Beekeeping means business in eastern Clare

A YOUNG man from East Clare, who runs a thriving beekeeping supplies shop, is proof that it is good advice to ‘bloom where you are planted’.

After his family moved from the Netherlands to Tuamgraney 23 years ago, Chris Jeuken found his niche by working with the skills and resources that nature gave him.

He owes his father, Harry, an organic farmer, who inspired him to be a self-starter. Chris switched from making and selling chicken coops to beekeeping and, most recently, producing high-quality beehives at the age of 14. His company, Apis Bee Supplies, which he started in 2017 as “a way to keep busy on wet days”, now has 2,000 customers across the country.

Chris admitted that getting used to a new language and country at the age of five was a bit overwhelming. Now it’s home,” he said. “There is less stress here and I like the friendliness and openness of the people, the greenery and the beauty.”

Chris attended the local national school before developing his woodworking and entrepreneurship skills at Scariff Community College.

“I started making chicken coops when I was about 14 years old,” he said. “It was during the recession and it really started because people were interested in producing their own food and eggs. I sold them all over Ireland.

“I learned through trial and error, really because I got feedback from people about what they wanted. To do it right, you have to listen to the customer. I did that until I was 17 and I think I was always looking for things to keep me busy.”

An interest in bees arose when Chris’s brother did his departure certificate.

“He was studying something about bees and I thought it was really interesting,” he said. “My brother got bees and then I had the opportunity to volunteer with James Hogan on a bee farm in Wexford. He gave me a bee colony and I’ve had bees ever since.”

Chris described beekeeping as “addictive” and said that most people who start with one hive will have three or four within a few years. “It’s fascinating to watch the bees and see what they’re building,” he said.

“What the bees create in the hive is so complex. You could watch them for hours and see where they forage.”

While there is some work involved in beekeeping, Chris said it’s a matter of staying ahead of the swarm.

“It’s just like anything, once you know what to do and when to do it, it becomes very easy. You have to stay informed. Between April and mid-July you have to inspect each hive every eight days, otherwise it can swarm and you could lose the bees.”

The result of all the work of hives management is Lough Derg Honey.

“It’s available in Scariff, Killaloe, Ennistymon and Doolin,” Chris said. “We have a stall at the gate in Tuamgraney which is one of our best selling places. We have a trust box. People can see the hives and they know exactly where the honey comes from.”

The family home in Tuamgraney is the 200-year-old Georgian Glebe House, where Chris started his beehive business.

“I was doing landscaping and I wanted a way to keep busy on wet days,” he explained. “I started by making standard cabinets and gradually it got busier every year. We now have 2,000 customers and sell 245 products.”

“Our customers come from all over Ireland and include some local authorities and six of the Dublin Bus offices, who want beehives on site,” he said. “We have a lot of private and corporate customers and it’s good to see so many repeat customers because that means they’re happy with the quality.”

To keep up with demand, Chris employed up to ten people in June. “We have a staff of four and that goes up to seven in the summer,” he outlined. “We then have two or three interns for the four busy months of the year. At this stage of the year, it’s all about extracting the honey.”

Chris took over most of the seven warehouses in The Glebe and leases two commercial units. He also got planning permission for another barn to build more beehives.

As the beekeeping supply continues to grow, Chris admitted he didn’t start with a well thought out plan.

“It just grew organically, it really wasn’t planned,” he said. “Because I have bees, people started asking for hives and then that demand increased every year. During Covid, many people wanted to go back to basics and there was great interest in beekeeping. You don’t need a lot of space, a few hundred square meters and you really get in.”

Chris can be reached at Apisbeesupplies.ie.

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