Bees creep up on you.
About 37 years ago I set out an empty hive on the crag behind our garden, and within 3 weeks the bees just moved in. This was outrageous Beginner’s Luck – not to be expected then, and barely conceivable now. But wild honeybees were rather plentiful in the Burren in the early 80s, not so now, for which we can blame the dreaded mite varroa destructor.
Varroa mites arrived in Ireland in the 90s (the books say 1998) and spread so fast that I suspect they had been around but unidentified for a while. They are a parasite on Asian bees, which can coexist with them, but they kill European honey bees – not immediately but gradually. Their presence weakens the colony progressively until they collapse suddenly from stress, infection and debility. Nearly all beekeepers lost a lot of bees, and many of us lost them all.
That’s why there are far fewer wild honeybee colonies – essentially, hives need to be treated to control varroa, or they will die within a few years. The treatments that most of us use now are inexpensive and simple – organic acids like oxalic and citric acid, or in some cases aromatic oils.
Luckily, it is working – hence the Bee Loud Glade.
Nowadays, I have 4 or 5 hives in the vicinity of our garden. Four hives is the theoretical maximum that I want to have to manage, but at times there are more. Then there are the bumblebees – 17 or 18 species of these in Ireland, and most of them have a presence in the Burren. In the month of May, it really is bee-loud around here. We are bucking the trend, I would have to say – bee news is generally not good around the world.
To celebrate the continuing vigour of the Roundhouse bees, I decided to push the boat out and buy a cedarwood hive. This is flatpack territory – like IKEA for bees. A well-know bee supply business in Co. Louth sells a rather fine cedar hive with 2 supers (honey decks) for a reasonable price, but you have to put it together yourself.