Thought for the Week – Nelson Mandela

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When Nelson Mandela was released after twenty seven years in prison he went into the bush, into nature to readjust, to recuperate and prepare for his life in the public arena.

It is said that Saint Bernard, the great reformer, lured the learned cleric of York, Henry Murdach, into the woods, “where the beeches and elms taught the monks wisdom”.

We were taught to be suspicious of nature, both our own nature and the world around us. Nature was dangerous and not to be trusted. Use it by all means but don’t trust it. We are were encouraged to live in the ‘super-natural world far removed from the dangers of raw nature.

We have much to learn from the natural world. If you spend any time in nature you realise there is a pace and a rhythm in the natural world. Animals don’t become workaholics and get anxious if they are not being productive, achieving something. Nature is productive when it needs to be and quiet when it needs to be.

For example, lions can spend eighteen hours in deep rest and then out of that rest comes a different rhythm, an intensity of movement as they hunt. They hunt efficiently and with total focus.

They don’t spend their rest thinking about being efficient or being really efficient wishing they were resting – they are always just where they are – this is the essence of wisdom – to be where you are and to allow action to arise out of that being when the moment comes.

We are still hard wired to nature. Our ancestral instinctive tendencies are alive and well despite being neglected and denied by our culture. It would be strange if our ancestral world was completely erased from our genes. Our mental and physical well being is deeply affected by nature. A view of a parkland leads to a decline in fear and anger and promotes a feeling of peace. Walking a beach has a deeply calming effect. While sitting in our refectory, I am drawn  unconsciously to the window and beyond to the trees, shrubs.

Patients recovering from surgery who can look at trees recover quicker and need less medication for pain or anxiety then those with a view of buildings. Dental patients able to look at natural scenery register lower blood pressure and reduced levels of anxiety.

While these are only fragments of evidence they do suggest that human nature is still genetically encoded from the time we lived intimately as part of the natural world. Nelson Mandela knew this connection and knew where he could best prepare himself for the gruelling public life ahead of him.


SimonThought for the Week – Nelson Mandela
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Bee Blogs – September 2016

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September – the seventh month of the Roman calendar. The Anglo-Saxons called it the gerst-monath or barley month.

“Best I love September’s yellow Morns of Dew strung gossamer, Thoughtful days without a stir; rooky clamours, brazen leaves, stubble dotted o’er with sheaves – more than Spring’s bright uncontrol  suit the autumn of my soul.” Alex Smith

What a year! I have taken off whatever honey there was- there wasn’t  much to take. The bees got so few opportunities to work – when they did get a fine day or may be two, they used up what they had stored t in the next week of bad weather. I actually found one hive close to starvation with no honey stores at all and had to feed them immediately. I found three colonies with no queen and have united them with a neighbouring colony. I  used two sheets of newspaper with pin pricks in them and the amalgamations have gone well.

Having removed the honey I am feeding a mix of sugar and water in the ratio of two parts sugar to one part water. It is helpful to spill a little syrup over the feed hole so the bees find the sugar more quickly but be careful not to let any drip outside the hive in case you start a robbing spree.  The weather in August and September is generally warm and this helps the bees to draw down the syrup and store it.

There are different types of feeder. I tend to use a bucket feeder but also use a box type feeder which has access to syrup at one end. These latter hold more syrup and are the best type for a strong colony because of their capacity.

It is good to get feeding done by the end of September while temperatures are reasonable. The bees need to reduce the water content of the mixture to the consistency of honey. Therefore the sooner they get the sugar syrup after the removal of the honey crop the better chance they have of making it ready for storing. I plan to give one feed to most of the colonies – this plus what honey they have and hopefully, a top up from ivy in late September and October should ensure they have adequate stores for the winter months.

I am now sorting through empty frames and deciding which ones to keep and which to destroy. It is a good question whether we should reuse old frames at all.  Is it worth it? Old, dark comb can harbour disease. Also as the cells are constantly cleaned and disinfected with propolis by young bees, the brood cells narrow giving rise smaller bees. Research shows that replacing over 50% of the brood frames annually reduces winter losses. In Denmark they persuaded all the beekeepers to replace 100% of frames each year and reduced the foul brood outbreaks completely.

It is probably best to melt the old combs and sell the wax for fresh foundation.  I have a solar wax extractor that works well, when and if, the sun appears in the apiary.

Tim Rowe the creator of the Rose Hive, is in no doubt about what we should do with old frames! He suggests that, ‘one of our most important jobs as beekeepers is to throw our old comb so the whole hive stays clean. We have to do this because when we moved bees into hives we interfered with the bees’ relationship with wax moths. Wax moths get very bad press which is a shame because they been an essential part of the honey bee story for millions of years; without them honey bees would have died out long ago because wax moths are one of the very few animals that can digest wax. In their real home – hollow trees – bees build new comb every year and then deliberately abandon old comb…along come the wax-moth caterpillars, like a team of demolishers and told the old, dirty, diseases comb away. The bees have a clean empty space to build in next year. ..In the hive, however there is simply is not the room for bees to do this. They are forced to use old combs riddles with bacteria and moulds – no wonder colonies get sick.  The answer is simple – act like a wax-moth and remove old comb, giving the bees room to build new clean comb. 

The question of reusing super frames doesn’t arise for me as I do cut comb which means I use fresh wax each year. If you are extracting,  honey gets left in frames so they end up getting heavier and less easy to extract. Again it is probably best to change these frames more frequently then we do especially frames that contain pollen.

Brood chambers and supers can be treated with 80% acetic acid glacial to kill off nosema spores – scrape off propolis and wax before treatment at the ascetic acid cannot penetrate them. You can buy acetic acid glacial from any of the chemical supply companies. I got some from MacEoin’s bee supplies in West Cork.

I am reflecting on the effectiveness of the various hive types that I use. I have National, Commercial, Langstroth both polystyrene and wood, and Rose Hives.

There is no doubt that the polystyrene hives build up faster in the Spring than their wooden counterparts. My experience is that they build up too quickly and swarm unless they are split.  The wooden hives on the other hand, seem to be more in tune with the weather and build up gradually and are ready for the flow. The best performing hive this year was the Rose hive – for those not familiar with this type of hive all the boxes are the same size and interchangeable. The fact that it was the best performing hive could have been due to many other factors including the quality of the bees!


SimonBee Blogs – September 2016
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Thought for the Week – The feast of the Assumption

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Last week we celebrated one of the great Marian feasts – the feast of the Assumption.  Father Bernard, a monk of Glenstal, used to say to me when I was having difficulties, “Mary”, ‘She’s the man for you”.  I don’t know why this phrase has stuck with me for so long ( he died year ago ) but it has and it plays back regularly.
Pope Francis has a great devotion to Mary and especially to Mary the Untier of Knots’.  This devotion goes back to the second century when St Irenaeus wrote that,  ‘the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by the obedience of Mary’.  In parts of Germany it has been common for centuries.
While studying in Germany, Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis, saw a painting hanging in a church in Augsburg called  ‘Mary Untier of Knots.  He liked it and brought postcards of the image back to Argentina. He enclosed copies in every letter he sent out. An artist-friend of his painted a miniature version which was hung in the chapel of Colegio del Salvador in Buenos Aires where he was posted.
The painting shows  Mary suspended between heaven and earth, dressed in crimson, and a deep blue mantle. She is surrounded by angels. In her hands is a knotted white ribbon, which she is untying. Assisting her at the task are two angels: one presents the knots of our lives to her, while another angel presents the ribbon, freed from knots, to us.

Now I pray that the Mary will intercede for us, extend her merciful hand to us and untie the knots that suffocate our lives  – so that we may be purified and move ever closer to each other and to God.
SimonThought for the Week – The feast of the Assumption
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Thought for the Week – Importance of touch

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Without a sense of touch, it is impossible to make our way in the world – we wouldn’t feel our feet walking on the earth; we wouldn’t sense when something hit, stung or cut us; we wouldn’t feel the sun warming us.

The multitude of tiny nerve endings in the skin give us a constant run-down about everything we connect with physically: slimy, sticky, furry, alive, dead, putrid.
Positive touch is essential for healthy development. Despite the presence of all other life requirements, without positive touch infants do not thrive. Doctors throughout the first half of the twentieth century were puzzled by a phenomenon called ‘failure to thrive syndrome’. In hospitals and orphanages the majority of infants did not develop normally, despite being given proper medical care, good food, and a clean environment. Lack of affectionate touch was the main cause and it has also been has been found to cause depression, violence, memory deficits, and illness.
Today we are so bombarded with stories of abuse that our world has developed a fear of touch and direct contact between human beings. But we are a tactile species, and must be careful not to create a generation of isolated individuals who don’t know how to reach out to each other.
SimonThought for the Week – Importance of touch
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Thought for the Week – Sense of Touch

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Last week during a retreat here much was made of the sense of touch. The suggestion was that truth is accessed through touch. Truth is something we touch.
Jesus touched people and healed them – the woman with the bleeding problem touched the hem of his garment and was cured. Jesus touched the blind man and he saw.
Are we losing our sense of touch in a technological age – an age where the touch screen replaces touch itself?
Ever since Plato, touch has been the poor relation of the senses – for him sight and hearing were the intellectual senses while touch and taste were the animal senses. Touch was the lowest of the senses because it is too immediate and lacks objectivity. Sight gave us objectivity and control.

Aristotle, on the other hand, believed touch was the most universal and intelligent of the senses – it allowed us to detect difference and works long after other senses fail in old age.

Plato’s won the argument and sight has dominated the hierarchy of the senses in Western thinking for over  2,000 years. The eye continues to rule in our “civilisation of the image.”

We need to find our way back into the tactile world. We need to return from head to foot, from brain to fingertip, from iCloud to earth so that we can, once again, ‘touch truth’.

SimonThought for the Week – Sense of Touch
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Bee Blogs -August 2016

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July is turning out to be a challenging month almost every year and not just for us humans but also for bees.  The first two weeks in July seem to be consistently wet and dull. In the 1980’s we ran a Summer Camp in the first two week in July and it always seemed to be wet. And the first two weeks in July are the most important weeks in the year for honey production – clover and bramble are in full flower yielding up their nectar. Early in the month I even got a warning from a beekeeping friend of mine to check my colonies in case they were starving!  I am told Global Warming means we will get even wetter summers. I am expecting a very modest crop of honey this year.
As we move into August, I am preparing the colonies for winter and ultimately for the year ahead. August and September are the key months to ensure bees survive the winter and are ready for the New Year. The bees born at this time of the year have a lot to do – they rear the winter bees so it is vital that are in good condition – sick or hungry bees trying to rear winter bees will mean poor colonies next year. Pollen is vital to build up the fat reserves of the winter bees. Lack of pollen at this time and the presence of disease would mean that the 2017 season is already in jeopardy. The two main tasks are to treat for disease and to make sure they have enough stores of the winter. I do this a bit earlier than most as September tends to be a busy time here.
I will use Apiguard to treat for Varroa. It is vital to follow the instructions.
You need to give two applications per colony at a two week interval.
Peel back the lid of the Apiguard tray leaving one corner of the lid attached to the tray.
Open hive and place on top of the brood frames- needs 0.5cm space above it by using an eke or empty super.
Close hive and replace after two weeks.
Most effective if used in late summer after honey is removed and the amount of brood is diminishing.  Needs temperatures of fifteen degrees centigrade.
I notice the ling heather is just coming into flower. If you have the energy and enthusiasm to move bees to the bog and the weather is good from mid-August into September you can be richly rewarded. Heather honey is dark, vicious and delicious. The bees don’t like working it much and can be very irritable. Only the strongest colonies should be taken to the heather. While there, they have to produce the all important winter bees so the queen needs to keep laying.
Apparently researchers have found that bees produce different vibrational ‘stop signals’ when attacked by predators while out foraging. These signals have different effects depending on the type of danger. A bee delivers a stop signal by giving another bee a brief, vibrational pulse or a ‘head butt’.
If they are attacked at a food source, bees will return to the hive and give stop signals to nest mates who may be recruiting others for the dangerous food source. These signals were known to inhibit recruitment by the waggle dance but up till now researchers did not know what triggered these ‘stop signals’.
This is produced by plant sucking insects such as aphids. It is a sugar rich liquid secreted mainly by aphids (green fly) as they feed on plant sap.
They penetrate the plant tissue (phloem) with their mouthparts and the sugary, high-pressure liquids is forced out of the gut’s terminal opening! Bees and wasps will collect. Trees such a beech,oak, pine, poplar and larch produce honeydew.
1. Forage – essential to have pollen source available all year round – a colony needs up to 200 pounds per year or approximately 10-12mg per bee. Winter flowering heather is a very useful plant.
2. Feed – whenever needed – as thick as possible 2 kilos to 1 litre or 3 kilos to 2 litres. In winter use fondant.  Put fondant over cluster in Feb – leave in plastic container or cover with cling film. Can cut 2.5 kilo bag into smaller pieces. Can spray with warm water to melt. Warm moisture from cluster will also help to soften. When you remove honey – feed and they will store in brood area and have it close to them in winter.
3. Frames only use premium wax. Economy wax is a mixture of waxes. Some advise that you glue frames together as tacks can corrode and frames can come apart. Evostick weather proof glue.


I was passed on the results of research in UL which shows that honey bee colony losses in Ireland were the highest in 29 countries. The loss rates vary considerably between countries. In their survey the highest losses were recorded in Ireland and Northern Ireland followed by Wales and Spain. Problems with queens contributed heavily to the losses.
Dr. Mary Coffey of the National Apiculture Programme says: ‘the highest losses (over 30%) were in some parts of Counties Cork, Kerry and Kilkenny’.
SimonBee Blogs -August 2016
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Thought for the Week – Focus and perspective

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Saint Benedict recommends that monks keep death daily before their eyes. Focused on the end encourages us not to waste time and to pay attention to each moment of life that we are granted. Oliver Sachs knew he was dying and wrote:

Over the last few days I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary I feel intensely alive and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking trying to straighten my accounts with the world  But there will be time, too for some fun and even a little silliness as well.

I feel clear focus and perspective . There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at the news every night.

SimonThought for the Week – Focus and perspective
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Thought for the Week – St Benedict, Patron of Europe

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The 11th July, 2016, was the feast day of St Benedict, Patron of Europe. This feast was inaugurated by Pope Paul VI in 1964 and made official by Pope Saint John Paul II in 1999. This is an extract from a homily given by Abbot Patrick last week on the Feast of St.Benedict.

We do well, at this time of anxiety in the European community, to ponder the meaning of his privileged patronage. Shortly after the establishment of the European Community, Jacques Delors, one of its principal architects, met with some of the Benedictine abbots of Europe. He asked them, as descendants of some of the first pioneers of  European identity, to help inject a socio-spiritual dimension into a reality based on economic principles, mostly concerning the coal and steel industries in Belgium, France and Germany.

Monks, from the fall of the Roman Empire, were participators in the creation of the first European community.

Montalembert, the nineteenth-century historian, suggests that monks were the technical advisers to Europe after the invasion of the barbarians, which made it effectively the third world of that time.

Benedictine monasteries acted as agricultural colleges for the regions in which they were located. Through their efforts, modern day Germany, for instance, was transformed from wilderness to prosperity. Monks stored water from springs, taught whole regions the art of irrigation. They introduced crops, industries, production methods: in Sweden the corn trade; in Parma cheese making; here in Ireland, salmon fisheries — all over Europe, vineyards. ‘The night they invented champagne’ has been traced to Dom Perignon, bursar of St. Peter’s Abbey, Hautvilliers-sur-Marne, in 1688. His ingenuity still governs the production of champagne today.  Most of the renowned cuisine of la Bourgogne derived from menus devised at the Abbey of Cluny, a centre of European culture and civilisation for over 1,000 years, from 945 to the French Revolution.

So, just as St. Benedict and his monks rescued Europe during a time of general collapse after the fall of the Roman Empire, so too might Benedict have some interesting advice for the European Union at this time of  upheaval.

SimonThought for the Week – St Benedict, Patron of Europe
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Thought for the Week – Paying Honour

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There is nothing like the buzz one gets from recognition and acknowledgement. And we know that people who feel appreciated and honoured are more effective in community and feel better about themselves. They are not afraid to use their talents.
An article in the Economist in 2007 reported research that suggests – that barring physical accidents or the sudden onset of fatal illness – Nobel Prize winners and top executives live longer and healthier than their less honoured peers. It seems to be more stressful at the bottom than at the top! People who don’t get the affirmation that comes with honour often live in a “state of chronic vulnerability especially when the withholding of due recognition is spiteful or envious.”
Let us commit to paying honour to someone we meet today!
SimonThought for the Week – Paying Honour
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