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The East Cork Beekeepers’ Association organise the Annual Honey Show at Fota each year. It is held in the Education Centre at the well-known wildlife park. I called in there last Sunday and it was quite an eye-opener.
I was expecting to see lots of honey. And I did, and a lot more besides.The show opened to the public for a few hours on Sunday afternoon but much more had gone on behind the scenes on the previous day when the honey, and its bye-products, were judged.
And there are many classes, close to three dozen. Three are confined to Cork beekeepers including one for East Cork beekeepers but, in general, there were entries from most of the neighbouring counties, including Tipperary, Waterford and Limerick.
Naturally there were mostly honey classes, including normal honey (eg light and medium), chunky honey (a jar with a piece of the comb in the run honey), full frame honeycomb, container of cut comb, prizes for novices and so on.
Gerry Clancy's prize-winning frame of honey
And then there was some unexpected stuff. Honey-cakes for one, mead (both dry and sweet), polish, various sweets with honey, beeswax (candles etc), even a photographic class. And if you wanted to get into beekeeping, there was advice and examples on show of what you’d need.
There was also a Commercial Section but Eleanor Attridge of the organisers and herself a distinguished honey judge told me that all the exhibitors, even those under the commercial banner, were small-scale.
I was in fairly early so didn’t get to meet too many producers as they were scheduled to come at the end of the afternoon to collect their trophies and awards.
But I did have a good look and came away with a couple of purchases including a Very Highly Commended Honey Cake made by Hilary from Aghada. Enjoying that (left) at the moment!
By the way, Hillary had to follow the rules here as do all the “competitors”. She was in #25 the Gift class: Honey cake no. 1: Honey fruit cake made with 227g (8 oz.) self-raising flour, 170g (6 oz.) Irish honey, 113g (4 oz.) butter or margarine, 170g (6 oz.) sultanas, two eggs and a pinch of salt. Bake in a 6.5"-7.5" circular tin. Honey Cake no. 2 had more or less the same guidelines except it had no fruit!
There was some honey on sale also and I was delighted to get my hands on some by Ben from Dripsey - haven’t tried it yet though.
Bridie Terry was in touch after the show and said it “was a tremendous success with a widespread distribution of the prizes.”
She listed the main prize-winners as
“Mary O’Riordan won the supreme run honey. Patrick and Kay Cogan, Mick Lane, Thomas Quigley and Gretta McCarthy all from Co.Cork.
Tom Prendergast won the best comb honey. Gerry Clancy, Eamon and Mary Hayes from Co. Tipperary.
Tom O’Brien, Hannah Cooper and Irene Power from Co. Limerick.”
A winning Comb section
Generally, it seems to have been a good year for honey but beekeepers will not be complacent. Bees are vital and the keepers continue to be anxious about a number of factors such as pesticides (including neonicotinoids, partially banned, which have been linked to declines in bees); the loss of forage from agricultural development, varroa mite pests (which have travelled all the way from Asia to Ireland),and about climate change.
For more on the status of the Irish bee now, check this Irish Times article here.
If you'd like to get into beekeeping, the Federation of Irish Beekeepers are keen to help. For news on courses, most start around this time of the year, don't delay and check the website of the Cork Beekeepers here.
The honey, in its tallish jar, is of a light colour though a bit cloudier than usual. But there is a natural explanation. It is produced by the bees at Hive Mind in Myrtleville and is unfiltered. The aromas are attractive, mainly light and floral I think. No wonder, these bees are spoiled, meadows of flowers and herbs set out for them. I am enjoying this sample with its smooth consistency, pleasantly coating the palate, the flavours and aromas persistent.
Hive Mind themselves have persisted since 2014 and the bees are enjoying their meadows by the sea, meadows planted with herbs and flowers (the seed has been organically sourced) that include: Berseem Clover, Borage, Buckwheat, Calendula, Caraway, Chinese Mallow, Cork Cockle, Cornflower, Dill, Fennel, Phacelia, and the beautiful Sainfoin.
Aishling and Mark
The variety of flowers and blossoms from the meadows and the hedgerows help balance the flavours of the honey. Buckwheat on its own yields a dark brown honey which is pungent, the flavour a distinctively malty. Clover, on the other hand, gives a sweet and delicate result, closer to a “normal” honey. The bees love clover but there are quite a few varieties of the plant, so not all clover based honey is the same.
“It’s not too surprising to find that the magical, cliff-edged village of Myrtleville, with its stunning views of the sea, is producing some of best wild honey in the country today,” says Aishling Moore, head chef of award-winning Elbow Lane restaurant, who rates Hive Mind amongst the best honey she has ever tasted. And the good news is that you too can help Hive Mind continue to stretch out a helping hand to the Irish honey bee.
Mark Riordan's apiaries and bee meadow are located at his family farm in Myrtleville House. To create a sustainable business Riordan has started 'renting' his hives to organisations and individuals in exchange for his honey. And the Market Lane restaurant group has committed to financially supporting three colonies of honey bees at Riordan's farm.
A meadow at six weeks
His collaboration with Moore, the first with a restaurant, will not only provide for the restaurant’s honey needs throughout the year but it also means that Riordan gets solid financial support to build up his bee stocks and increase the number of hives. It will also help to maintain a vibrant, healthy habitat for these bee colonies and help Riordan to engage other beekeepers to spread the word.
Hive Mind is now making an appearance as a hero product on the menus at Elbow Lane, which is part of the progressive Cork-based Market Lane Group of restaurants. The talented, young Moore has woven this wonderful honey into dressings, sauces and spun it into ice-cream and cocktails.
Factors such as weather, parasites and pesticides have meant that local bee stocks are diminishing every year so Riordan sees that initiatives like Hive Mind will be vital for the survival of the honey bee into the future. These black and yellow-striped flying friends are key to the country's biodiversity and economy. It is estimated that they contribute some €53m* to the Irish economy every year.
Riordan, who has a Masters in horticulture and years of experience as a beekeeper, set up Hive Mind in 2014. “I am delighted to be working with Aishling and the Market Lane Group. This company is so well established and respected for its ethical and sustainable approach to sourcing. It is a perfect partner for Hive Mind. It is also a vital link into the city for me.”
The Hive Mind goals are:
Promote the growth and development of a national passion for beekeeping.
Set up provincial apiaries to carry out a nationwide service.
Arrest the decline of the honey bee on a local level.
Aid in educating and inspiring as many people as possible.
To buy by the jar, shoppers can go online and fill in an ‘expression of interest’ form. They will be contacted when the next harvest is completed at the beginning of Autumn. See the website here.