Looking back at May, the land in Fermanagh, as in many other places, was sodden after the vast amounts of rain in the first two months of spring, but things did improve in the month, writes Ethel Irvine of Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association.

We have had some warmer days which meant that beekeepers were able to open hives in comfort and evaluate the progress of their colonies.

Most report brood boxes with plenty of eggs, larvae and young worker bees showing that, in spite of poor weather, honeybees have been foraging profitably on what was available and that the native black queens have been laying prolifically.

These are bees which are adapted to the climate, and are thrifty with their stores – they don’t automatically shift into brood production mode when a little pollen and nectar becomes available, they can survive our winters with little coddling, and can make the most of the Irish flora with proboscises to suit it.

The hawthorn, which looked so promising at the end of April, has lived up to its reputation for being unpredictable.

Some areas of the county have had a fantastic bloom while others have been disappointed with the sparsity of florets.

Last year, a large tree near to us was a cascade of white, and the honeybees joined the other pollinators to make the most of the bounty.

This year it had scarcely any flowers, and they lasted only a few days.

Hawthorn close to me yields nectar sporadically, often going four or five years between productivity.

It seems to be dependent on weather, soil and perhaps of strain, hybrid or sub-species of the tree.

By the end of May, sycamore (yellow pollen) and chestnut (that lovely red pollen) were in the process of setting seed, but there are many plants to take their places.

In gardens, the humble chive, pyracantha, alliums, Guelder rose (a member of the viburnum family, whose flowers consist of numerous florets which can be worked by honeybees), are all in bloom, while, in our hedges, elderflower is making its appearance, as is some very early bramble!

Last year, bramble was also early, and I remember being worried (unnecessarily) about how this would affect the later bloom, but it seemed to continue as normal.

White clover, which has shorter florets than its red cousin, will yield its nectar at relatively high temperatures (around 18C) and is the source of a delicious honey.

Cow parsley, not highly-rated as a forage plant, is rampant. In Fermanagh, we do not have even one mile of dual carriageway, but our roadsides do provide ideal places for wild flowers, and as we drive we cannot help but be delighted by the swathes of white cow parsley which, we hope, will last long enough to bridge at least a part of ‘the June gap’.

The June gap is so named because the major sources such as sycamore have finished blooming and the summer flowering of plants such as bramble, clover, phacelia, rosebay willow herb and lime, has not yet started.

During June, and indeed at any time in the season, we should estimate how much stores are in the hive and, knowing that a hive needs at least 3kg of honey between inspections, we can be confident, that even if it rains all day and every day between inspections, our bees will survive.

Should you feel the need to feed bees in summer, and you don’t want your bees to use the honey in supers, take the supers off, put the feed over the queen excluder, put on a crown board, feed holes closed, then place the supers on top, ensuring that there are no holes through which robbers can access the supers.

No sugar syrup will enter the supers (no one wants to eat ‘honey’ made from sugar), and there will be no cross-contamination between colonies.


The Erne Queen Rearing Group swung into operation this month. It is co-ordinated by Brian Dane, who also acts as liaison with the Native Irish Honeybee Society, and Thomas McCaffrey leads the sessions at the hives.

Its aim is to aid in the preservation of Apis mellifera mellifera, a native black bee for which Ireland is one of the last strongholds, by encouraging beekeepers to rear queens of the subspecies, thus subverting the need for the import of queens of strains which are not suitable for our climatic conditions and our flora.

Anyone with a couple of years’ experience in beekeeping and the ability to see eggs and newly hatched larvae is welcome to join.

Commitment to being present every Friday evening is necessary as there are many colony manipulations which are date-dependent to be carried out.

Everyone has the opportunity to learn all the skills necessary to rear queens in their own apiaries, from identifying a frame with eggs suitable for grafting, right through to finishing off with mated queens.

Even experienced beekeepers learn a considerable amount.


Our annual barbecue was held on the last Thursday evening in May at our apiary site in the Enniskillen Campus of CAFRE.

The Association was very pleased to welcome Valentine Hodges, Chair of the Ulster Beekeepers’ Association, and her husband, Chris, to our social event.

In addition to having delicious food, all present were able to enjoy chatting to each other about all things beekeeping, which is not always possible at our monthly meetings.

A member of Jackie Barry’s ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course remarked that it was good to meet what he kindly described as some of the more senior members!

Chairman, Stephen Hey, thanked CAFRE for their co-operation in allowing their premises to be used; the excellent chefs, Lorraine Wild and William Martin; and all those who helped in any way.

He also welcomed Valentine and Chris.

In response, Valentine said that she was pleased to meet so many Fermanagh beekeepers and spoke of the need for every beekeeper to examine their bees for any signs of disease, especially the Foul Brood diseases, and to send samples of bees to AFBI for analysis.

She regretted the inability of DAERA to provide bee inspectors, and said that UBKA Executive Officers have had meetings with DAERA and with the Minister of Agriculture to better inform them of the value of bees to the economy and environment, and the needs of Northern Ireland beekeepers.

She stressed that we should be extra vigilant in colony examinations and in enforcing good bio-security in our apiaries.

Jackie has been fortunate with the weather as she held a number of classes in the apiary in preparation for the assessment of the practical aspect of the ‘Introduction to Beekeeping’ course.

For many, this was their first opportunity to even see into a colony, never mind to handle bees!

They found it fascinating to watch the bees at work on the frames, and to be able to identify the queen, workers and drones.

Seeing eggs was slightly more difficult! These practical sessions were a fitting conclusion to the course.


In June, Fermanagh Beekeepers have their annual safari, and this year it is to visit beekeepers in the Mourne Mountains on the weekend of June 22.

The visits have been arranged by Teresa O’Hare. Anyone interested should contact Secretary, Andy Loizids, over WhatsApp.