A YOUNG man from East Clare, who runs a successful beekeeping supply store, is proof that it is good to ‘bloom where you are planted’.
After his family moved from Holland to Tuamgraney 23 years ago, Chris Jeuken found his niche working with the skills and resources nature gave him.
He credits his father, Harry, an organic farmer, with inspiring him to become self-sufficient. Chris moved from making and selling chicken coops, at the age of 14, to beekeeping and more recently producing high quality bee hives. His business, Apis Bee Supplies, which he started in 2017 as “a way to keep busy on rainy days”, now has 2,000 customers nationwide.
Chris admitted that adapting to a new language and a new 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 carpentry and entrepreneurial skills at Scariff Community College.
“I started making chicken coops when I was 14,” he said. “It was during the recession and it really kicked off because people were interested in producing their own food and their own eggs. I sold them all over Ireland.
“I learned by 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 I was around 17 and I guess I was always looking for things to keep me busy.
An interest in bees developed when Chris’ brother was doing his Leaving Cert.
“He was studying something about bees and I found that really interesting,” he said. “My brother had bees and then I was lucky enough to volunteer on a bee farm in Wexford with James Hogan. He gave me a colony of bees and I have had bees ever since.
Chris described beekeeping as an “addiction” and said most people who start out with one hive will have three or four in a few years. “It’s fascinating to watch bees and see what they build,” he said.
“What the bees create inside the hive is so complex. You could spend hours observing them and seeing where they feed.
Although there is work to be done in beekeeping, Chris said it’s all about staying ahead of the swarm.
“It’s really like everything, in that once you know what to do and when to do it, it becomes quite easy. You have to stay on top. Between April and mid-July, you should inspect each hive every eight days, otherwise swarming can occur and you could lose the bees.
The result of all the hive management work is Lough Derg Honey.
“It’s stored at Scariff, Killaloe, Ennistymon and Doolin,” Chris said. “We have a door stand in Tuamgraney and it’s one of our best places to sell. We have a trusted box. People can see the hives and they know exactly where the honey comes from.
The Tuamgraney family home is the 200-year-old Georgian Glebe House, where Chris started his beehive-making business.
“I worked in landscaping and wanted a way to keep busy on rainy days,” he explained. “I started out making standard hives and gradually things got busier each 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 Dublin Bus’ branches, who want to have bee hives on site,’ he said. “We have a lot of private and commercial customers and it’s good to see so many returning customers because it means they are happy with the quality.”
To keep up with demand, Chris had up to ten people working with him in June. “We have a squad of four and that increases to seven in the summer,” he said. “We then have two or three apprentices for the very busy four months of the year. At this point in the year, things turn to honey extraction.
Chris has taken over most of the Glebe’s seven sheds and is renting out two commercial units. He also got planning permission for another shed to build more beehives.
As the beekeeping supply business continues to grow, Chris admitted he didn’t start with a carefully thought out plan.
“It just grew organically, it really wasn’t planned,” he said. “Because I have bees people started asking for beehives and then that demand grew every year. During Covid a lot of people wanted to go back to basics and there was a big interest in beekeeping You don’t need a lot of space, just a few hundred square meters and you can really get into it.
Chris can be contacted via Apisbeesupplies.ie.