WHERE would you expect to find a barbecue on 29th December? Australia? No! Tullyhenan Fort Apiary, on a hilltop near Banbridge.
Vanessa Drew, from Ballyroney, is currently conducting an Intermediate Beekeeping class in Dromore High School on behalf of the Ulster Beekeepers’ Association and, among other things, is teaching Varroa control.
Varroa is the parasitic mite which is now endemic in Ireland and is wreaking havoc with honeybee colonies. Colonies which are not properly treated will die.
Up until two years ago, Varroa could be controlled in Northern Ireland by inserting plastic strips impregnated with a powerful varroacide but the clever little mites have become resistant to that treatment.
Currently Varroa is controlled by using products containing thymol in August but thymol treatment is temperature dependant and is less reliable than the plastic strips had been.
Accordingly, a supplementary treatment, using oxalic acid, is sometimes necessary. The oxalic acid solution is dribbled over the bees but it can kill the larvae and pupae so it requires to be used when there is little or no brood in the hive; hence the mid winter treatment.
After a short briefing by Vanessa, Willie Blakely and Robert McCreery conducted the demonstrations by each taking groups of three students.
Happily, all the colonies in the apiary were alive and so were treated. Prior to this procedure, few beekeepers would have considered opening up a beehive during winter so a live demonstration not only gives the students the methodology, it also gives them the confidence to go home and treat their own bees.
Having an outdoor demonstration between Christmas and the New Year doesn’t sound very inviting but Vanessa decided to add fun to the occasion by combining it with a barbecue; a bold decision considering it was being held at the end of the wettest year ever recorded. However at 12 noon, when the demonstration started, the sun shone and continued to do so for the remainder of the afternoon, although there had been torrential rain at 11am.
Vanessa invited each of her class to bring some food to share, and they did. There were pork chops, sausages, burgers, bread rolls, sandwiches, mince pies, biscuits, Coke, cider, tea and coffee and one bottle of bubbly, which seemed to disappear very quickly. The most popular items were two Spanish cakes which Pablo had baked for the occasion.
As the temperature dropped, the assembled company kept warm round the barbecue, and a most informative and enjoyable afternoon came to an end; thanks and congratulations to Vanessa for her initiative and hard work.