On World Bee Day, RSPB NI staff members Claire and Cathryn tell us why they get a buzz from beekeeping and how you too can help these important pollinators.



Claire Barnett, RSPB NI Area Manager

 
• What attracted you to beekeeping?
I had been thinking about it for years, and then one evening I was at a slow food event in Belfast and I was sitting beside Robert Ditty (the baker) and he had been at a beekeeping conference that day, he totally inspired me and I signed up for a beekeeping course the next day and never looked back!
• What do you enjoy most?
Everything, from the simple pleasure of watching them buzz in and out from my kitchen window, to learning something new every time I open the hive, they are amazing creatures.
• Where do you keep your bees?
I have one hive in my small backyard in Belfast and one at my mums’ house in the Clogher Valley.
• Do you do anything with the honey?
I use the old-fashioned section frames with my Belfast bees – that little square box of comb and have not tried anything more ambitious!
• What are your top tips to others?
Sign up for a course! Find an experienced bee keeping mentor and join a local beekeeping association – there is so much to learn and such great support out there. Even if you don’t keep bees you should make your garden as bee friendly as possible. Our pollinators NEED pollen and nectar, so plant and encourage others to plant as many wildlife friendly plants as they can!




Cathryn Cochrane, RSPB NI Montiaghs Moss Project Officer

 
• What attracted you to beekeeping?
I used to work for Mourne Heritage Trust who kept bees. Along with another colleague we had responsibility for looking after the bees. Then in 2013, I attended a beginner’s beekeeping course and it took off from there. My Granda also used to keep bees.
I try to keep the native Irish black bee. It’s a lovely dark bee. Some people import bees from other regions, but this can bring in diseases. The Irish black bee is suited to our climate, fly in wet weather and tolerate cooler conditions.
• What do you enjoy most?
There is always something to learn. Listening to experienced beekeepers who each have their own way of doing things, picking up tips and giving them a go. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t. Also, there is a great social element, attending monthly meetings at my local association.
• Where do you keep your bees?
I’m lucky to live in the countryside with a lot of outdoor space. I keep my bees at the far end of the yard.
• Do you do anything with the honey?
You can enter honey products into shows. It’s very serious business and the judges have strict rules to follow. I try and enter a few honey shows each year. I enter run honey and honey cake. There are loads of classes but there is a lot of work to enter. Each year I learn and get better and try and enter a new class. This year I’ve attempted to make mead for the first time. It should be ready to drink within 3-6 months but apparently the longer you leave it the nicer it is - people say it won’t really be ready for 25 years!!
• What are your top tips to others?
Sign up for a beginner’s course at your local association, this is where you will learn the basics of bee keeping and make contacts for when you need some help and advice. Make sure your garden is bee friendly for our bumblebees and solitary bees too by planting lots of nectar rich plants. 


What plants are good for bees?
Winter plants: Crocus, hellebore and winter heather (Erica carnea) will provide food for late-flying and early-emerging in bumblebees during colder months.
Spring plants: Aubretia (Aubreta), bugle (Ajuga), spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), lungwort (Pulmonaria) or snake's-head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) all provide food for early bumblebees and solitary bees.
Summer plants: Allium (especially Allium sphaerocephalon), borage, catmint (Nepeta) Cirsium rivulare, foxglove (Digitalis) and most herbs will throng with all manner of different wild bees.
Autumn plants: Bugbane (Actaea simplex), Caryopteris, Dahlias (single-flowered) and ivy give bees a source of nectar well into autumn.
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