Inspired by nature, craft and tradition the Dublin Honey Project aims to produce raw honey from each of the postcodes of the city. Founders, architect Gearóid Carvill and photographer Kieran Harnett, are united by shared beliefs in the importance of food provenance and supporting biodiversity in local food production. They talked to us about ‘tail-to-snout’ beekeeping, the health benefits of locally produced honey and the diversity of flavours emerging from the foraging efforts of Dublin’s bees.
Gearóid and Kieran, what led you both to beekeeping?
Kieran: I’ve always had an interest in growing fruit and vegetables. I was aware of the health benefits of local honey and I thought it would be great to be able to produce it as well. When I started as a photographer it was all very hands-on and tangible, there was no photo-shop and sitting at a computer all day so, for me, beekeeping fulfils that desire to get out in the open, work with my hands and not be stuck in an office.
Gearóid: From the time I grew my first lettuce leaf to my first apple tree and having hens in the garden everything else was a predictable fall into beekeeping. From my design background I’m interested in narrative and how things are presented, whether I’m talking abut a route through a building or landscaping a garden. Beekeeping is a way of really engaging with nature and we had this amazing story about producing honey so it seemed natural to try and make it into a brand and let the packaging tell the story.
How easy is it to keep bees in Dublin?
K: As long as you have the money and the time it’s easy to set up but it’s not necessarily easy to do it well. There are a lot of beekeepers in Dublin but nearly all of them are suburban beekeepers with big back gardens rather than roof top beekeepers. The urban environment tends to be a less polluted environment from the bees point of view, but very few people are keeping bees in the city-centre on buildings the way they are in London.
G: We’d always encourage somebody who’s interested to do a course with their local beekeeping association as it provides a peer group and support network and also covers things like public liability insurance should anything go wrong.
Is it a very time consuming process?
G: It’s very time intensive! You don’t just have the hive at the bottom of the garden and leave it there until you can start draining honey out of it. Honey is only produced in any meaningful crop during certain periods of the summer so as a beekeeper you’re constantly looking out the window or checking the forecast. The temperament of the bees changes with the weather; their activities change with the season and like any sort of farming you have to inspect the bees regularly during the active season.
K: We have 20 hives at the moment, at about 60,000 in one hive, that’s 1.2million bees! You have to cater your time to the bees and follow their schedule because if you don’t half your bees might swarm across the hills and you’d see them disappearing in a cloud, but working with the bees is fantastic. It’s like meditation because you have to be very present and mindful, and of course producing huge amounts of honey is very satisfying!
What kind of flavours can you get from Dublin honey?
G: In Dublin there’s an amazing diversity of flora and nectars for bees to forage from. Last year we actually had an early and a late season honey and they were totally different colours with different flavour profiles. It’s all to do with what’s flowering and what nectar the bees are collecting.
K: There are several crops. You could take off honey now and you’d have chestnut and blackthorn and then in July it’d be clover and lime and blackberry. In August, because the heather’s in bloom, we tend to go off up into the mountains and get a crop of heather honey.
You mentioned the health benefits of local honey earlier
K: Yeah, local honey has huge health benefits. They did a study in Scotland last year where they discovered that heather honey was just as anti-bacterial as Mānuka honey. A lot of people find that it really helps with hay fever because by eating the honey containing pollen from your local trees and flowers you’re inoculating yourself against it. We don’t heat our honey, because by heating it you’re killing any of the enzymes that are active in it. So if you’re taking honey as a cure for a sore throat it’s better to take a spoon of it rather than adding it to a hot drink.
Is it possible to cover the whole city between you?
K: No! We’re always on the look out for partners and collaborators. There’s tremendous goodwill towards bees, which has actually made things easier for us from an educational point of view. Because people know the bees are in trouble they’ll offer us space to put our hives on.
G: We’re currently working with Belvedere College and have set up an apiary on their rooftop as part of their Urban Farm initiative in Dublin 1. We’ve also established an apiary in the apple orchards of UCD, and we’ve developed retail relationships with Fumbally, Indigo & Cloth and the Irish Design Shop.
As ‘tail-to-snout’ beekeepers what else can we expect to see from the Dublin Honey Project this year?
K: We’re hoping to offer honey with particular provenance like blackberry honey or chestnut honey because nobody is really doing that in Ireland yet, and we’re hoping to educate the public a little in terms of how specific you can be with the product.
G: Beekeepers are naturally thrifty so we’re also looking to diversify the offering and use all of the other byproducts as well. Bees produce pollen, wax and propolis, so we’re working on that at the moment, collecting the raw materials and developing our product design.
You can follow the story of the Dublin Honey Project on Twitter @dublinhoney and on Facebook and Instagram @dublinhoneyproject
Words: Martina Murray
Photo: Oisin Harnett