Minister’s bee-line for hobby

Rev Christina Bradley at her bee hives.
Rev Christina Bradley at her bee hives.

A local Presbyterian minister has an all-consuming Plan Bee! Rev Christina Bradley of Armagh Road has, during her ministry in town, gone into apiculture in quite a big way.

It’s a case of seeing life in black and white – the black gown of her profession and the white protective gear as a bee-keeper.

The bees much prefer the white. “Once, I went straight from a wedding to my beehives,” she recalled. “The bees didn’t much like the colour black, and I was stung a few times. They much prefer light, bright colours.”

Not that bee stings are anything she worries about. She doesn’t wear protective gloves and receives stings regularly. “But they say bee stings are good for arthritis, and since I suffer from arthritis, I’m hoping the stings will ease it.”

Mrs Bradley got into bee-keeping by observing, back in 2010, a fellow woman minister who is an expert on the art – Rev Margaret Johnston of Belfast (retired). She became intrigued, and is now something of an authority.

She did an 11-week course through Dromore Beekeepers Association, followed by a three-hour written exam, covering everything from the honey bee’s everyday habits to diseases and bee-life-threatening parasites, like the current varroa mite plague that is decimating the national bee population.

“Last year, I lost a lot of my bees through it,” she said. “But this year, I’ve been using a spray of water and sugar and there are hardly any mites. Maybe it’s working or maybe the plague is abating. Maybe nature is finding a way.”

Mrs Bradley’s hives are mainly her own DIY variety – “I’m handy with a saw and a paint brush” – and each one is like a bee city, from the adjacent ‘nursery unit’ to the actual working hives.

The Queen – which lays anything up to 1,500 larvae a day – lives in brood chambers on the ground floor of the hive. This is where the female worker bees and male bees, the drones, are looked after until they hatch from their cells. Once hatched the females do all the work in the hive, like cleaning, feeding the young, making wax, making honey and watching the hive entrance. The drones, the male bees, stroll around and enjoy life in the hive. Their big day comes when they fly out with a deep hum to find a virgin queen bee for mating!

Meantime, the worker bees (the females) head out to Mother Nature to collect the nectar and come back to make the honey. Those processes occur further up the hive on the various storeys. There are different breeds of bees, and good bee husbandry creates a healthy hive.

Mrs Bradley is also a ‘swarm catcher’ which means that when someone reports a swarm in an orchard or wherever, she heads out, borrows a ladder and – to simplify the process – shakes the branch, catches the bees in something that represents a shoe box, stores them in a cool place for a day or two wrapped in a sheet and introduces them to a new hive.

“It’s a wonderful, therapeutic hobby,” she said. “I’ve been doing it since 2010 and am well and truly hooked.” And stung...