Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Meet the pets: a hive full of honey bees

George (13) and Phoebe Patterson (9), wearing their protective suitscheck their bees at the hive in the back garden of their Belfast home

Instead of a cat or dog, this east Belfast family is caring for a whole swarm of bees in its back garden.

The Pattersons have just enjoyed their first taste of honey from the hive they set up in August behind their east Belfast home.

You would expect to find hives in a more rural setting but in fact recent evidence shows that bees do better in cities than the surrounding countryside because of the lack of pesticides.

Gavin and Jennifer Patterson took their children George (13) and Phoebe (9) on a beekeeping course in Cullybackey earlier this year and the family now have their own hive housing 5,000 native Irish Black Bees, which are suited to our climate.

“We got our hive and bees in August. You’d normally harvest honey in about autumn and the bees have produced honey which is needed to keep them going through the winter. But we have tasted it and it was lovely!” Jennifer said.

“We just have an ordinary back garden — it’s not a grand estate or anything. Because the Irish black honeybee is native to this country it is particularly suited to living here. They’re really quite docile — no-one particularly noticed that we had bees until we told them. If we can do it, anyone can do it.”

Lorraine McBride from the Mid Antrim Beekeepers’ Association said: “The class all did extremely well. It’s fantastic to observe new beekeepers as they gain in confidence and to watch their wonder as they experience the ancient craft of beekeeping.”

Bee informed

  • Around one third of what we eat is pollinated by bees and the £50m a year Armagh apple harvest depends on them. In the UK bees contribute £200m a year to the economy.
  • In the USA, about one third of hives have been lost over the last two years with bees simply vanishing from the hives. If bees continue disappearing at this rate, it is estimated that by 2035 there could be none left anywhere in north America.
  • The UK government claims that Colony Collapse Disorder has not reached the UK, but a survey by the British Beekeepers’ Association reveals that one in three of the UK’s 240,000 honeybee hives were lost in the winter and spring of 2008 — compared to 'normal' yearly losses of around 5-10%.
  • A host of possible causes have been blamed, including pests and infections, pesticides, genetic narrowing of the species through breeding, lack of nutrition and loss of habitats, bad weather and poor husbandry.

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