Beekeeping at Larchfield Estate with Ken Baird

Jun 28 2019

Our beekeeper Ken plans to keep us updated with the bees’ progress and this is his first blog!

'Globally there are more honey bees than any other type of bee or other pollinating creatures, so honey bees are the world's most important insect in the production of food crops. It is estimated that one third of the food that we consume each day relies on insect pollination, mainly by honey bees.

The Larchfield Estate hives

About forty years ago the Mackie family was given a colony of bees to keep here at Larchfield Estate. Unfortunately however, they (the bees - not the Mackies!) were a little temperamental to say the least! Keen to continue keeping bees, the family took advice from a friend, bee expert Jim Holland, who recommended a more docile strain originating from Brother Adam, a monk at Buckfast Abbey in Devon where ironically another commodity popular in N Ireland hails from (anyone not familiar with Buckfast, it is a caffeinated fortified Tonic Wine originally made by the monks).

Using smoke to calm the bees before handling the frames

In around 2007, the colonies were lost to the recently arrived parasite of honey bees - the varroa mite. Again, determined not to give up – the current estate owners Gavin & Sarah chatted to local beekeeper Ken Baird who has helped re-establish bee keeping here on the estate. With the wedding business in full swing by this stage, the decision was made to move the hives from the walled gardens, across the estate, to where they remain today (around 1 mile from the ceremony areas). The WBC hives (the original hives from about 40 years ago) overlook several acres of wild-flower meadow, perfect for the honeybees to collect nectar and pollen.

Ken's 'nuc' or 'nucleus' hives overlooking the countryside

Right now, the early part of June, is often a difficult time for honey bees when forage is scarce and large colonies can easily starve. The 'June gap' is as strange phenomenon which occurs here and in some other countries. This is a period when there is a sudden reduction in the amount of pollen and nectar available to honeybees and this is a problem because in May, the colonies expanded rapidly and will now be reaching peak colony size (50 to 60,000 bees).

Busy bees!

The flowering times of plants follow a pattern:

During spring, in addition to many early flowering herbaceous species there are vast volumes of pollen and nectar produced from trees and hedges - a single mature lime or willow tree will yield the same amount of bee food as an acre of wildflower meadow.

Then in May, the rapeseed flowers bring a serious glut of pollen and nectar and usually the first honey harvest.

Come June, all of that is over, and the grass has grown long suppressing most wild flowers.

But by July a variety of tall herbaceous species find ways to push up through the grass and once again we have flowers through to September. Also, at this stage late, flowering fruit species such as brambles, come into their own and with luck bring a second delicious honey harvest.'

One of our queen honey bees - marked to allow the beekeeper to locate her easily

Each year, our honey is spun and jarred, and will soon be available for our guests to purchase from our Railway Building – a brand new group experience & dining room due to open later this year. Ken and his wife also offer candle making workshops using the wax from the Larchfield Estate hives, which can be booked by corporate and private groups coming to stay on the estate for overnight retreats!