Robert Ghee, a resident of Killashee Co Longford, is a part-time beekeeper of over ten years, having unintentionally taken up the hobby in 2009.
What was first purchased as a Christmas present for his late father in law, Robbie Shaw, was soon re-gifted to Robert and his wife Michelle and he has since expanded upon his beekeeping operation, increasing it in size from two hives to five strong.
Robert told the Leader: “We got the bees thinking Robbie would go beekeeping and that would be the end of it. But he wanted us to do it, because he wasn’t too sure.
“At the time we joined the Mullingar beekeepers association to find out how to do it, because we weren’t aware of the Longford beekeepers.
“We then started into it and Robbie still didn’t want to do it, so it was left to myself and Michelle to do it for a while.”
Soon Robert became engrossed in his new part-time enterprise and all it had to offer. He then subsequently joined the Longford beekeepers association, whom he says mentored and guided him through the initial setting up process.
“I was starting to enjoy it,” Robert explained.
“That following spring, Longford beekeepers were on the Longford Leader announcing that they were opening up the Cullyfad apiary.
“So that is how I got involved with the Longford beekeepers.”
Robert is now the PRO of the Longford beekeepers association and says they are always more than willing to help and advise new members.
“When we joined Longford beekeepers they were very good to us. They helped us a lot.” he said.
“John Fitzpatrick and Dieter Koston were especially good to us. They came out and showed us how to handle frames and lift frames out.
“If you were stuck, they would come out to your apiary no problem at all.”
When starting off, Robert admits there are plenty of stings to help one get acquainted with life as a beekeeper. However, he lauded the benefits of becoming a member of the association. The association currently has approximately 50 members within its roster and now offers beekeeping demonstrations to those looking to start their own hive.
“We use our apiary in Cullyfad to offer demonstrations for beginners,” Robert explained.
“We bring them out, get them to handle and lift the frames and because they are owned by the club, it means if someone damages the queen or something, it is nobody’s loss.
“You don’t want people taking up beekeeping, buying all the equipment - which can be expensive - only then to realise this isn’t for me.
“We have had a few members who were really interested and when they got out to the apiary and lifted the frames out with all the bees buzzing around them, they felt uncomfortable and said it wasn’t for them,” he added.
The association now meet every third Monday of every month at Teagasc Longford at 8pm, where people can come along and find out more about bees and beekeeping before taking the plunge. These meetings are also used as an outlet for those involved in beekeeping to share any issues or problems they may have.
Robert remarked: “What one beekeeper has a problem with, another might have come across before.
“I am ten years doing it and I am still learning.”
Being a member of an association is not only vital from a learning perspective, but also because of insurance purposes.
“The most important thing if people are interested in beekeeping, is to become a member of your local association before you get bees,” Robert noted.
“You need to be a member of your association, not only because you learn and the support received from other members, but for insurance reasons as well.
“The reason for that is because your association will be affiliated to one of the two national organisations, which will have insurance to cover you for your bees, honey sales and all of that.”
Having insurance means members can confidently sell their produce without worry, which many do in local retail establishments or from the comfort of their own homes.
Robert stated: “When I started I only had two hives, So what I was producing was only enough for myself and my close family.
“I have currently five working hives at the moment and that allows me to produce a lot of honey. So I am selling it now and quite a lot of our members are selling honey in various different places.”
People can call to the door of their local beekeeper should they want to try a drop of their sweet produce, or alternatively, they can contact the Longford beekeepers association on Facebook here or at longfordbeekeepers.com, where they will direct you to the closest member.
Robert says the differences between honey produced on a mass scale for retail establishments and local beekeepers are monumental.
He said: “When you look at honey labels in a shop, if it is not from a local beekeeper most of the time it is blended honey.
“It is usually blended from EU and Non-EU honey. They mix the whole lot together.”
Continuing he said: “The only true, real honey you get is from a local beekeeper.
“It is not pasteurised, it is straight from the hive, filtered into jars and there is nothing done to the honey itself. It is as pure as it gets.”
Although Robert admits beekeeping is a time consuming hobby, especially in the summer months, he thoroughly enjoys the whole experience. He encouraged anyone contemplating taking up the hobby, to first organise a visit to the association’s apiary.
“It is a very time consuming hobby. So if someone is thinking about doing it, you have to make sure you will have the time to do it.” he remarked.
“If you’re interested in becoming a beekeeper, the best thing to do is to join your local association, where you learn from everyone else.
“The last thing you want to do is buy all of the equipment, only to realise you don’t like it. It gives people a chance to learn the craft before they get their own bees, so at least when they get their own bees they are able to work away straight away.
“It is surprising how quick you pick it up once you get into it,” Robert concluded.