Orchard County Apple Producers Revere the Honey Bee

From Bee Craft: October 2009

Tom Canning, MA, Dip Ed

Irish beekeepers and apple growers join together to celebrate the Bramley


Schoolchildren from Hardy Memorial Primary School are intrigued with the display


Support was readily available from the Northern Ireland Fruit Growers’ Association, the Fruit Industry Federation, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). The organising committee invited the Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers to mount a display stand which would reflect the value of apiculture to apple production.

The chosen dates were 8-9 May to coincide with Apple Blossom Week. The venue was the Manor House Estate, Loughgall, provided by DARD. This large estate, covering 200 hectares including lough Gall’ (14 hectares) and 90 hectares of mixed woodland, is an integral part of the village situated in the middle of 1800 hectares of apple orchards. DARD’s large experimental station on the estate is the home of extensive horticulture and plant breeding plots and in 2006, the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute relocated here.


The brief to the Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers was straightforward: ‘Erect a display stand to show visitors everything about bees and their symbiotic relationship with successful apple production’. The Institute was allocated a double stand space with the option of more, if required. A backdrop consisted of seven A2 posters consisting of pictures and subtitles clearly depicting orchard pollination.

The middle ground, displayed on six tables, comprised beekeeping items and hive products. Sequenced left to right, visitors could see a full beekeeper’s suit, gloves and footwear. A comprehensive beekeeper’s toolbox with self-explanatory labels on each item was open to view. Light, medium, dark, bell heather, ling heather, crystallised and creamed honeys were highlighted in front of a white fluorescent light and chunk, section, cut comb and a frame for extraction completed the honey display.

Visitors thought that the beautiful amber/whisky-coloured bottles of mead were relics of bygone days, no longer produced in Ireland! Three very different jars of honey were available for tasting throughout the exhibition and these led to a barrage of questions about where to buy honey and the merits/demerits of Manuka honey.


Ernie Watterson, an Institute committee member, awaits the initial onslaught of visitors

Craft lovers were treated to an extravaganza of wax items. Uncleaned and cleaned wax blocks were initiators of an extensive collection of moulded wax models, a variety of wax candles, shoe and furniture polishes. Visitors’ interest was such that a workshop on furniture polishing with beeswax is an idea for the future.

An extensive range of medicinal products using honey, pollen, propolis, beeswax and royal jelly stimulated discussion. This section included ointments, cold-sore treatments, a selection of lip balms, pollen and propolis based creams. Ladies were attracted to a wide variety of locally produced hand creams, soaps and other facials based on beeswax. Thankfully enthusiasts could be directed to a local producer of the latter products.

A small sector of one display table was dedicated to the enemies of bees: varroa mites, a small hive beetle and two dragonflies. Up-to-date reading materials and honey recipes were available for perusal.


The greatest attraction to the general public was live bees in an observation hive, changed daily. Those few who normally squirm at the sight of bees became interested. Worker bees, drones, a marked queen and brood at all stages of development were visible. On her official visit, our Minister of Agriculture was fascinated to the extent that she returned the following day with her family and made a ‘beeline’ for the observation hive. This also proved to be a magnet for school children on the Friday morning which was assigned exclusively to educational visits. Our original brief emphasised that this should be an important part of the raison d’etre of the whole exercise.


Joe Thompson (centre), owner of the observation hive, explains the contents to the Minister

Children are inquisitive and questions abounded. Two required some thought. ‘Where is the toilet in the hive?’ Following a detailed explanation, in simplified terms, of the anatomy of the honey bee and bowel evacuation on the wing, a further question was posed. ‘You said that the queen never leaves the hive so how does she manage?’ Readers know the answer without further explanation. The word ‘queen’ triggered the next thought-provoking question. ‘If the queen is the mother of 60,000 daughters and hundreds of sons, how does she stop them fighting amongst themselves?’ You will never be asked a difficult question by adults but be prepared for the unexpected from children!


The foreground of the stand was a display of hives, past and present. How beekeepers managed bees in skeps raised interesting discussion points. Visiting beekeepers scrutinised the CDB, WBC and National hives, a nucleus box and decorated Langstroth hives. Their expertise in handling them betrayed their knowledge of the craft. Questions and comments exchanged at the stand with visitors sometimes unfolded family histories about how fathers and/or grandfathers kept bees in local orchards in past centuries.

A range of extraction equipment required detailed explanations of the function and use of the extractor and settling tank. One supervisor dispelled the misconception that there was a honey tap on the side of the hive.


The Observation Hive

The Entomology Section of AFBI’s Applied Plant and Science Division complemented our display with a comprehensive insect sideshow set up in their adjacent laboratories. There, visitors could see a scale model of the anatomy of the honey bee showing how it produces honey and wax. A segment of comb clearly illustrated bees’ perfect expertise in cell building.

This exhibition included bumblebees, mason bees and hoverflies with a demonstration of how the Death’s-head Hawkmoth mimicked bee behaviour to gain free access to the hive in pursuit of honey. Visitors were also able to join organised walks through experimental orchard plots and observe insect pollination in progress.


Success was measured in different ways. In spite of inclement weather on both days, 8000 adults and over 500 school children passed through the demonstration area. Stand supervisors were busy on their four-hour shifts but were happy with the public’s interest, knowledge and concern for the plight of bees gleaned from press reports.

Many visitors, young and old, wanted information on how to become beekeepers and referrals were made to their local associations for follow-up. Dedicated, knowledgeable bee educators were keen to satisfy the demands of enquiring minds.

The organising committee had positive feedback from the visitors on the value of their visit. Asked if we would do it again, the answer was ‘Of course! After all, we are educators’. We were pleased that so many people left better informed of the life, work and value of bees to ‘Orchard County’ pollination and honey production.


This entry was posted in Previous Articles. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.