Familiarity day sheds light on the vital role of honey bees in our food

Honey bees
Honey bees

The Institute of Northern Ireland Beekeepers is hosting a beekeeping familiarisation day today from 9.30am-4.30pm at the Navan Centre on the Killylea Road in Armagh.

It presents a wonderful opportunity to learn how you can help preserve honeybees. Much of the food we eat depends on natural insectmediated pollination – the vital ecosystem service that bees and other pollinators provide. Without insect pollination about a third of the crops we eat would have to be pollinated by other means and up to 75% of all crops would suffer some kind of decrease in productivity.

There has been a worrying decrease in the global bee population in recent years. Albert Einstein said: “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”

Technology and demand for increased food production meant that traditional agricultural practices were abandoned in favour of techniques which increased productivity but reduced the instance of wildflowers in the countryside. 97% of flower rich grassland has been lost since the 1930’s. At a grass roots, economic level, bees are estimated to contribute over £400 million to the UK economy. Thankfully many farmers are making simple changes to their techniques which have resulted in bee populations recovering in many areas. Planting bee friendly plants in our own gardens is one way we can increase the population.

If you’d like to keep bees for honey the special day in Armagh is an ideal opportunity to talk with and question experienced bee keepers.

Honey is a unique ingredient in that you can really get a sense of place when you taste it. Wherever I am in the province I pick up honey if I see it and love to taste the different nuances that each county offers. Its versatility knows no bounds in recipes – it sits as easily drizzled over sharp cheeses, as with fruit, to add sweetness to stews, as it does to add a candied note to root vegetables. One of my favourite things to do is take a small Camembert or brie, place in a baking dish, drizzle with honey, scatter over some nuts and pick over fresh thyme and bake for about 10 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve straight away with fresh bread to dip in – decadently delicious!

The first recipe this week is for pannacotta – literally meaning cooked cream. Here it’s sweetened with honey which makes for a creamy, almost caramel like confection. Fresh figs are in the shops now and are wonderful roasted with honey, orange and spices, and make a great warm and zingy accompaniment to the cool, sweet cream.

Lamb ribs are a cheap cut that are worth asking your butcher for. I marinate them in a sugar and spice mix and then cook them slowly before glazing with honey and vinegar. Sticky fall apart meat is delicious and I’ve included a spicy, crunchy carrot salad for a bit of balance.

And if you decide to invest in a bee hive you’ll have a great local source of sweetness all the time!