Bee Farming with native/near native bees
by Eoghan MacGiollacoda
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Climatic conditions mean that beekeeping can be difficult on the northwestern margins of Europe. Although the Gulf Stream ensures that winters are generally mild, summer conditions are often cool and damp. The European dark bee, Apis mellifera mellifera, has evolved to cope with these conditions.
Due to such adaptations as a conservative brood-rearing nature, the native honey bee is able to respond rapidly to unpredictable and intermittent honey flows and is very thrifty with regard to stored honey.
The native honey bee also forages and mates at quite low temperatures, and foragers appear to be long lived. It is generally very docile when pure and can be handled with minimal protection under non-ideal weather conditions. It is excellent at exploiting late honey flows, such as heather or ivy, and requires little or no winter feeding. Many of its characteristics can be readily improved via selection.
To optimise honey production, it is important for the beekeeper to consider such management factors as swarm prevention and control, bee health, hive records, colony evaluation and breeding.
Eoghan Mac Giolla Coda is a commercial beekeeper based on Ireland’s east coast. As a fourth-generation beekeeper, he learned his craft through helping his father with the famous Galtee black bees of Co. Tipperary.
After settling in Co. Louth, he embarked on his own beekeeping enterprise using local strains of native Irish honey bee (Apis mellifera mellifera). He manages around 200 colonies, distributed across the county in environments ranging from rolling grassland pastures to areas of flat tillage to the small upland fields and commonage of the Cooley Mountains.
The main sources of honey are white clover, blackberry, sycamore, rosebay willow-herb, bell heather, oil-seed rape and field beans. The prevailing climate tends to be warm, wet winters and cool, often wet summers, although it is generally drier but cooler than other parts of Ireland. DNA analysis of dozens of bee samples over the years has revealed purity levels of <99.4%, and Eoghan breeds native queens, mostly for his own use.
He is also involved with Co. Louth BKA’s native honey bee breeding programme and the maintenance of Co. Louth as a voluntary conservation area for the black bee. Recently, he has begun incorporating data on varroa tolerance into the selection of queens for breeding.
Eoghan has twice won the 24-jar World Class competition at the London Honey Show with the famous Cooley bell heather honey.