BY: Ettamarie Peterson
Many years ago I started visiting the Irish Beekeepers’ Yahoo List to learn what they were doing “across the pond” as they like to say. I became Internet friends with some of the beekeepers. They were not all from Ireland but many discussed the great Summer course given by the Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations at Gormanston. It attracts beekeepers from all over Ireland, North Ireland, the UK and other parts of the world. In 2005 Ireland was the host country for Apimondia. This was my first chance to meet my Internet friends. One of them arranged for a pub lunch during Apimondia so we could actually have a chance to talk to each other in person. It was like finding long lost relatives. We had a great time talking about bees. Most of them were old friends because they attended Gormanston year after year. I longed to go. Having a pumpkin patch that had to open the first of October kept me from going away late in the Summer when the course was held. In 2014 we closed the pumpkin patch. In 2015 I was free to go off to Ireland to join my friends at Gormanston. The final push was when I was asking the Irish Beekeepers’ Facebook group many questions about using my newly purchased microscope for looking at pollen samples. The group’s microscope expert Ruary Rudd gave me lots of advice but said to learn more I should come to the microscopy classes at Gormanston. He assured me it would be a big help. The summer course turned out to be all I dreamed of and more so I went again the next Summer.
The first time I went my 20-year-old granddaughter Jessie Peterson asked to come with me. She had been one of my 4-H beekeepers and figured it would be a fun way to get to travel to Ireland. We planned a two-week trip, one at Gormanston and the next one visiting parts of Ireland including a day at the famous Galtee Honey Farm where the Mac Giolla Coda Family raises the native Irish Black Bee and produces award winning honey. My son Lew joined us the second week to be our driver, which was great! I had great fears of driving on the left side of road and my navigation skills are horrible. The next summer I was happy to take another granddaughter Kristie Lesmeister. She was brave enough and the right age to drive. We spent one entire day with Eoghan Mac Giolla Coda, son of Micheál Mac Giolla Coda, seeing his apiaries and historical parts around there. Both of the Mac Giolla Codas and Eoghan’s sister Aoife Nic Giolla Coda are frequent lecturers at Gormanston on such topics as honey bee diseases, queen breeding and rearing. Micheál is also a certified honey judge.
The campus of the Gormanston Franciscan College boarding school is the perfect place for having a weeklong school for about 400 beekeepers. The Federation of Irish Beekeepers’ Associations has been using it for the past 57 years of the 72 years of having the Summer course. It is about 20 miles north of the Dublin Airport. One can use the Drogheda bus and get off at the Huntsman Pub and take a short walk up the street to Gormanston College or splurge on a 20-mile taxi ride to get there. The grounds are spacious, allowing plenty of room for the many beehives and posts for Apideas that are brought in for the week. There are a variety of classrooms and lecture halls. In the entry hall there is a screen that everyone can check to see the day’s events, times and places.
Some beekeepers live close enough that they can come any number of days they can get away from their jobs and go home at night. Most prefer to be boarding students as the cost for room, board and tuition is quite reasonable. The food is served cafeteria style in a large dinning hall with generous servings of a good number of delicious choices at every meal. We made it a habit to sit with different people as often as possible to extend our friendships. There are morning and afternoon tea breaks with coffee, tea, juice and biscuits (their word for cookies). During the week one does not have to have cash nor a credit card for anything except the refundable deposit on the room key unless he or she is shopping in the bookstore or equipment store that are set up for the week.
All week at Gormanston we took various classes learning about Irish beekeeping, diseases and treatments, queen rearing, marketing and honey labeling and of course, microscope techniques. Other courses offered were Importance of Drones, The Small Hive Beetle, The Hive Produce and Medicine, Nosema, “Acarine and Chalk brood a beekeeper’s perspective”, Winning at the National Honey Show, Nuclei for Beginners, Using the Various Licensed Bee Medicines, Soaps and Lip Balms and many others. Some days it was hard to pick which lecture I wanted to hear but sometimes my choice was repeated at another time so I could fit it in.
There were some new words to learn, as Americans do not call all bee equipment by the same names as the Irish and English. We learned that “crown boards” are what we call “inner covers.” Apideas are the Styrofoam mini-nucs used to keep new queens to evaluate their laying abilities. Soft set honey is called creamed honey here. They sell crystallized honey as set honey and liquid honey as runny honey.
The queen rearing class taught me how useful apideas are when you want to be sure your queens are mated and laying nicely before moving them into your colonies. The class was a combination of lecture and hands-on experience. Several beehives are set out on the spacious lawn so the instructors can use them for various courses. In the queen-rearing course our group went out to a colony that provided us with bees to put into the apideas. The instructor taught us how to pull frames of bees, allow the field bees to fly back to the hive and put the nurse bees into a large container where cups of them could be scooped up to put into an Apidea with a new queen. I learned a coffee mug holds about 400 bees, the best amount to stock the Apidea. The queen was put in before the Apidea was secured to a post for mating.
The microscopy class taught me how to look at pollen samples the first year I went. The second year I learned about dissecting bees and looking for diseases. These classes are hands-on, not just lecture. We were taught in a classroom full of Brunel microscopes that were top notch. The instructors were very helpful and so were the other members of the classes.
When you check in you get a Summer course program that has all the classes, locations and times. This booklet is full of information about the courses and workshops and the lecturers. The floor plans were very valuable as the college has many rooms in more than one building. If you get lost or confused there is always someone around happy to assist you. The courses are organized in the program by the levels Beginner/Novice, Senior and workshops. You can attend any that you want regardless of your own level of beekeeping skills. The only exams given are for the people who want to take them. We took the Preliminary exams both written and practical so at the closing ceremony we were awarded certificates. The lecturer exam, intermediate and advanced beekeeper exams are held during the week. The practical part of the exam requires going into an active beehive and demonstrating your hive examination skills.
During the week they have the National Irish Honey show. This show is a completion of honey, photography, wax displays and candles. It is an education just to see all the varieties of honey from the country. The displays are extremely beautiful reflecting the thoughtfulness and competitive spirit of the Irish beekeepers. I was able to enter a photo and won a “commended” award.
Two evenings are set aside for entertaining on campus. Sunday night is a wine and cheese reception where we can welcome each other. This is the place to renew old friendships and make new friends. It almost has the feeling of a family reunion. In the middle of the week there is another evening party called the “Monster Social Evening” with games, music, singing and dancing. Other nights there are classes such as the frame building one we attended. There is a pub down the road that is an easy walk for those who want to go out for a pint and usually