The decline of the honeybee in recent years has been the cause of worldwide concern. I decided to take up beekeeping ten years ago, and installed my first hive at Killowen, on the south coast of Cork. Once I got over the initial hurdle of getting my bees established, I realized that successful beekeeping is a life-long study. Like most beginners, I learnt by making mistakes, each one enabling me to get over the hurdle the next time.
There is a deal of wisdom in the following maxims:
1. Work with the bees, not against them;
2. The bees don't always read the manual.
The majority of bee books on the market show photographs of a yellow bee, and describe a form of beekeeping suited to those bees. Without knowing for certain what type of bees I had, it was initially difficult to know what to do, and what to expect at certain times of the season. Mine are black, and I assumed that they were Apis mellifera mellifera
- the dark European honeybee. However, with different strains of bee imported to Ireland over the last hundred years, the question which first posed itself was, were these bees of a pure strain, i.e. native or near native? I was partly able to answer this question by studying the bee's wing venation: morphometry.
The book by Beowulf Cooper 'The Honeybees of the British Isles' describes the characteristics of the black bee, i.e. the native bee or the near-native bee. This book has become something of a bible for me in so far as it enables me to identify the ideal characteristics of the black bee, and so to make a comparison. The book deals mainly with identifying the characteristics of the black bee, and not so much with the everyday details of beekeeping throughout the year. Although the two are related, the second follows from the first. By knowing how the black bee operates, one can evolve a method of beekeeping which benefits more the bee than the beekeeper.
This site describes my own practice in keeping the black bee in Ireland.
Beowulf Cooper was a founder member of BIBBA which exists to promote the black bee Apis mellifera mellifera in Ireland and Great Britain.
NIHBS promotes the black bee in Ireland.
Two very interesting articles promoting the black bee can be read from the BIBBA website:
the first "An Introduction to understanding honeybees, their origins, evolution, and diversity" by Ashleigh Milner(1996) revised by Roger Patterson(2011);
and second "Why the native bee is the best bee for the British(Irish) climate" by John Dews(2008)
This site was first published in December 2012 and last updated
25 March, 2017
Communication with the author Michael Wainwright can be made through the following email address :