This blog documents the story of the Bee Limerick Group and their quest to introduce honey bees back into the city centre of Limerick. Bee Limerick along with its partners are also involved in planting native Irish flowers, shrubs and trees to create a resilient urban ecology.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Published Article ‘Enhancing communities and linking city biodiversity’

The following article was published in the Four Seasons quarterly colour magazine with topical information on Irish beekeeping
Limerick City Biodiversity Project

‘Enhancing communities and linking city biodiversity’

This project involved planting wildflower meadows of high biodiversity values in the Regeneration and Rapid designated areas of Limerick City to establish a linked up city-wide biodiversity network.

Urban planted areas are often prone to vandalism with great expense to the local authorities. So from the very beginning the project was run in partnership with community centres with the aim of engaging the whole community in active participation in the design, seeding  and management of biodiversity areas.  Community involvement and ownership helped create a sense of pride of place, collective achievement and community well-being.

A hive of Irish honey bees Apis melifera meliferia was brought into the city and centrally located to easily pollinate all newly planted biodiversity areas. In this way the bee became the symbol of social connection between all project parts across the city. The value of honey bees as natures great pollinators was emphasized as was the importance of creating biodiversity areas to help them thrive. This gave the project a sense of purpose especially among the many primary and secondary schools that participated in the planting.  Harvesting Limerick City honey is a tangible benefit to supporting bees and highlights the symbotic relationship neccessary between nature and people to build more resilient communities.

Wet weather and low sunshine hours delayed budburst throughout the summer especially among sun loving plants like the ox eye daisy, poppy and corn flower. However a spell of warm weather in September brough a spurt in growth and a welcome splash of vibrant colour. Plants continued to bloom throughout September, October and into November.

Long Term benefits

A community planting project can focus on both ecologically and commercially productive plants. Fruiting and flowering plants that benefit nature and enhance the look of an area can also be partially harvested to serve  community led local enterprises and trade. As well as the four wild flower meadows planted in 2012, a commercial orchard and a heritage orchard are being planted with the aim of producing Limerick City apple juice. Each apple tree will be adopted by a community member.

This project shows how people and nature can coexist and be mutually beneficial. Empowering community to plant biodiversity areas locally may have national significance in helping our honey bee thrive.

This project was developed by Diarmuid Neilan and supported by the Limerick Regeneration Agency, Limerick City Council and Paul Partnership.

Why do our bees continue to thrive?

Bee keepers across Europe have continued to report high losses of their hives over the last three years. One report from England shows losses of up to 80% of commercial hives. With losse being attributed to everything from virulent bacterial infection that quickly spreads across hives to sustained poor weather that prevented honeybees from building up sufficient pollen and nectar stores. At the end of May 2012, the Swiss government reported that about half of the bee population had not survived the winter. The main blame of the decline (in this case) was thought to be the parasite Varroa Destructor.

With the continued collapse and loss of commercial hives, bee keepers have far less hives available for resale. With demand increasing all the time the price per hive increases too. This has led to natural hives being snatched from the wild to be sold on and put into slavery to create honey for bee keepers. A slavery method where the hive has less than 50% of survival.

With mounting external pressures on the bee, bee keepers are looking to blame everything but themselves for the honey bee collapse. Albet Einstein said ' Insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results'. Isn't it time bee keepers looked to their own bee keeping methods and adjusted them accordingly to help bees survive instead of continually blaming external preasures? - if only for their own benefits of extracting honey. Natural bee keeping methods is one such approach.

The bigger picture here is the survival of the honey bee and in turn our own survival and well being. So the approach for honey bee conservation needs to mature and move beyond commercial bee keeping and their unsustainable methods. Wild bee hives need to be protected and conservation hives should be a national priority.

As August 2013 comes to a close - our experiment here at bee Limerick shows that if the bees are just left alone they will become resilient to external stresses and thrive regardless. Our bees have continued to support a resilient hive and have split many times over the last three years. I estimate our bees have split at least three times each year so from one hive alone we have created nine swarms of the native dark bee. We don't treat them with anything and just leave the to get on with doing what they do best - pollinate and make honey for themselves.

Bee conservation needs to mature beyond producing the next jar of honey.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thriving Bee Hive

Varroa strips were added to the hive on the 19th of September. The following image shows the amount of varroa that had dropped out of the hive by September 29th.

The highest concentration of varroa in the drop tray were in the area directly below the brood. Even though the strips were placed in the four corners of the hive away from the brood. This indicates the highest concentration of varroa in the hive is in the brood. Otherwise varroa were fairly evenly distributed on the drop tray.

                         Close up of the varroa on the drop tray highlighted by black circles

Images taken at the Limerick City bee hive on Sunday 19th of September. The hive is thriving and the warm weather has brought on lots of activity.

The bees are being treated for the varroa mite. Generally I would prefer to use more ecologically sensitive treatments but that will require a long term integrated solution ...and a lot more research. For now,  - rather reluctantly - we are treating the bees with bayvarol strips as we don't want to take any chances of losing the hive to varroa over the winter months.

Bee, bee in flight and bee shadow. The white powder coating on the stationary bee is pollan from the invasive Himalayan Balsam. Bees love this plant for its nectar!.

 A wasp trying to enter a small and crowded hive entrance. The bees had no problem flying in and out but the wasps were put off by the crowded entrance.

The small and well protected hive entrance. On advice from a local bee keeper we delibertatley kept the hive entrance small to make it easier for the bees to guard against wasps - especially as the hive is new and still quite vulnerable.

                               A bee (about to land) covered in in white Himalayan Balsam pollan

Applying smoke to calm bees before lifting off glass section. The glass was completely sealed tight
with propolis and when I eventually wedged the glass open I was hit by a waft of warm air. Propolis may have many functions and I would prefer to design a hive that requires no hive destruction when checking bees. One clear choice for the future is the top bar hive. I have heard both poaitive and negative reviews of this type of hive for Irish weather but Bee Limerick will test one ourselves.

Applying a small bit more smoke - although I feel I could have worked away without the smoke altogether as the bees were totually calm.

Inserting the bayvarol strips. A strip is placed in each corner and away from the main brood which is concentrated in the centre of the hive

                               Carefully re-attaching the grass viewing cover  - without hurting any bees : )

                                                          And finally re-attaching the roof

                           Job done! The bees were actually very calm throughout the whole process.

                                                         Varroa showing in the hive

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Non Violent Bee Keeping

Most people are aware that honey bees are disappearing at an alarming rate, in what has come to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Besides Verroa Destructer that attacks Apis Cerana and Apis Mellifera, most literature focuses the blame on external factors outside the hive like increased pesticide use, changing farm practices and loss of biodiversity.

Bee hive ecology has developed over millions of years and a natural bee hive hanging from a tree looks nothing like the national bee hives developed by modern bee keepers. Natural bee hives evolution is clearly designed for increased hive resilience and survival of the hive. In contrast, the evolution of the modern bee hive is exclusively focussed on maximising honey production with little or no regard for bee well-being. It is clear that controlling bees for maximum honey production instead of giving them the room and freedom to create hive resilience is part of the CCD problem.  This logic was never questioned until bees started to collapse, pollination reduced and honey production began to dry up.

Natural bee hives are sophisticated fine tuned micro eco-systems where every creature plays his/her role....on the opposite spectrum modern bee keeping is little more than a bee factory where the bees are periodically dosed with chemicals, pulled apart for inspection, moved around and even have their drone stocks 'culled'  - all with the aim of maximising honey production. In a natural setting we need bees for honey and pollination and they don't actually need us for anything. So isn't it time we started developing modern bee keeping methods to consider more resilient hives and happier bees. Maybe if we start to give them what they need to thrive they will supply us with the 'goods and services' of pollination which we need for our own survival...and a little honey and wax too : ))

It is disempowering when I read about all those huge external pressures on honey bee populations - because in the short term I can do very little about that. Although we are beginning to address this with the bee friendly biodiversity network. - but if I start by asking the question - 'how can I reduce the internal stresses at the bee hive level to create more resilient hives and happier bees?' At least happy bees in a strong hive have a greater chance of dealing with mounting external pressures..... and give us a little more wiggle room to start addressing those broader issues.

Rather than researching this topic too much more I stumbled upon a great article by Philip Chandlier called Non Violent Bee Keeping for the Natural Bee Keeper. And it is really worth a read : )

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Bee Limerick and Limerick City Biodiversity Network

Our bees are now well established in Limerick City - so the next step is making sure they have enough to eat, especially over the leaner months of early spring and late autumn. So Bee Limerick have decided to get involved in an exciting project of expanding biodiversity areas within the city to increase the bees foraging areas well as bringing floral splashes to our city.

Biodiverity planted flower bed with King John's castle in the background

We have a little 'growing' revolution happening here in Limerick  : ) with lots of community gardens springing up throughout the city and supplying veg and fruit for local people. The planting of flowers, trees and shrubs are a continuous food source for other city residents, namely the local ecology. Earlier this year the Limerick Biodiversity Network secured its first piece of land along Clancy Strand to plant native flowers, schrubs and trees to increase the city's ecological resilience. The project is not just a draw for local butterflies and bumblebees as many people are being drawn to the area to take photos and enjoy the amazing floral displays. It is the plan to erect an information board describing the various plants, their ecologival values and the range of biodiversity they attract and support.

So Bee Limerick will work alonside Limerick Biodiversity Network and its partners Green Limerick  to build on this energy and roll out the project across the city in 2012. This will see waste land, under used and overgrown green areas within the city converted into ecological habitats by planting native flowers, shrubs and trees. We hope, over time a network of planted areas will begin to spring up around the city supporting a diverse range of flowering, fruiting and seeding plants such as wild Irish flowers, native apple trees and herbs. Any planting regime will be developed in collaboration with community groups and the local authority and integrated with the various other environmental initiatives being created through the Green Limerick platform, including the Bee Limerick initiative.
So if we get the community to plant in their own areas, the bees will pollinate the plants and together (bees and people) we can make Limerick City honey. We envisage a city-wide biodiverity walk to be enjoyed by community and visitors.

It is important to encourage schools and local communities to get involved from the beginning  by selecting sites to incorporate into the biodiversity network and in collaboration with Limerick City Biodiversity Network and Green Limerick, design a suitable planting scheme for the area in order to submit a detailed proposal to the city council. These projects will encourage a greater sense of civic responsibility and pride at a local level by giving communities the means to support and maintain urban ecology and beautify their own areas.

‘This is really about devolving some planning and management of green areas to local commnity groups and giving them a sense of ownership, which in time will generate a collective effort that contributes to the beautifying and betterment of the city as a whole.’ says Diarmuid Neilan of Green Limerick.

So if you’d like to take part in this project, do contact the Limerick City Biodiversity Network at

or visit Green Limerick face book page for project updates and up coming events

bee Limerick initiative

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The arrival of our first bees to Limerick City

Bee Limerick have brought their first bee colony into Limerick City thanks to the pledges made by the many generous people. The bees are the native Irish dark bee Apis Mellifera Mellifera and were sourced from a reputable supplier.  Presently the amount of bees in the hive number between 10,000- 20,000. If the weather improves and the hive thrives -  we hope the population in the hive will expand to 50,000 plus over the summer.
The bee hive we are using is called a national standard hive and it was generously donated by bee keeper John O’Neill.  It is our hope to make a more ecological sound second hive known as a ‘Top Bar’ hive. The idea is to compare the honey yields and colony successes of the National hive verses the Top Bar hive.
The bees were given to us by county Limerick bee keeper Leslie Hartigan. Recognition must be given to Leslie for offering us the bees at a huge knock down price as Irish bees are very scarce these days and a nucleus may fetch anywhere between 175 – 275 euros. Leslie has also been very helpful in giving us bundles of advice to help Bee Limerick find our feet.
We will have a honey back guarantee of Limerick City honey in 2012 for all pledges, if the colonies are successful!
Please stay posted for updates on our general progress, hive  making and honey processing classes.
            Our third visit to Leslie and our first look at our hive with the new bee nucleus installed

                                            Leslie inspecting the varroa tray. Our hive has the all clear : ))

                           Thorough inspection of our hive for vorroa and yep we have the all clear : ))

                              Luciana and Brian look on as Leslie describes in detail the behaviour of the bees
       Bee Propolis: a resinous mixture that honey bees collect from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive.
Propolis is used for small gaps (approximately 6 millimeters (0.24 in) or less), while larger spaces are usually filled with beeswax.

The five frames from the mini nucleus inserted into our hive. In time the bees will expand out to fill all frames....with luck!!

Leslie sharing some truly important information with us on maintaining a thriving hive

                                  And finally.....we have our first bee hive safely installed in Limerick City

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sustainable Bee Keeping

Bee Limerick is about creating a resilient urban ecology that will support native bees and other wildlife to thrive within the city limits. It is very important that we influence the planting regime in the city to consider native Irish flowers, shrubs and trees. But what about the actual hives the bees live in? The traditional national hives are expensive, heavy and all the extra little bits needed really begin to add up in cost. Wouldn't be great to have a more natural bee hive that is more sustainable, low-impact, low-cost, chemical-free, small-scale, 'organic', that requires the use of simple equipment that almost anyone can make at home. Sounds good to me : )

This is when we came across the very informative website which is all about sustainable bee keeping, and The Barefoot Beekeeper which is a revolutionary book about 'sustainable', chemical-free beekeeping, showing how it can be simplified and made accessible to all, including people with disabilities, as with this method there is no heavy lifting involved.

The author strips away all unnecessary complication and confusion, demonstrating that 'modern' beekeeping methods are largely to blame for the poor state of health of the honeybee and that the commercialization of beekeeping marked the start of the disease and parasite problems that honeybees have been trying to deal with ever since.

The author advocates small-scale, sustainable beekeeping, with minimal disturbance to the bees and more time spent observing and learning from them. This book shows how you can make everything you need to keep bees yourself, using recycled materials and simple tools: you do not need to buy any additional equipment at all, nor do you need synthetic medications or other chemicals.

 Sustainable kee keeping is all about the 'top bar hives' or 'natural beekeeping' and the biobees website has an amazing 44 page free manual on how to make your first top-bar bee hive.

This will definitely be an up coming project for bee limerick. Also it will be interesting to record the success and failures of each hive design over the period of one year.

Top bar bee hive with viewing window so bees can be observed without disturbing them and altering the temperature in the hive

Monday, May 30, 2011

Identifying Native Bumble Bees

Ireland has one native honey bee, 20 bumble bees and 80 solitary bees species. Ireland’s bee fauna is less than half the size of that in Britain, which has about 260 species, and is very depauperate is comparison to central Europe.

Bumble bees
Bumble bees are social and live in colonies with a Queen, female workers and some males. From a total of 20 Irish species, 6 species are cuckoo bumblebees and don’t make their own nests, but instead lay their eggs in the nest of a true bumblebee. 

The National Biodiversity Data Centre has a list of species profiles for Irish bees

The natural history museum in London has released an interactive tool to help you identify bees 

Rothamsted the agricultural research centre in England makes available a simple diagram to help group bumblebees according to their colour. UK Bumblebee Colour Groups