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Offaly Breeders Group

We got great advice from Michael MacGiollaCoda about starting a bee-breeding group in Offaly in 2001/2002. Our application for ‘Genetic’ funding was not successful but we decided to go ahead anyway.

Michael gave us a talk on what he was doing in the Galtee Mountains or Dun Aonghusa and he outlined the achievements of his committee.

The only place we would be able to get isolation around the Midlands would be in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. These mountains have gentle rolling hills and now form the biggest forestry cover in Ireland. The highest point, Ard Eirinn, rises just a little over 529 metres (1700 ft).

I went along to the mountains with group members and looked at various sites but there was evidence of litter and vandalism in some areas.

We also noticed that there were no old trees around for wild bees to nest in. Most of the newly planted woods are Pine and Larch trees. We observed that in the mountain area the Hawthorn and Rowan trees appeared to be two weeks behind plants growing on lower land.

Eventually, with the co-operation of Coillte, we decided on a site which is situated about three miles from the main road down in a valley on the bank of a river in the Glenregan area. The site provided an abundance of pollen and nectar for Apideas and Drone colonies.

I had no breeding material of any kind myself so John Donoghue provided the Breeder Queen and Pat Howley provided the Drones from colonies which showed no signs of swarming in previous years. We set up the isolation apiary in the Summer of 2004. The mated queens were inserted into hives. On checking in early Autumn we found good signs of the characteristics necessary for breeding.

Initially we had a problem with bees absconding from Apideas. It may have been because the shutter was fully closed and the bees probably became overheated inside. The next batch of queens was left with the shutter opened half an inch at the top. They all mated successfully and we had no further problem with absconding.

We hope to try a few other systems of mating this year:

Five frames in the Apidea box, each with its own Ashforth type feeder.
Eight frame national nucs divided in the middle, with a pull-out insert.
A commercial hive divided into four compartments, each with five half frames and a tray feeder on the top. We expect that the commercial nucs should be able to over-winter well. This type of nuc has the advantage that if we want a queen late in the year, we just take her out and the ten half frames can be united as one unit.
We are well kitted out this year as we have Galtee queens to work from and also other stocks identified during recent years as suitable for breeding.

John Summerville

For several years a group of Beekeepers from Co Offaly Association traveled in mid winter to the GBBG AGM. Inspired by the work of this dedicated group of beekeepers and encouraged by its members those journeys could be said to be the first informal meetings of what is now the Co. Offaly Bee Breeding Group.

While still a very informal group, a lot of work has been done. The idea of identifying colonies that could be suitable breeding stocks was in mind for a long time. It was evident from observing colony performance and behaviour over a number of years that all the desirable characteristics exist. Several colonies may have one or more of these traits.

It is also felt that bees from a local geographic area should be used as these have acclimatised to the local conditions. While it might be simpler to bring in bees that have already been selectively bred it is felt that the loss of local genetic material would be to the detriment of the diversity that now exists.

It is possible, and indeed very likely, that there are many areas which could provide very suitable colonies for breeding purposes. It is important that those are identified and used to improve the bees in their own areas and to do this local breeding groups would ensure that the best bees in these areas are preserved and propagated.

It is hoped that several groups such as ours will be inspired by the work of others and do their part in preserving the best of our own native bee.

John Donoghue