So....... I've never written a blog before now, and yes I'm not quite sure where to start or what to write. I suppose I'm very excited about my new adventures in beekeeping as co-founder of BEEACTIV. Our venture is brand new and things that are new are always exciting and a little scary. Maybe I should start by explaining a little about my story and how myself and Mike (other co-founder) got here.
For me it started about 8 years ago when my wife said "why don't we keep bees and have our own honey?" I couldn't come up with a good reason not to, so I did a short course on beekeeping and joined my local association in Limerick. There I met a very interesting bunch of people, mostly older men if I'm honest, one of whom happened to live not 5 minutes walk from my parents. He kindly offered to take me under his wing (pun intended) and set me up with my first live hive of beautiful dark Irish honey bees. I was very, very nervous. Opening the hive with shaky hands and watching the cloud of bees rise out from below the crown board; hearing, even feeling the incessant drone of buzzing increase in volume was, in the literal sense of the word, awesome.
Skipping ahead a few years, I saw that the beekeeping association in Limerick was bringing in some fresh blood and looking to improve what was at times a sleepy and non-progressive group. Although my bee management skills were of a low standard and I had some bad habits, I felt I could at least get on-board the committee and do something for the club. By now my interest in bees had become a mild obsession, so having an opportunity to improve the flow and content of club meetings was one I was grasping with both hands.
A major change happened in my life when I was, like so many Irish people, made redundant and placed on the dole queue. After a few months of looking for work, and to no avail, I decided I would put my past college failings behind me and return to student life. So I enrolled as a mature student in 2009 at the young age of 29 to start a degree in chemistry. I've always had a love of plants, science & nature, and had interests in other niche hobbies such as astronomy and mushroom hunting. So I was a true nerd and now with a few years of maturity behind me, I was confident that I could knuckle down and finish my degree.
It was here, in the personable confines of the Limerick Institute of Technology I met Mike, or Dr. M Geary as he was printed on my timetable. Mike was also a beekeeper and by default an obsessive one. He was lecturing me in pharmaceutical industry techniques and practices and I heard that he'd been giving honey bee related projects to his 4th year students.
The idea of doing some basic level of project science related to bees was very exciting to me. In my third year I approached him and exclaimed my interest in undertaking a bee related project for my FYP. As it turned out there was a national study on whether or not populations of native Irish honeybees (Apis meliffera meliffera) still existed. This may surprise some people, but there are a number of closely related sub-species found throughout Europe and many bees are imported in to Ireland every year. So I assisted in some small way by analysing bee wings (over 1,000 of them) and the results were fed into the national study.
In my final year, my project related to the chemistry of Irish honey; particularly to certain compounds loosely termed antioxidants, which are found in trace amounts. It was here I first started to think about ivy.......
Ivy is undoubtedly one of the most valuable food sources to many insects in the autumn and good work recently carried out at Sussex University in the UK has confirmed this. It produces a nectar with a very high sugar concentration and copious amounts of pollen (bee protein). All this, at a time in the year when flowers are relatively scarce. The honey however has the awkward property of crystallising very rapidly. So fast indeed that it makes traditional extraction (spinning of frames) impossible. This fact combined with its distinctive flavour with slightly bitter after tones made it an unwelcome honey in the commercial sense at least, to most beekeepers.
I always felt this was a waste and personally enjoyed its flavour from what is often a generic honey flavour from the main summer crop. So I began reading, as any good academic does, about the ivy plant and what I found startled me. I was ignorantly unaware of its many healing properties, its long history in both folklore and current medicine. There are numerous peer reviewed scientific papers published on ivy leaf extracts and the compounds they contain. There are even clinical trial studies with patients having taken ivy based cough syrups.
At the end of my 4th year I felt the urge to apply for a masters by research at LIT where I could study in absolute detail, the plant, the honey and all its merits. I concentrated on the two most active and abundant compounds in the plant; Saponins. This huge class of compounds are indeed found in many plant species and are extremely varying in their nature and characteristics. In ivy they are extensively linked to the plants mucolytic and bronchodilating effects; helping to clear viscous mucus and improve breathing in the lungs. I wondered, as a scientist could I look for the presence of Saponins in honey produced from the ivy. And in October 2013 I found them......!
After that, what I saw in this magical honey and what some other beekeepers saw were very too different things. I saw healing and uniqueness and flavour, and above all, something precious. Mike too was very excited and I knew by his constant support over the years and great knowledge we would make a strong team. So that's what we did, team up as partners in a new business which we called BeeActiv.
What happens next is anyone's guess...............?