part of our mentor system for beginners, we have divided Connemara along traditional divisions, South, North and West. Please contact the following to join our mentor system or ask any of the experienced keepers at our monthly meetings to point you in the right direction.

List of Mentors / locations

The Irish Black Bee was almost threatened with extinction back in the 1980s due to years of importations of hybrid bees. It remained only in a few pockets around the country. This bee is a strain of the European Dark Honeybee (Apis Mellifera Mellifera). 

It is the indigenous bee of Ireland and therefore perfectly adapted to the climates of the region. Through genetics it has been proven, Ireland has some of the purest strains of European Dark Bee in the world. It is very important to conserve this species of bee through a policy of non-importation of foreign bees which is adopted by FIBKA.  

Because it is adapted to the climates of Northern Europe, it is very frugal with its stores. During a cold wet period, it does not use up a whole lot of the honey it has collected. Whereas it has been proven that Italian and Buckfast bees use up huge amounts of honey in bad weather and need heavier sugar feeding in winter because of their large colonies.

Meanwhile research at NUIG is endeavouring to uncover how some honey bees in Ireland can tolerate and even resist Varroa mites. This information will be fed back into the breeding programme to help steer the selection process. The research and the breeding programme also aims to assist the native Irish honey bee’s feral and wild population by augmenting it with colonies bred from Varroa tolerant queens.

Apis Mellifera Mellifera are also known to be a much more docile strain of bee and for this reason much easier to work with than imports.

For more information about our Native Irish Bees:  CBC leaflet

Planting for Bees:

You'll find a list of plants and flowers that are suitable for bees and other pollinators here:

What is the Bee's foraging zone?

How far will your bees travel in their search?

Click on the following link.

First select the "Change Radius KM" and choose the distance required, then move the pointer to the location of your apiary on the map. Then you can zoom in and out to where your hives are.