“The whole business of bee-keeping and bees is fascinating. It humbles you and even the most experienced bee-keepers I know still learn something new every day about minding bees.
“The bee is the only insect in the world that provides us with a food source, as opposed to being consumed as a food protein source themselves like other insects. They produce honey naturally and use it as their food source. We harvest the excess honey so they can continue to produce. The hive also produces a wonderful beeswax, a source used to produce goods by premium cosmetic companies worldwide and the wax in Ireland is some of the most chemical-free, natural, beautiful, golden-coloured wax you will find.
“The honey is produced on a frame in the hive. We simply remove the wax that seals the honey into the frames, put it in to our centrifugal honey extractor which spins the honey at high speed out of each individual cell on the frame, at which point we jar immediately. So it is the real thing, fresh, active with natural enzymes, Irish raw, ripe, bio-diverse honey.”
Throughout the honey-making process a bee works itself naturally to death, Ronan McGreevy reports.
“A foraging summer bee will only live for six weeks. It's a sixth sense for them to work together in this way, a real source of community. Each hive has one queen and up to 60,000-70,000 bees can be living in one hive during the summer months, all depending on how prolific the bees are, how healthy the queen is and how much honey they can make. Every winter the drones (inactive males) are thrown out. It is all about what is good for the hive - not the queen - but how the colony will survive. It is so amazing to watch how they communicate with each other, to see them slide, smell and seamlessly glide from one hive to another.
“It is also so fascinating to watch as the bees bring the pollen in. Pollen from the different plants is all colours of the rainbow, purples, greens and whites, the nectar is the liquid source they also take from plants and flowers.
“The foraging bee really is an amazing insect because it can fly to a food source on a flower, return to the hive and do a dance to communicate to the other bees the exact location. With this information other bees will navigate to the source to check it out, then come back to the hive so that the hive as a community makes the decision which is the best food source of the day to work on. They communicate this information through touch and feel and movement of antennae in combination with symbolic dances on the honeycombs. The bees as a community then decide whether the food source described will add +/- 5% to the hive, assessing how much energy will be burnt off rendering it. If it promises to add 5% to the positivity of the hive, the bees will collect it.”
As McGreevy waxes lyrical, his passion for the wonder of bee-keeping is evident, indeed, almost evangelical.
“It's just one of those pastimes that become a passion and when you are passionate you love to talk about it! Bee-keeping should be much more than a recreational activity because in reality it can be all-consuming. There is a goal and a target, which is to get higher yields - of wax, propilis (antibacterial wax residue) and honey - and the more time you spend at your husbandry, the healthier the bees and thus the higher the yield.
“On a practical level you are basically trying to assist and support the bees living in a box in a way that you can manipulate them to work better and stronger. You are striving to replicate the natural environment where nests are grown wild in old hollowed out trees where they naturally thrive. The more time you spend with the bees the greater volume of quality honey you produce - that is the art and craft of beekeeping.”