Even through the weather is cold and wet, beekeepers should still be considering the welfare of our bees, says Ethel Irvine of Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association.
In her report for January 2016, Ethel gives timely advice including the threat of American Foul Brood.
“We should continue to heft hives on at regular intervals to ensure that the bees have enough food. The hives may feel light as we have had higher than normal temperatures during December and the bees will have been active in the hive, even though the rain was pouring down outside, and they will have been using up their stores at a faster rate than usual. They should be fed fondant at this time of year as dealing with sugar syrup is difficult for the bees at lower temperatures. 
“Those interested in taking up beekeeping this year or, indeed, those who would like to learn a little more about bees, the preliminary course in beekeeping will be starting on Monday, February 1 and will continue on Monday evenings, from 7.30 to 9.30pm, in the Enniskillen Campus of CAFRE. It will take the form of seven classroom sessions and three practical sessions (on Saturday mornings later in the season) at the hives in the Association apiary to give some experience in handling colonies of bees. 
“The course follows the syllabus of the Preliminary Beekeeping Examination of the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations and the cost will be £100. The tutor will be Andrew Elliott and anyone interested should contact Andrew for further details, telephone 02866348340 or by email at yv_elli504@hotmail.com (note the underscore between the ‘v’ and the ‘e’). A few more course details and an application form can be found on the Ulster Bee Keepers’ Association web site at ubka.org.
“Northern Ireland has, in 2015, had an unprecedented (in the modern era) number of outbreaks of American Foul Brood and Fermanagh apiaries have not escaped unscathed. AFB was found in at least four apiaries in the county. 
"The disease is so virulent that the infected hives and bees have to be destroyed and a standstill order is placed on the apiary. We are very grateful for the work which has been done by our DARD bee inspector and for the help and advice which he has given us. , but there is only one bee inspector for all of Northern Ireland and he has many other duties as well as his role with beekeepers. 
“It is thus incumbent on all beekeepers to learn as much as they can about all diseases, including foul brood diseases, so that we can identify the signs ourselves. 
"If we do have fears that we have infected hives, we can send samples to the Entomology Department of AFBI in New Forge Lane, Belfast. To help beekeepers on this steep learning curve, the Ulster Bee Keepers’ Association has arranged an information meeting for all beekeepers in the surrounding area, in the Westville Hotel in Enniskillen on Monday, February 22 2016, at 7pm. The main speaker will be a retired chief seasonal bee inspector from England. Each year, DEFRA appoints a number of seasonal bee inspectors who have responsibility for visiting apiaries all over England, dealing with any problems which beekeepers may report and identifying diseases present. Seasonal bee inspectors have therefore a deep knowledge of bee diseases.
The Annual General Meeting of Fermanagh Beekeepers’ Association will be held on Thursday, January 28 in the Enniskillen Hotel at 7pm. 
The AGM will be followed by dinner in the Hotel. If you are interested in attending the Dinner, please contact the secretary, Jorgen Pederson at enniskillencc@gmail.com or by telephone: 07738965812. Membership fees are due at the AGM and includes third party insurance which is important to anyone keeping bees in this climate of claims.” 
Everyone who keeps bees is urged to attend as the AGM gives everyone the opportunity to be reminded of the progress made, and the problems faced, in the year just passed. It also provides a forum for ideas to be put forward, difficulties discussed and for all to contribute to the Association.