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How Honey Bees Make Honey

August 24, 2015

How Honey Bees Make Honey | greensideup.ieOur First Harvest From Honey Bees

Becoming a novice beekeeper has been a challenge, an unexpected expense, an adrenaline rush and more than anything, a privilege as we’ve been able to see these precious pollinators working in our garden. After the initial pleasure of finding the Honey Bees in our hive back in June 2014 and the fear that I hadn’t a clue how to look after them (years of looking after themselves didn’t cross my mind) I signed up for South Kildare Beekeepers excellent beginners course and followed all the instructions they and my experienced, neighbouring mentor John shared with me.

How Honey Bees Make Honey | greensideup.ieWe recently harvested our first, fourteen precious jars of locally foraged, pure Irish honey and the following article explains how the honey was made. But to begin, a short explanation about the honey bees, whose colony is made up of the Queen (who can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day in the summer), the male Drones (whose primary function is to mate with the queen) and the hardworking female Worker bees.

There are approx 2,000 worker bees in a hive during the winter months but as soon as temperatures begin to warm, the Queen Bee lays eggs at a rapid rate, resulting in the colony that can grow up to 50,000 in one hive by the height of summer.

Just like the story of Barry B. Benson, a new bee in the magical Disney film The Bee Movie, who finds out that each bee has their place in the colony, so it is in real life. Worker bees start life as Nurse bees for nine days looking after the new brood, then spend 12 days as House bees tidying and cleaning before become Guard Bees, who mind the entrance and keep intruders out. They in turn become foragers for about four weeks and usually die out in the field.

How Honey Bees Make Honey | greensideup.ieField work

While the bees are out and about they do several things, which include scouting for new food sources and foraging, they collect water as well as nectar (sugars), pollen (protein and vitamins) and propolis which is a kind of bee glue, that comes from sticky trees such as lime.


Nectar is the bees fuel. As the forager bee visits the various flowers, she sucks it up and it’s stored in her honey stomach.  Different crops contain different elements that include fructose, glucose, sucrose, mixed with water and enzymes.

How Honey Bees Make HoneyNectar to honey

Nectar contains 60 – 80% water and the bees have to remove the water to make honey.

When the Forager bees return back to the hive, they pass the nectar they’ve collected to Receiver bees who drop it into storage cells on the frames. Honey has everything that was in the nectar but only 17% water. To remove the water, the Receiver bees roll the nectar up and down their proboscis until the water begins to evaporate. Bees fan their wings which removes moisture too until eventually, enough water is removed, the honey is ripe and the bees cap the honey in the cells with wax.

Honey bee feeds from a dandelion flower in springtime by

Frame full of capped honey

How the Bees Wax is Made

When honey bees are around 12 to 20 days old they develop a gland in their abdomens that converts sugar from the honey into a waxy substance, flakes of which are deposited and collected by the other bees and chewed up in their mouths. This aids them in the construction of the hexagonal combs. Beekeepers usually provide a wax foundation on frames inside the hive for the bees to assist them with this. In the wild bees have to do it all, hence the combs non uniform shapes.

Honey bee feeds from a dandelion flower in springtime by greensideup.ieHarvesting the Honey

Following several weeks of checking each frame in the hive for pests, diseases and extra Queens, for Beekeepers August is honey harvesting month and there is great excitement at the prospect of collecting jars of liquid gold. When we started our beekeeping adventure, we weren’t really interested in the honey side of things, just keen to provide a home for honey bees. As the months have passed, our weekly work checking them increased, the expenses grew and the prospect of selling a few jars became more appealing… If we’d had to buy everything and weren’t given a hive and had a swarm move in, our costs to date would have reached about €700.

How Honey Bees Make Honey

Honey Being Spun In An Extractor

Frames Full of Honey

In the popular hives, the bottom section is known as the brood chamber. It’s where the eggs are laid and the young bees are hatched. There are honey stores in there too for them to feed upon. The second and subsequent sections are known as Supers and the Queen is excluded from these as Beekeepers don’t want eggs and young bees mixed up with the honey stores they plan to harvest. The Supers are where the frames of honey are created and it’s these frames we remove at harvesting time.

How Honey Bees Make HoneyCollecting the Honey

Once away from the hive, the wax capping is scraped from the frames using warm knives or special combs, then the frames are placed into large honey extractors where the honey is spun off them, collected into buckets, before being strained and poured into sterilised jars.

Pure Honey might seem an expensive purchase compared to jars you find cheaply in supermarkets that have often come from various blends and countries, but just look at the work involved. It took around two months for our one colony of around 30,000 bees to make 14, one pound jars of honey and we know that it’s been foraged within a five-mile radius of our house.

Research suggests that local honey is good for us and I’ve been scouring our local countryside looking for signs of farmers who spray their fields or verges with pesticides, hoping that our bees don’t find them. I’m relieved to find they seem to be very few in our rural location, but still sadly more than we’d like.

The Months Ahead

Our next challenge is to keep the bees alive for another year. We left them some frames with  honey on and will be feeding them a sugar syrup so they don’t starve over winter, having had their reserves taken from them. They also have time to forage for the next few weeks and when the sun shines will be out and about collecting nectar from the blackberries and ivy flowers. We’ll be checking them for the deadly varroa mite and then hoping the winter isn’t too harsh and they pull through it for another year.

Our beekeeping journey is just beginning but it’s given us a wonderful appreciation and fascination of these very special, industrious little insects and the world they live in and I’m glad we’ve started out on it.

If you’d like to read more stories about our beekeeping experience, as well as suggested plants for your garden or hedgerows, you can find them here. If you’re interested in keeping bees, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Association has a list on their website.

Green, Lifestyle

What can I plant in my garden to help honey bees?

March 18, 2015

Calendar of Bee Plants from

I wrote a post last year that looked at five ways we can help bees but since then I’ve taken beginners lessons in beekeeping. One of the lectures was about foraging and as a gardener I was curious what I could plant in my garden that bees would like to feast upon.

As it transpires, we don’t need to plant that much as long as we have hedgerows nearby, we don’t spray the “weeds” with herbicides and we leave the bugs that naturally share the earth with us to do their own thing. Whilst we can certainly make life easier for honey bees by planting some tasty delights, it seems that bees enjoy foraging among the prolific blooms in the hedgerows as much as they do the more formal, floral arrangements in our gardens.

Ever since a colony of honey bees set up home in a hive in our garden (you can read about it here) I’ve been intrigued by what the bees were doing in there, have noticed how much brighter and more prolific the fruit and flowers in the garden have been and how the garden somehow feels more alive and vibrant with them buzzing around.

BeehiveWe left the bees to do their own thing last year, allowing them to settle into their new home, with occasional visits from our neighbour to check on them. It wasn’t until I joined the South Kildare Beekeepers for their excellent Beginners Beekeeping course, that my obsession really began to kick in.

Honey bees are simply fascinating.

Natural Beekeeping

I’m learning the more traditional form of beekeeping in the beginners course, where bees are checked, manipulated and their honey harvested. However, I’m very attracted to the idea a more natural approach and have been advised to read the Barefoot Beekeeper as well as this PDF from Abbé Warré. For now I’m learning all I can from the experienced beekeepers in Athy, with the intention of switching over once I understand more about bees.

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up

Honeybees love Echinops

Five facts about honey bees you might not know

  • A colony of bees is known as a super organism and there are three “castes” of bees in it. The queen really does rule the hive as apart from laying all the eggs, she sends out happy pheromones to help keep the colony chilled out and busy.
  • The worker bees that we’re used to seeing outside foraging for all the nectar and pollen, are all infertile females. They contain a barbed sting but if they use it, they will usually die (so it’s not in their interest to do so).
  • Planting calendar for honey bees

    Honey Bee on an Aster

    The drones are all male and it’s their job to mate with the queen. They don’t contain a sting. The maiden queen flies out once for mating, will do so with around 20 or so drones who will subsequently die after successfully mating with her. The queen will return to the hive with enough sperm to fertilise her eggs for the rest of her lifetime (could be up to 3 or 4 years).

  • There are around 2,000 worker bees in a beehive during the winter, up to 50,000 in summer (so steer clear if you’re allergic or phobic).
  •  Honey bees have 4 eyes, 5 eyes and 6 legs (a handy one to know for pub quiz questions).

Before scrolling down to see what plants bees like to forage on, take a look at this fascinating short video clip. You’ll be able to watch the honey bees close up in flight and pick up a few more facts about them that might be of interest.

“Apis Mellifera: Honey Bee” a high-speed short from Michael N Sutton / @MNS1974 on Vimeo.

Planting Flowers for Bees

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the important lessons I’ve learnt is that bees don’t just depend upon the flowers in our gardens for their sources of pollen and nectar, they forage as much from the trees and hedgerows that surround us.

Calendar of Plants for Bees |

Hedge Cutting, Pesticides and Herbicides

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up


The list of plants for bees isn’t exhaustive, there are many more flowers that honey bees are attracted to but it is indicative that honey bees and pollinators in general don’t give a hoot if they’re feeding on “weeds”, trees or ornamental flowers – they are attracted to them all (steer clear of ‘double’ blossoms though as they struggle to reach the pollen inside them).

When hedgerows are cut out of season (it’s illegal to cut them between 1st March to 31st August), bees are being deprived of food sources and birds of nesting opportunities.

Calendar of Plants for Bees | Greenside Up

Dandelions – much more than a week


Next time you reach for the weedkiller because a few dandelions are growing where you don’t want them to, think of the bright yellow flowers as a source of food instead, for the bee that’s stopped off to feed from it.

Bees and pollinators will be emerging from their hives and nests after a long winter with little food in store and depend upon fresh, unpolluted “weeds” to survive, not herbicide ridden ones.


What can I plant in my garden to help bees

Limnanthes – Beloved by pollinators, also attract hoverflies whose larvae eat aphids

Is it really worth risking the death of bees because you don’t like sharing your garden with bugs?

Research by Harvard University has shown that when honey bees have been exposed to two neonicotinoids, insecticides that are the most widely used in the world, they are more likely to suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Here’s a link to a Soil Association list that names some of the products you may have lurking on your shelves.

If you’re interested in learning more about bees, their lifestyles and habitats, check out your local beekeepers for updates on meetings. For more detailed information about planting for bees, take a look at the Irish Beekeepers website here.

Calendar of Plants for Bees

Honey bees will choose a field of Oilseed Rape over an Apple Orchard

If you’re interesting in finding out more about Ireland’s bees, the Biodiversity Centre recently published their slides following their pollinator conference and they’re well worth a look.

Lastly, if you’re buying plants for your garden this Spring, spare a thought for the honey bees who spend their short lives foraging in it. Apart from producing a few milligrams of honey during their brief lifetimes, without them we wouldn’t be able to sample so many tasty foods. A tremendous amount of fruit and vegetables would be missing from the supermarket shelves without the bees pollinating abilities including apples, squash, cucumber, raspberry, peppers, plums, Brassica, almonds and strawberries to name but a few.


How We Can Help Bees and Pollinators in our Garden

July 27, 2016

How we can help bees & pollinators in our garden

It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed as we’re bombarded with negative news about the damage civilization is raging on the environment and the effects of a warming planet. In particular there has been deep concern about the plight of bees and pollinators and this week published research suggests a leading insecticide cuts bee sperm by 40% which is devastating news for the bee population.

How to help bees and pollinators in the garden

Credit: National Biodiversity Data Centre

Habitat loss and the decline in wildflowers are subjecting our pollinators to starvation. Our tendency to tidy up the landscape and not allowing wildflowers to grow along roadsides, field margins, and in parks is also playing a big part as fewer of these resources are available. However, there is good news! By making our gardens pollinator friendly we can do our bit to help redress the balance and make sure that we protect pollinators.

Last year the Biodiversity Centre published an All Ireland Pollinator Plan, followed by a Junior Pollinator Plan and a few weeks ago they increased their resource bank by adding an Action Plan for gardens that you can download here.

What can we do to help bees and pollinators in our garden?

Credit: National Biodiversity Data Centre

Aimed at anyone who wants to make their garden more bee and pollinator friendly, the guidelines range from very simple to low-cost actions, from window boxes to large outdoor spaces and community gardens so we can pick actions that best suit us.

There are seven sections and twenty action points that contain recommended plants, tips and practices some of which include the following:

How we can help bees and pollinators in our garden

A. Identify and Protect Existing Areas

Encourage patches of wildflowers or ‘weeds’ which are food for bees and pollinators. Let hedges flower before they’re trimmed back and allow soil to stay bare on sloping areas for solitary bees.

Lawn edging, long grass and dry stone walls all offer shelter for bees and pollinators.

B. Reduce the Frequency of Mowing

How we can help bees and pollinators in our garden

Photo: © Réamái Mathers

In early springtime, one bumblebee queen needs to feed on 6,000 flowers a day to have enough energy to feed her young!

Lawns provide shelter and food for bees and pollinators so reducing cutting can be the most cost-effective way of helping them. That doesn’t mean that gardens have to become wild and unruly; the advice is to not begin cutting until after mid-April when the dandelions have flowered but not set seed. The vibrant yellow flowers are an important source of food as pollinators come out of hibernation.

If you’ve a large lawn, consider allowing some of it to grow into a meadow and cut it back in September. Avoid using lawn fertilisers as they promote the growth of grass and not wildflowers. Definitely don’t spray with herbicides. More detailed advice on managing wildflower ‘lawns’ can be found in the Action Plan.

C. Pollinator Friendly Planting

How to help bees and pollinators in the gardenI’ve written an article before that shares how bees make honey, but to survive pollinators need flowers that produce lots of nectar for energy and pollen for protein. If you’re trying to make your garden pollinator friendly add plants that will provide these food sources during the out of season ‘hungry gaps’ between October to March and choose single flowered varieties of flowers over doubles, perennial over annual plants.

If you’re not sure what varieties to choose, look closely at the flowers in gardens you visit or at garden centres and see which plants the pollinators are visiting.

If you’re limited by space, consider filling containers and window boxes with flowers and herbs that bees and pollinators can feed upon such as borage, thyme, rosemary, cosmos, night scented stock and cosmos. Traditional bedding plants such as Geraniums, Begonias, Busy Lizzy and Petunias have almost no pollen and nectar so are of no value to bees and pollinators.

How We Can Help Bees and Pollinators in our Garden

D. Provide Wild Pollinator Nesting

3 Reasons Why We Need To Build More Bug HotelsApart from food supplies, safe nesting habitats are equally as important for bees and pollinators and we can help by providing these in the garden.

Bumblebees nest in long grass or abandoned rodent holes. Fifteen out of the 77 species of solitary bees nest in existing cavities and the rest burrow into bare ground or south/east facing earth banks.

Simple or exotic bug hotels can be made for bees or just leave hollow stems in the garden such as unpruned raspberry canes for them.

It’s not just the birds who like to hang out in hedgerows, bumblebees often nest at the base of hazel, willow, blackthorn and hawthorn so avoid cutting all the hedgerow at the same time and instead cut parts of it on a three-year rotation. Importantly, don’t spray the bases of hedges and only cut them between September and March to avoid disturbing nests.

Wild bees are not aggressive so can live safely in the garden alongside humans and pets.

How to help bees and pollinators in the garden

E. Eliminate Pesticide Use

ALL pesticides, insecticides and fungicides can be harmful to pollinators, either by damaging their habitats or the plants themselves.

Avoid buying seeds that coated with neonicitinoids (read the fine print on seed packets) and use alternative pest controls such as choosing resistant seeds, barriers and physical barriers.

The Action Plan recommends that we DON’T use herbicides on the lawn or verges around our homes and gardens and if they absolutely can’t be avoided, use best practice (read the label).

F. Raise Awareness of Pollinators

Help to spread the word about how we can help bees and pollinators in our garden. Share pollinator friendly plants from cuttings, seed or division and download the pollinator plans from the Biodiversity Centre and talk about them with your friends, neighbours, schools or community gardens.

Learn to love bees and insects and see them as our friends and not be frightened by them.

G. Track Progress and Recognition

Pollinator Plan Infographics_Bees in Ireland

Credit: National Biodiversity Data Centre

We can make our gardens GOLDEN and log our efforts onto a system where it will track the build-up of food, shelter and safety for pollinators in the landscape in Ireland.

To receive GOLD status the garden must give the best shelter, food and safety for pollinators by meeting certain criteria. More information can be found in Section G of the Action Plan.

We can also learn to identify pollinators and record which ones visit the garden. We can become part of the All-Ireland Bumble-bee Monitoring Scheme or attend the various workshops and seminars that are springing up around the country.

Greenside Up will be holding a workshop in the Autumn in Gleann na Bearu Community Garden, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow where we’ll be sharing how to build a green roof structure and encourage pollinators into gardens thanks to Local 21 funding in association with Carlow County Council; keep an eye out for the newsletter and/or various social media channels for more information if you’d like to join us.

Food & Drink

Gingerbread Recipe: Honey vs Sugar

October 4, 2015

Gingerbread Cake Recipe


Ever since we harvested our first jars of honey from our beehive it’s been on my mind to bake a cake or some buns using our own honey instead of refined sugar. Last week I found that my blog had made it into the finalists of the Blog Awards Ireland so no better time to look up a honey cake recipe!

We’re not big consumers of honey generally, usually only using it on Christmas hams, in cold remedies or salad dressings. Making the switch is therefore taking us slightly out of our comfort zone. However, given the bees went to so much trouble to make it, I want to do the honey justice before our 12-year-old spreads all 14 jars of it on her breakfast toast.

The gingerbread cake recipe below isn’t sugar-free but the sugars included are mostly unrefined, making it a much healthier cake than it first appears.

Sugar vs Honey

How Honey Bees Make Honey | greensideup.ieThere’s been a lot of press warning us about the dangers of eating too much sugar due to its links with obesity and diabetes and sugar is now considered worse than fat in our diets, but is honey any better? Sugar is sugar right?

One of the things that surprised me during an early beekeeping lesson was that nectar contains both glucose and fructose but I hadn’t realised until we began beekeeping, that the enzymes the bees add to the nectar make honey easily digestible, allowing our bodies to absorb the natural sugars. Our digestive system finds it much harder to break down sugars extracted from sugar beet or sugar cane once they’ve been refined.

This excellent article from the University of Arizona explains the differences and processes involved in digesting honey over sugar and why, as a result, honey is better for us.

If, like me, you didn’t know the differences between the refined and unrefined sugar varieties, this Good Food article contains a glossary of sugars that you might helpful.


Molasses is a syrup that’s produced when the sugar cane plant is processed to make refined sugar and is another ingredient listed in the gingerbread cake. An article in Natural News highlights blackstrap molasses in particular as a health supplement. Containing trace minerals as well as calcium, magnesium and iron, molasses are also moderate on the glycemic scale and are apparently being used as a sugar alternative by diabetics. You can read more about blackstrap molasses here.

Molasses can also be used as a flower and fruiting enhancer in the organic horticulture world, particularly in regard to hydroponics, and can be added as a spray to increase production.

Sugar Alternatives

Although I’ve often used vegetables in cake recipes, I’m really keen to find natural alternatives to refined sugar in jam and cordial recipes which use pounds of the stuff. I suspect we’re going to have to be patient and leave that one to the experts to figure out and pass on to us as my culinary skills aren’t that adventurous to have a go myself.

Gingerbread recipe


So onto the gingerbread recipe with honey. It took a bit of searching but eventually I came across a beautiful American website – 101 Cookbooks – who share several honey recipes, including this sticky gingerbread which I’ve adapted slightly to accommodate European measurements and ingredients.  There’s a long ingredient list, it’s easy to follow as they’re fairly much split into two bowls of wet and dry ingredients before combining to make a rich, soft and moist cake.

Serves 18 if cut as described below.

Gingerbread RecipeIngredients:

225g butter
120ml tepid water
180ml blackstrap molasses or treacle
180ml pure honey
155g dark brown muscovado sugar
385g plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons bread soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground all-spice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
3 large free range, organic eggs
120ml milk
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC/325ºF/Gas 3. Line a 24cm diameter spring bottom tin with parchment paper.

  • Add the water, molasses, honey, butter and muscovado sugar to a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir until all the ingredients are well combined and the butter has melted. Remove from the heat, pour the mixture into a large bowl ready for the next process and allow to cool.
  • Sift the dried ingredients into another bowl (flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves and all-spice) and set aside.
  • When the molasses mixture has cooled, mix one egg at a time into it then add the milk, stirring until fully combined.
  • Fold the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ones then finally add the grated ginger. Don’t worry if it looks a bit lumpy, it will even out with cooking.
  • Pour the combined batter into your prepared tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 55 mins, though check a few minutes before as ovens will vary. When the top of the cake springs back as you touch it you’ll know it’s ready.
  • Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack before removing it from the baking tin. Store in an airtight container or the fridge.

If you tend to use round cake tins and have ever wondered how to cut and get the most slices out of your cakes, the following tip might help.

Gingerbread Cake Recipe

The Verdict

We really enjoyed tucking into this gingerbread cake. Although its delicious cold and doesn’t really need cream as it’s so soft, I can’t help but imagine the gingerbread warmed up with a bit of custard on a cold autumn evening after a Sunday roast. We found it sweet without being overly so, with a light, velvety texture.

If you have a favourite honey recipe you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.

Disclaimer: Please note that recipes, wellness tips and nutrition advice are not meant to treat or cure any medical condition or disease. I am not a nutritionist but I have endeavored to source materials for this article from reputable sources to allow you to research further. Please also note that it is NOT recommended to give infants under one year old honey or honey products. More information can be found at the National Honey Board.



Five Ways to Help Bees Now

March 30, 2014

5 ways to help bees now

We hear so much about the desperate plight of the bees but is the message getting through?


Scientists are still working to determine what exactly is causing their global demise, but as a result of the Varroa mite, *there are no wild honeybees left in Ireland.

As we begin to sow seeds, tidy our gardens and think about shrubs and summer blooms, it’s important to remember bees need our help if they are to survive.

I came across this alarming yet hopeful TED talk by Marla Spivak recently where she eloquently speaks about the plight of the disappearing bees which is worth listening to. At the end she highlights a couple of things that each and every one of us can do to help the bees and why it’s important that we do them now. I’ve added a few more…

Five things we can do right now to help the bees that will make a difference

1. Don’t contaminate the flowers that are growing. Stop spraying pesticides and herbicides on flowers that the bees feed on and ingest – that includes the “weeds” such as dandelion that are a veritable spring feast for bees as they emerge. Always err on the side of caution – if you’re still using chemicals and are not sure if they’re harmful to bees or not, DON’T USE THEMThe RHS carry a lot of information about bees on their website, including a list of withdrawn chemicals that can be referred to.

Cornflowers2. Plant more bee friendly flowers.

If you’ve a large area to plant, one of the wildflower mixes from Sandro Cafolla, Design by Nature might be for you. Not only will the birds, bees and butterflies love you for it, wildflowers are low maintenance (they generally only need one cut per year) and look stunning when in flower too.

A spring bee feeding on a Mahonia flowerOnce again, the RHS have a very detailed list of plants for pollinators on their website here, which will give you ideas for bee attracting climbers, trees, bulbs and corms, as well as annual, biennial or perennial flowers.

You could also plant herbs or vegetables that bees will enjoy feeding upon such as asparagus, broad beans, courgettes and other members of the squash family, hyssop, marjoram, mint, rosemary, runner beans, sage, thyme and allow some of them to flower too such as brassicas.

bee collecting pollen on a broad (fava) bean3. Take direct action.

Greenpeace are running a campaign asking people to support ecological farming, ban bee harming pesticides and adopt action plans that will help to monitor the situation. If you’d like to sign the petition and/or donate to the cause, click the link here.

4. Create Bee-Friendly Zones

Bees like nooks and crannies to nest, feed and hang out in. Learn how to garden without chemicals, plant bee friendly plants, make bee nest boxes or hotels and encourage your friends, neighbours, schools, creches, and clubs to do the same in Bee-Friendly Zones.

Encourage councils and tidy town groups to plant bee friendly flowers among hedgerows and verges and remind farmers to leave strips of wild flower areas on the edges of their fields and resist spraying them with herbicides and pesticides, which will provide the bees with unpolluted food help to ensure their survival.

If you’re looking for ideas on habitats, here’s a Pinterest board full of bird, bee and pollinator friendly homes and feeders.

honey bees5. Start a Campaign

Although there’s a breeding programme to protect the native Irish honeybee, as far as I can make out there’s no national campaign in Ireland to raise awareness about the plight of the bees and how important it is that we protect and help them, so consider starting one!

Encourage your communities to plant more bee friendly flowers, stop spraying unnecessarily and plant more wildflower verges and roundabouts instead of spraying and mowing.

Let’s get bees into the news and help to raise an awareness that will stop people spraying and more people planting. What do you think? Are you up for the challenge?


* source


There will be an All-Ireland Pollinator Symposium on the 17th February 2015 in Waterford led by the National BioDiversity Centre and the Pollination Ecology Research Group in TCD. Take a look at their webpage for more information and to book a place.

Vegetable Garden

Sunday Snap ~ Sleepy bees

August 4, 2013

It seems appropriate to share another bee photo given the challenges they’re facing.

This little one was taking a rest on the salads that have gone to seed in our polytunnel, helping to ease my conscience that I haven’t spent much time in there of late. The fact that she was so still and quiet made me worry though… is she poorly or just sleeping after a busy day?

Bees and PollenAlarmingly, a recent BBC2 Horizon report stated that in South West China wild bees have been eradicated by pesticide use and lack of natural habitat. Apple and pear orchards are now being hand pollinated as a result.

However, there is still hope. In the US and Europe it’s been found that simply planting strips of wildflowers alongside fields on farms and along roadside verges and leaving areas of natural vegetation in forests can help to boost pollinator populations enormously.

So on behalf of the bees, if you haven’t done so already I’m making a plea for you to grow more bee friendly flowers, allow more wildflowers to flourish and to stop using pesticides. There are alternatives to spraying the bugs and weeds you don’t want in your garden. It might take a little time and inconvenience until balance is restored but in the meantime you’ll get used to seeing holes in the leaves and the odd weed appearing in your pathway. You’ll begin to notice more butterflies, hoverflies, lacewings and pollinators visiting your flowers and come to accept it all as part of natures pattern.

What’s a little inconvenience compared to life without bees?


Food & Drink

How to Make Dandelion Honey

April 18, 2012

Recipe: How to Make Dandelion Honey

I adore dandelion clocks but have had a love/hate relationship with the plants themselves for years due to their pesky roots, until I discovered how beneficial they are for honey bees. We can also make a delicious dandelion honey using their vibrant, yellow flowers, a recipe that I’m sharing now.

As ‘weeds’ go, dandelions, are hugely beneficial as they attract pollinating insects at a time when most other flowers are yet to share their delicious nectar. Dandelions can be eaten, made into drinks of all descriptions and are loaded with vitamins and minerals, namely A, C and K as well as iron, potassium, calcium and manganese. They’ve also been around for over 30 million years – it’s no wonder their roots are so deep and strong!

Dandelion Clock

Photo credit: Catherine Drea, Foxglove Lane

Almost every child I know has heard the tale that they make you wet the bed (indeed I was taught the very same) which stems from the plant’s use as a strong diuretic, though the roots are used for this purpose, not the flowers.

It wasn’t until @zwartblesIE mentioned Dandelion Honey on twitter that I’d seriously considered using the flowers in the kitchen. Suzanna generously shared her recipe and if you’d like to try this intriguing sounding dish, here it is:

4 cups dandelion flowers
3 cups water
3 whole thick cut lemons
2 1/8 cups sugar

Place the flowers, water and lemons into a saucepan and simmer for 30 mins, leave to cool and stew overnight. In the morning strain through cheesecloth (or coffee filter paper) then bring the liquid to a slow boil, stirring in the sugar until dissolved, then slowly simmer for about one and a half hours and you have your honey.

dandelion honey recipeIf you start to notice the mixture turn darker, whip it off the heat quickly or it can develop a burnt caramel flavour.

If you’re feeling adventurous you could  try adding a few drops of vanilla essence as @NiamhMaher on twitter did, or a few drops of alcohol as @Justcallmelet suggested.

Honey is perhaps a misleading name as the resulting flavour is more like marmalade – guess it got its name from the gorgeous colour.

Have you ever tried food or drink made from dandelions? Did you enjoy it?



Bee Cause – How we can help the bees

April 15, 2012

Image courtesy of Friends of the Earth

Last week Friends of the Earth (UK) launched a campaign “Bee Cause”, calling on the British government to commit to a “bee action plan to save bees and save the country billions of pounds in the future.”

If you’ve been listening to the news over the past couple of years you’ll have no doubt heard that the decline in bee populations isn’t just a UK problem, it’s worldwide. A combination of issues from colony collapse disorder, parasites and shortages in habitats are being blamed but whatever the cause, it’s serious.

Bees aren’t just about honey – they help to pollinate strawberries, nuts, herbs, coffee and cotton to name just a fraction of items we use daily.

According to research released this *week it would cost the UK £1.8 billion every year to hand-pollinate crops without bees – 20% more than previously thought. That’s just one country, imagine that on a global basis. Finances apart, can you image a world without bees? I don’t even want to…

In recent years Britain has lost over half the honey bees kept in managed hives and wild honey bees are nearly extinct.  Solitary bees are declining in more than half the areas they’ve been studied and some species of bumblebee have been lost altogether. These figures are replicated around the world.

One reason for the bee decline is a shortage of natural habitats, so Friends of the Earth have outlined simple steps people can take in their gardens to help provide it:

  • Sow bee-friendly seeds and plant bee-friendly flowers in your garden such as mixed wildflowers packets, single-flowering roses, open and flat-headed flowers like verbena and yarrow and tubular-shaped flowers such as foxgloves.

    Image courtesy of Gardeners World

  • Create a place to nest for solitary bees by piling together hollow stems and creating a ‘bee hotel’.
  • Try to provide a small amount of rainwater in a shallow bird bath or tray which honeybees need to keep their hive at the right temperature.

So please “bee aware” and encourage these very special insects into your gardens – they really do need all the help we can give them.

Have you come across bees in trouble? Last year we spotted a large bumblebee covered in parasites and clearly in trouble. It was distressing to observe but by providing flowers with pollen that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, perhaps it will help to keep the bees strong and more able for pests and diseases. It might be a small step, but it’s something.


* conducted by The University of Reading on behalf of Friends of the Earth (Reference: Breeze et al, 2012 – Chapter 4.)