Contibuted by Ritamary, Plot 21
Apis Mellifera Mellifera – Native Irish Bee, aka the Black Bee.
Photos courtesy of Tony , ‘Bees on the Powerstown Hive’
At the end of May/beginning of June, we received a gift of a nucleus colony (a nuc) of wild native Irish bees from a very experienced local beekeeper! You may have seen a mini beehive in Plot Bee, with bees coming and going. The 4 you see above are some of the workers building the new colony. Tony took this great close up of 4 of the new colony.
The native Irish bee is under threat, due to interbreeding with imported bees which were felt to be superior honey producers, the Italian honey bee in particular. While it may be true, the fact is, the Irish honey bee is uniquely adapted to Irish weather conditions, while the Italian bee most certainly is not. Italian bees can get confused and aggressive when confronted with the Irish weather – (like the rest of us). Poor things, they are used to cruising the Italian countryside in warm sunshine. Irish bees are used to roughing it in the heather in much cooler conditions. Some Irish bee breeders (bee breeders? What next?) feel that the Irish bees have the edge as honey producers in our climate, because they can forage in cooler, damper conditions. While the Italian bees sit shivering in their Armani jog suits indoors, the Irish bees are cruising low to the ground, foraging away. It has been said that native Irish bees are no longer, or only rarely be found in the wild. But ours came from a local swarm, and I have heard of other wild finds in the county too.
Galway University are doing research on the ‘purity’ of colonies of black Irish bees still to be found. Are they a pure strain? Or are they irrevocably mixed up with the strains which have been imported over the years. It’s interesting to note that west coast breeders believe no Irish bees remain in the wild, whereas here in Fingal, there still seem to be a few around. Are we very lucky? Or are our bees to some extent hybrids. We could have them DNA tested?
Galway University are also doing research on how resistant the Irish bee is to varroa mite, the dreaded mite which has devastated so many colonies world-wide. They are looking for participants in their research, but our hive is not sufficiently developed to take part this year. Maybe next year.
In spite of the fairly inclement weather our bees seem to be doing quite well. The bees are out foraging, drawing out comb, the queen is laying, and new bees are on the way. A number of plot holders have seen our bees buzzing around pea and bean flowers etc on their sites. I’m terribly jealous, as they haven’t visited my comfrey yet, and I was sure they would. We would love to hear if you have seen them on your plot, and if you feel they are making any difference to your harvests. Seeing is bee-lieving!
Tony (Powerstown) and Fran (local beekeeper) transferred the colony to a regular sized beehive last week, and things are looking good so far. Tony has done Trojan work constructing the beehives, stands, and lining the enclosure with fine netting. This is to encourage the bees to fly high, rather than under our noses. It has to be said, that so far, our Irish bees are very well behaved girls. They tolerate our quiet presence around the hive without getting upset, and we always try to move slowly and speak quietly. They do get a bit excited if the hive is opened, so we aim to treat them with respect. They are quiet and tolerant so far, but a girl has her limits, right?
This is a crucial time for the colony, so hopefully they will find enough forage around, and thrive in the local environment. Their original home was in a garage roof in Huntstown, so let’s hope they adjust to country living! Incidentally, white clover is a great plant for honey bees, so if you are planning on using clover as green manure, – see if you can find the white variety? It is plentiful in the grassland around, so maybe a few plants could be introduced to the rough spots on site.
The native Irish honey bee (left) is darker than her Italian cousins (right) who have quite pronounced golden stripes on their bodies.
As an endnote to this episode of the story from plot bee, I thought I would share an idea with you. We are fortunate in having quite a few different nationalities on site, so I thought it would be fun if we could gather together some honey recipes from the different countries, and make our own little honey recipe book. Food, cosmetics and home remedies. Keep it in mind! And for now, a big thank you to Fran, who rounded up the bees for us, and to Tony, who did all the work in housing them. Tony and I will be in touch shortly to invite the bee group to a meeting. If you are interested, keep an eye on your email.