Could beekeeping be for you?

Outdoor Living

LEARNING THE ROPES Local beekeepers being taught how to work on a hive of native Irish honeybees, Apis mellifera mellifera.

John McHale

Hobbies and pastimes by their nature are both good for our mental and physical health. We all do something we enjoy from time to time when we are not working or when we come across the idle hour. When we are young our hobbies are often of a more physical nature, but they can get less so as we get on in years.
Sometimes we go in search of an enjoyable way to while away the vacant hours. Other times we just stumble on an activity that will give us great satisfaction and enjoyment going forward. That’s exactly how I found an interest in beekeeping. A friend of mine gave me a jar of raw honey as a present and it suddenly crossed my mind that beekeeping might be an interesting occupation. I thought about it for a while, made a few enquiries, and it all took off from there.
Over a period of years, I have gone from knowing absolutely nothing about bees to having my own apiary and working up to ten hives year on year, tending to the bees and harvesting the honey crop. It’s been an unbelievable journey and so rewarding. I feel it was so very fortuitous that I came across a hobby that I love and enjoy so much.
Dealing with bees is a serious business but fascinating, nonetheless. There are so many aspects to it. Your personal safety is obviously paramount. Training and the use of correct protective clothing is mandatory before you commence. When you open a working hive, you can be dealing with up to 50,000 busy insects, each involved in their own special task at that given moment. They work in a military-command style, all for the common good of the colony.
You have the workers who are the female bees, the drones who are the male bees, and one queen bee. The female worker bees do all of the work: ie, collecting pollen, nectar, water and resins. They only live for six weeks and work themselves to death in the task. Should we not be in awe?
The males, on the other hand, just hang around and mate with a queen. The queen bee mates once in her life and can lay up to a thousand eggs a day. When you get to know more and more about the behaviour of a bee colony it will surely make you marvel at the magical and wonderful workings of nature. While harvesting raw honey at the end of the season is rewarding, watching the bees go about their daily business is surely a delight.
So, if you think you might have an interest in becoming a beekeeper one day or learning more about bees this is my advice: You should be aware first and foremost that beekeeping is a commitment and something to be considered carefully, in light of what is expected from a good and conscientious beekeeper. It is not overly time-consuming if you only have a small number of hives.
Ideally you should contact your local beekeeping association with a view to enrolling in a beginner’s course. This will give you the basics of beekeeping and educate you on the many aspects of the science. Our local association in Westport will commence beginner courses in March.
I would also suggest that it might be useful to make contact with a local beekeeper you may know, and they will give you any help and advice they can. If ultimately you decide to go ahead it will involve an outlay in such areas as club membership, beekeeping equipment, a hive and bees. (You will not take possession of a bee colony until you have completed your beekeeping course.) It is not too expensive in the general scale of things. Beekeeping may well be for you. I would love if this article pointed just one person in the right direction; I would be so pleased.
I’ll finish with a story. When I was nine my father bought me a fishing rod for the princely sum of ten shillings. It was the one which was on display in the fishing tackle shop window. I was overjoyed. The river I fished in was at the end of my father’s land. It was about a half mile away. Every time I went fishing, I ran the last 50 yards full of excitement and enthusiasm for what was ahead. I’m in my 60s now, but every time I go out to inspect my beehives I get a little bit of my youthful fishing days excitement back. So perhaps it could do the same for you someday.
Do enjoy your hobbies whatever they may be. They are the spice of life.

John McHale is chairperson of the Westport Beekeepers Association. For more information on the association and upcoming courses, visit