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The Vacuum - Issue 13 - Wonking with the Community spacer The Vacuum - Issue 13 - Wonking with the Community
Interview with Harry Clements - Newtownards Bee Keeper
by John Mathews
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John Mathews How did you first get involved in bee keeping?
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Harry Clements We used to live in Belfast and also had a summer cottage at Drum ray, Ballygowan. Across the road from us was an old pound and attached to it was an outhouse. The farmer's man came down one day to clear it out. We were kids then and I was only eleven or twelve and we stood and watched him and he talked to us. He was a farmer himself who had seen better days; he drank himself out of his own farm. He was an educated man and here in amongst all the other stuff were two brand new beehives. I asked what he was going to do with them and he said he was going to burn them because nobody wanted them. 'You wouldn't burn those', I said startled and my Ballymena instinct kicked in. He said 'are you interested', well I hated the thought of burning them, and so he told me what he knew about bees. The result was I got the two hives and got in touch with the local land agent at the time that dealt with bee matters. We got them fitted up with bar frames and they were sitting empty and a friend of mine noticed it and suggested that his brother could give me the first swarm. So I got the first swarm from him and that started me bee keeping over seventy years ago. In all that time I have only been without bees for one year. All the bees had died and I had to build it up from scratch from one queen that survived a hard winter.
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J.M What has sustained your interest in bee keeping for such a long period?
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H.C- Well it's a disease really; one beekeeper was down here once and said all beekeepers are mad. Its something you just start and it gets to you. I couldn't do without them. I'm not fit to work them now but my friend Gerry comes down and helps me.
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J.M If you want to start a hive from scratch, how does it initially work?
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H.C You can just let your hive sit and wait for bees and you will have scout bees. Which the bees send out when they are looking for a place to swarm. They will naturally smell the foundation, which is bee wax in your hive bringing them in.
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J.M Aren't bees the only species if insect that keep going back to one single crop.
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H.C That's right, they'll work a crop and if it's a large source of nectar they'll work it till there's none left. They do a bee dance to let the rest of the hive know it's discovered a source of nectar. Whatever way it circles in relation to the sun in the sky, they can direct each other to the source of nectar and provide the location and distance.
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J.M I don't think people realise how vital bees are to the eco system in terms of pollination of crops.
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H.C ­They say if there were no bees, there'd be no us. Other insects do pollinate but the honeybee is a workaholic. If you give them enough space and have a good summer, they will store a colossal amount of honey, I got 120 pounds out of one hive on a good summer. Other insects will only go for what the need and no more but the honey bee will keep going. They keep working beyond what is necessary to survive.
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The bee has various duties as it gets older it will go through a number of roles. Starting as a nurse bee feeding the young with grubs, then as a guard bee and when it's old enough it goes out to forage. It has an unusual collective system with each insect knowing its role. Eeventually ending up in working them selves to death. You also have the drone bee that doesn't do anything except fertilise the young queens. The fastest bee to get to the queen wins and then the drone dies, that's it s prize. There would be a dozen or more drones the size of a large football flying around the queen. That lasts the queen bee about three years laying up to 5000 eggs a day. When the honey is at the right consistency the bees will cap the cells over with wax. This will keep forever because of the reduced water content. Hives with honey have even been discovered in some of the tombs in Egypt. As long as it is sealed it will virtually keep forever.
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J.M So have you ever been injured much during the course of what some people might see has a hazardous profession.
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H.C They say that a beekeeper never gets rheumatism, after you get stung a few times at the start of a season, it doesn't bother you anymore. In America going back to the old books that I read, which showed a photograph of a man with his back covered in bee stings to cure arthritus. The wife has arthritis and she went up to her specialist but he had never heard of it as a cure. The Reverend Digs, an Irish beekeeper always said if you accidentally came across a swarm, that you could somehow miracously jump a six-foot wall to get away. The secretary of agriculture at one time here was a bee keeper and established it as a course at Greenmount college, so people could take exams in it. He established bee inspectors as well and also got bees bred in from Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey, known as the Buckfast bee. They produce and multiply at a vast rate but there weren't enough crops here for them to thrive on. It was a bit foolish as the native bee here is more conservative and always leaves a reserve for itself and won't die off. We get speakers, quizzes and talks at the Belfast Bee Club but it ends up you've talked bees out. You don't really get anything new technically from it but just enjoy it for what it is.
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