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The First Inspection

posted Apr 24, 2021, 2:36 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Apr 24, 2021, 4:03 PM ]


Generally the first inspection f the year is done in April but there may be suitable weather windows earlier in the year.  If it is your first spring, we recommend that the first inspection is done in April, on a warm day (12 – 15 degrees Celcius).

What do we need to find out?

Do not open hives unless you have good reason.  For instance, the first inspection is necessary to ensure the queen is laying good patches of worker brood, is marked and clipped (optional with more experience and fool proof swarm control) and that the hive is well provisioned with honey stores and pollen and yet there is plenty of room for the queen to lay.


Preparation is key.

Beekeepers long for the first inspection. We miss the sounds and smell of our hives during the winter and long for the day we can take a look and make sure everything is OK and know we have a great season ahead. But, on that first inspection it is easy to forget something, so make sure you have all the necessary tools.  You may want to mark and clip your queen if swarm season is imminent. We often go into winter with a marked queen and come out of winter finding unmarked queens. So, your original queen was superseded towards autumn and she needs to be marked and clipped. If you are checking more than one hive, have some washing soda solution or Milton/bleach solution, to wash your hive tool and gloves before you move onto the next colony. This helps prevent the spread of any brood diseases you may not be aware of in particular Nosema and chalkbrood, which are quite common.  Have an empty nuc box with you so when you find the queen you can put that frame to one side safely and the queen will come to no harm and you can relax a bit while completing the inspection in a timely fashion.  

Opening up:

Observe what is happening at the entrance, give a little puff of smoke and wait a minute or two. Over time, as you get used to the temperament of your colony, you may choose to just use a water mister to control the bees. Take a look at the inspection tray in those few moments, and check for fallen varroa mites. Over time, you will be able to garner a lot of information by observing pollen coming in at the entrance, or nectar exchange at the entrance and the pattern of cappings on the inspection tray, as well as the presence of mites.

Moving through the combs to completion & closing up:

Depending on your hive type, you may or may not have room for a thin dummy board at the back of the brood box.  If present, remove this first, pull back the first frame into the vacant space and lift out and inspect both sides of the comb, keeping it vertical to avoid nectar or pollen falling from the comb. Work over the brood box so that if ever the queen fell off the comb, she will fall into the brood chamber. Safeguard your queen once you have located her and proceed to remove, inspect and replace all remaining combs in a timely fashion.  Scrape away any brace comb and save it in a bee proof container for rendering later. Replace the frame the queen is on (make sure she has not left the comb and walked onto the side of your nuc box) in its original position, making sure the queen is on the central part of the comb and not wandering around on the edge where she might get crushed. Write up your notes: date & “REDDS” (Room, Eggs, Disease – chalkbrood, varroa, note and open any suspect cells, Development- how many frames of brood, any swarm preparations yet? Are there drones hatched or drone brood?, Stores- nectar, last ears honey/syrup stores, pollen fresh or last years?)  Add a queen excluder and super if bees are on all but two frames and/or if you converted what was a double brood box system over winter, down to one, having found less than 8 frames of brood and excess sealed stores (or empty old frames), which are best removed until you are making new colonies. Return in two weeks and expect to start inspecting weekly from the first week in May. Take note of any equipment you may need for the next inspection (frames of drawn comb or foundation, queen marking kit, a super, a repaired piece of equipment, a clean floor etc). Extinguish your smoker safely, clean your hive tool and gloves and give one final glance at the hive to make sure everything is back in place correctly.

The Quest for Palm Oil Free Cosmetic Ingredients

posted Mar 18, 2021, 6:16 AM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Mar 18, 2021, 6:20 AM ]

We know that many of our followers are concerned about the use of Palm oil and the devastating effects its cultivation is having on indigenous communities and biodiversity. We are still trying to find an alternative to the palm oil derived emulsifying waxes used in artisan and regular commercial cosmetics. This is causing a slight delay in finalising our beeswax and honey moisturiser recipe because it takes time to choose a good supplier that can confirm it is Palm oil free, then it takes time to find the least amount needed for a good end result. It is an absolute eye opener that Palm oil could possibly be in every moisturiser out there at the moment, local/artisan/handmade/whatever. They are beautiful products. I use them. and there is no way to know unless you contact the manufacturer as they may have sourced a palm oil free version. Some products do have a label to denote same but I have not seen it in use. Sill, the artisan products I have tried have great attributes: parabens free, not tested on animals and made in small batches and the local selection alone is stunning.

Terminology is key. Balms contain no water and therefore do not need to be emulsified with oils, so they are generally palm oil free by default. Palm oil derivatives can have up to 600 different names and are never listed as Palm oil in the ingredients. So here is an excellent resource with a very up-to-date list. I hope you find it useful. I think I will end up having to use a palm oil derived emulsifying wax in our moisturiser too, but I will continue to search for genuine ecologically sound supplies of same. Don't even get me started on Palm oil in our food!! That is another month of research!! https://www.palmoilfreecertification.org/alternate-names-for-palm-oil

Potential new therapy for allergic reaction to honey bee stings.

posted Feb 14, 2021, 2:44 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Feb 14, 2021, 2:46 PM ]

Every beekeeper gets asked, "do you get stung? Does it hurt?" Every beginner asks "how often do you get stung?" Many year 2 and 3 beekeepers report increased swelling and itching that lasts for days, after a sting. Although this reaction can disappear during the following years, it is a warning sign. Aside from poor handling and more pronounced defensive behaviour in hybridised bees, beginners also need to know the risk of getting multiple stings early on in their beekeeping years, and the associated risk of anaphylaxis. Immunotherapy is available, but it can take up to three years. In date Epi-Pens must be carried if the beekeeper is showing signs of an allergy. There may be a less cumbersome therapy on the horizon. Hopefully, beginners will get a chance later in the year to get suited up in a training environment and learn how to gently handle their bees. Many beginners , because they are so cautious and careful, don't get a sting in their first year at all.
"(July 2019) A research team led by Flinders University’s Professor Nikolai Petrovsky has completed a human clinical trial on an adjuvant vaccine designed to eliminate the risk of an allergic reaction to European honeybee stings"

Ireland participates in the latest advances in developing Molecular tools for genotyping Honey Bees

posted Feb 10, 2021, 3:24 AM by Helen Mooney

One of the reasons for membership of FIBKA or IBA is to ensure the Irish beekeepers are represented at European level when research grants are allocated. Irish scientists regularly participate in collaborative research across Europe and have produced excellent stand alone data on the genotype of our locally adapted dark bees.  Although some of the papers are very technical, there is no doubt that the data is readily shared via our irish beekeeping magazines and press release, which, again, are only available to members of the Federation of irish Beekeepers Associations (FIBKA) or the Irish Beekeepers Association CLG (IBA CLG).

Here we include the citation and abstract of the latest collaboration, involving Dr Mary Coffey (UL and Dept Agriculture) which aims to improve the accuracy of establishing the genetic make-up of native sub- species, purely bred hybrids as well as  bees of mixed race.

CITATION: MC Genomics. 22. 10.1186/s12864-021-07379-7.

Momeni, Jamal & Parejo, Melanie & Nielsen, Rasmus & Langa, Jorge & Montes, Iratxe & Papoutsis, Laetitia & Farajzadeh, Leila & Bendixen, Christian & Cauia, Eliza & Charrière, Jean-Daniel & Coffey, Mary & Costa, Cecilia & Dall'Olio, Raffaele & De la Rua, Pilar & Dražić, Maja & Filipi, Janja & Galea, Thomas & Golubovski, Miroljub & Gregorc, Aleš & Estonba, Andone. (2021). Authoritative subspecies diagnosis tool for European honey bees based on ancestry informative SNPs. BMC Genomics. 22. 10.1186/s12864-021-07379-7. Background

With numerous endemic subspecies representing four of its five evolutionary lineages, Europe holds a large fraction of Apis mellifera genetic diversity. This diversity and the natural distribution range have been altered by anthropogenic factors. The conservation of this natural heritage relies on the availability of accurate tools for subspecies diagnosis. Based on pool-sequence data from 2145 worker bees representing 22 populations sampled across Europe, we employed two highly discriminative approaches (PCA and F ST ) to select the most informative SNPs for ancestry inference.



Using a supervised machine learning (ML) approach and a set of 3896 genotyped individuals, we could show that the 4094 selected single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) provide an accurate prediction of ancestry inference in European honey bees. The best ML model was Linear Support Vector Classifier (Linear SVC) which correctly assigned most individuals to one of the 14 subspecies or different genetic origins with a mean accuracy of 96.2% ± 0.8 SD. A total of 3.8% of test individuals were misclassified, most probably due to limited differentiation between the subspecies caused by close geographical proximity, or human interference of genetic integrity of reference subspecies, or a combination thereof.



The diagnostic tool presented here will contribute to a sustainable conservation and support breeding activities in order to preserve the genetic heritage of European honey bees.

Let's just start right here in February

posted Feb 5, 2021, 9:23 AM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Feb 5, 2021, 9:29 AM ]

Welcome to 2021. January has passed and already the many varieties of local willow are showing their white furry buds.  Some hazel catkins are in blossom and bees are taking full advantage of the rare dry sunny days.  Life goes on inside the colonies and here is wishing everyone a productive year with healthy bees and beekeepers.  We are not conducting any beginners courses this year but thankfully, local clubs have all made arrangements and you can get in touch with them individually through the Federation of Irish Beekeepers Associations (FIBKA, www.irishbeekeeping.ie)

No honey show? No problem-time to finally perfect a moisturising beeswax hand cream

posted Nov 1, 2020, 9:40 AM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Nov 1, 2020, 9:42 AM ]

Beekeepers are never stuck for a job related to their beekeeping.  Some are more pleasant than others and this time of year can be dominated by endless cleaning of equipment as well as rendering old beeswax.  But a more pleasant job is preparing beeswax cappings for use in candle making, other products for the show bench such as blocks or cakes of wax, and conditioning creams for wood or for humans! 

It took a couple of years believe it or not, what with sourcing recipes, reading the right books, perfecting the art of preparing very clean wax, sourcing ingredients, clearing the honey house to make way for cream making and packaging in a clean room environment, to finally being able to sample a really beautiful end result. 

We are not there by a long shot because, in the interest of safety, all cosmetics have to pass safety and labeling standards laid down by the HPRA (Health Products Regulatory Authority) and insurance has to be in place as well.  So keep an eye on our progress, it's going to take awhile, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

Summer 2020 Summary- A Picture Tells a Thousand Words

posted Sep 13, 2020, 4:04 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Sep 13, 2020, 4:06 PM ]

Nucs- one week after Queens began to lay

posted Jun 8, 2020, 12:12 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Jun 8, 2020, 12:12 PM ]

The photograph here was chosen to give beginners a flavour of what they can soon look forward to if they have ordered bees this year.  The queen is not in the frame but there is an egg near the centr and some very young c-shaped larvae being provisioned with brood food by female worker bees that are undertaking nursing duties, which they do before they become wax builders, ripeners of honey or foragers.  All tasks in the hive are age related.

In any case, our nucs will be ready for collection in the coming weeks.  Everyone who has ordered bees has been contacted and we cannot take any more orders until next year.  It will be a challenge for beginners who were not able to access any training this year, so please get in touch with your local association ad they may be able to put you in touch with a beekeeper near you.

2020 Queens mated and laying

posted Jun 3, 2020, 2:45 AM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Jun 3, 2020, 2:47 AM ]

Our first batch of new queens are mated and laying.  Although some people prefer to mark and clip later in the year, our queens in nucs for sale will be marked and clipped.

The First Inspection

posted Apr 12, 2020, 4:12 PM by Helen Mooney   [ updated Apr 12, 2020, 4:13 PM ]

Our bees have overwintered well.  They are currently feasting on the nectar and pollen of Ribes sanguineum, Floweing currant. The first inspection was quick, measured and yielded a task list for the next visit- queen excluders and supers need to go on as the dandelion flow had started last week and, the space needed for that wet nectar plus unused ivy stores, is taking up valuable laying space for our queens, and if this was not resolved, could lead to early swarming.

Unfortunately we are unable to run any training courses at present, and yet beginners from the last two or three years will need support during swarm season and in their first attempts to rear extra queens. We will endeavour to answer your questions by email for the moment, and look forward to running classes again soon.

There is drone brood in some colonies now, and we use this as a predictor of swarm season, because 40 days from drone eggs being deposited in cells, those drones will be ready to mate on the wing with new season queens.  So we always try to be  ready by mid May.  By ready I mean new frames of foundation boxed up and being brought on every inspection (actually we start this from mid April). Nuc boxes all disinfected and ready to house old queens as part of our swarm control measures. More nuc boxes to set up new nucs with ripe queen cells from a colony that has previously had the old queen removed once charged queen cells had been found. You just can never have enough nuc boxes.  There is lots more going on too- we are always changing apiary sites, taking orders for nucs, cleaning and disinfecting, rendering old combs (that never seems to come to a natural end) and making our final selection for which queens to breed from, as well as choosing the method to be used this year. Well, it keeps us out of trouble for one thing, but please understand that all of these activities may mean that your e-mails may go unanswered until the next wet day, when we get a bit of time.

In the meantime, enjoy your bees, enjoy the latent swarm season now upon us, and enjoy getting ready for the actual swarm season. It will make things so much easier and enable you to continue to enjoy your bees and avoid playing catch up all summer.

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