Urban beekeeping: skeptics call it a fad, but the rapid growth of the honey business in London and New York over the last decade suggests it’s here to stay. Pat Kavanagh has been in the apiary game for more than 50 years – I visited his current hive home in Dundrum’s Airfield Estate to find out if the restaurant cultivation of our very own bee business is tenable.
Theory has it that urban bees are actual stronger than rural bees thanks to the lack of pesticides salted all over their pollen supply. “There could be some truth to that,” Kavanagh tells me. “Dublin’s bees are spoiled, because there’s plenty of food and it’s warmer than you’d expect. There’s a distinct Dublin honey, it’s treacle-y. The canal banks are perfect for them. There’s growth, wilderness and they’re not so much in danger from other animals. Roofs are perfect though, they love height.”
Put aside the Beepocalypse for a moment. Leave your local food ethos at the door. Let’s not even get into the social and ecological benefits. Economically speaking, honey is liquid gold. The combination of low start-up costs (let’s say €500 with first-year maintenance) and the potential of perpetual production (well-maintained hives will regenerate infinitely) make urban apiary a worthwhile investment. It’s emblematic that the London Stock Exchange and Bank of America buildings both house honey-farms on their rooftops. “There are buyers who make a beeline to my door for it,” puns Pat. “It’s a seller’s market at the minute.”
The dangers: pest control outfits clearing up infestations can poison beehives by proxy, rats can ruin their nooks, and of course, there’s a limited supply of pollen available, which means careful civic planning would need to ensure that swarms are not competing for grub. A shady plague named the Isle of Wight disease killed all native Irish bees at the start of the 20th century. Our current bee population are immigrants from Holland that have been here since the 1930s, so we can safely call them the new generation – the well-documented fragility of bee populations means a little more activity would help insulate these buzzers from another annihilation.
Starting your own hive is no great challenge. The Irish Beekeeping Association (irishbeekeeping.ie) offers beginner courses for budding apiarists, some at concessionary prices, alongside literature and hive insurance. They’ll even hook you up with a starter colony once you’ve got a palace for your queen built.
On a broader level, Dublin’s slow start in the urban farming game could do with a little incentivising. Beekeeping is certainly one of the less time-sapping home-farming pursuits –establishing hives through the Dublin City Business Improvement District, the City Council or another power-wielding authority could help stir the hornet’s nest.
Words: Daniel Gray