I am Derek Blanche, Visual’s Events and Hospitality Manager and resident beekeeper!
In 2019, Visual developed the Imagining Futures programme to raise awareness of environmental and sustainable development issues. In line with The National Biodiversity Plan 20017-2021, the All Ireland Pollinator Plan and Visual’s 10 year anniversary, we launched several projects, one of which was the Bees Needs Project.
This an ambitious community-based schools project for students aged 9-13 years. The project rolled out across 9 towns and villages with intensive, fun, and engaging workshops within the schools and local environs. Throughout these workshops participants explored the needs of bees, biodiversity, and the importance of protecting natural habitats within their locality.
We then turned our attention to our immediate environs and looked at Visual’s contribution towards biodiversity and the environment. We launched the Trees for Bees project, in which we started a pollinator garden and planted hundreds of new flowering plants, bulbs, climbers and trees and installed a beehive on the grounds of Visual.
I'll be sharing regular updates about the VISUAL beehive here in the Bee Diaries.
Episode 1 - Between the Frames
Meet some very busy bees at work and see them starting to make honey.
Episode 2 - Awakening
Derek and Paddy from Carlow Beekeepers Association check on the bees for the first time since overwintering.
In 2018, a lot of my personal thinking was centred around the environment and our impact on it. I was concerned about how much disposable and non-recyclable material we were going through annually. Climate change was big on the agenda, and like many of us, I felt that we needed to change how we were consuming and what type of example we were setting. The Visual team wanted to reduce our energy consumption, change the way we were using one-off plastic glasses, coffee cups and our recycling regime. There were a lot of projects coming up in 2019 that were also tapping into this change culture and I wanted us to be on board.
I began by looking at how other companies and buildings had installed rooftop hives in urban settings, and I proposed this idea. Our Health and Safety Officer rightly overruled the idea, with the safety of contractors or maintenance crews who had to carry out work on the roof being at the front of our minds! One day I was speaking to Fr. Conn, from St. Patrick's College, and lamenting the fact that we had no location to house our hive. He suggested an area in the college that had previously housed 14 hives of bees and said that he would be more than happy to let us use the space. Working in conjunction with the college meant that I could now kickstart the project. Larry O’Toole, St. Patrick's College Head Gardener was enthusiastic about the project and offered a wealth of knowledge and invaluable assistance.
In 2019, I joined the Carlow Beekeepers Association and with their advice, we purchased a beehive and a bee suit. When the flatpack hive arrived I opened the box, confident of my assembly skills, having put together plenty of furniture over the years. I looked at the meagre instructions and, after some contemplation, felt that there was something more reverential in putting this together than a piece of furniture. I decided to call Paddy Holohan from the Carlow Beekeepers Association and ask for some help. A pleasant afternoon was spent listening to Paddy expertly explain to me each pieces purpose, the inner working of the hive and a myriad of stories about how the spectacular way bees work together and the bee space of 3/8 of an inch, something I would never have gotten from the original instruction pamphlet.
In early March we purchased 25 tonnes of topsoil, dug all the gardens up around Visual and over the next two weeks, our team rolled up their sleeves and helped plant extensively around the grounds. We planted a pollinator garden with honey suckle, mountain ash(Rowan),magnolia, crab apple and a willow from the Beekeepers and also virginia creeper, a copse of trees in the carpark, lots of hedging, grass and ivy for the walls and a commemorative Damascus Oak. On the 9th of March we launched the Trees for Bees.
On the 10th of May we installed the hive, using some blocks from an art installation by Marjetica Potrč as the base. We would now wait a while a see if perhaps a swarm would be enticed by this purpose-built home, leaving old comb and sprinkling lemongrass to act as a lure. In early July, I got a call from John Blanche to say that they had captured a swarm of bees and would bring them along and install them into our hive.
We now had a very healthy and thriving hive and I was very proud and excited to have everything ticking along so nicely and naively thought that all we had to do was sit back till next year and collect the honey!
We would like to thank St. Patricks College and the Carlow Beekeepers Association for their invaluable assistance and cooperation in helping us with this project.