Our Spotlight section features Irish food businesses and individuals who focus on locally produced products and traditional Irish food.

CĂșlcow Ice Cream

Heather cut honeycomb

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Olly tends to some bees.

Wild honeybees have been all but wiped out due to a mite introduced into Ireland in the 1990s, but in the Dublin Mountains, a small organic farm is creating a bit of a buzz. In addition to the farm’s offerings – like his grass fed and finished rare breed Irish Dexter cattle – the farm’s owner, Olly, has been coaxing honey from thousands of stinging bees in a tradition that goes back centuries – and selling it raw.

In his own words…

What’s the history of the farm?

In September 2012, after a lot of searching around Dublin, myself and my partner Chris bought a house with some land up in the Dublin mountains in the valley of Glenasmole and set about making it into a smallholding.

Our goal was to be as self-sufficient as we could, both from a food point of view and energy, and combining it with modern living. It’s a constant work in progress, with plenty of trials and errors.

I started growing and producing far more produce that we can use. So we decided to sell it to people who are interested in eating great natural food reared and grown organically on our farm. While not organically certified, we grow & produce everything to organic standards.

I’m also a beekeeper producing lots of pure Irish raw honey with my bees around South County Dublin. Check out my raw honey page www.ollysfarm.com/raw-honey to find out more.

This produce includes several different types of raw honey, beef, pork, lamb, eggs, yogurt, milk and some fruit & veg. The availability list changes weekly depending on the season.

What are the most important steps to producing the honey?

Having happy healthy colonies of bees is probably the most important factor in producing a good crop of honey as it gets them off to a great start for the year. Bees collect and produce honey in order to survive through the winter. They do not hibernate as a lot of people think so they need plenty of their own honey to feed themselves and make it through the winter. The task of the beekeeper is to encourage the bees to produce far more honey that they require and then take off our share making sure they have more than enough to make it through the winter months. I always leave them far more than they need and if they don’t use it I can harvest it in the spring.
CĂșlcow sellers
Why are bees so important to a healthy environment?

Without bees there would be very few flowering plants and without flowering plants there would be no bees. From an agricultural point of view bees pollinate over 80% of the food we eat.

From an environmental side bees and other pollinators are very important for the biodiversity of an ecosystem. They cross pollinate plants which in turn help them to increase their genetic diversity to allow evolution to constantly changing environments.

Since the introduction of the varroa mite to Ireland in the late 90s, practically all wild honey bee colonies have been wiped out meaning that all honeybees that you see in your garden are belonging to beehives managed by a beekeeper.

To sum it up all pollinators are very important for the environment but it’s the honeybees that carry out most of the work with pollination.

Do you have any favourite memories about food as you were growing up? Was there anything always being prepared around the house?

One of my favourite memories was when spending my summers in Athlone on my grandparent’s farm and watching my grandmother make her amazing potato bread. I can still remember the taste and of course the smell of the caraway seeds. I have tried to make it several times over the years and it just doesn’t compare to hers.
Honeycomb Ice Cream
Could you talk a little about the importance of honey in the Irish diet and maybe its history?

Bees have been kept by people around the world for generations, and in Ireland it was no different. There are laws dating back to the 7th century called ‘The Bee Judgements’ that dictated the rights of landowners and beekeepers in relation to bee colonies and wild swarms during that time. Ireland currently only produces a fraction of the honey it needs and the rest is imported from different parts of the world where there is little or no regulation on what feeds, medications or treatments the bees are getting. There is no reason why we can’t produce all the honey we need and even grow into the export market.

Could you talk about how your honey is different from other beekeeper’s honey/imported honey?

All the honey that I produce is truly local, being collected by my bees from my apiaries around South County Dublin. I don’t import or use anybody else’s honey. It is sold as raw honey (unheated or pasteurised), it’s simply extracted from the frames and cold filtered to remove large particles such as wax cappings and propolis. After that it then goes straight into the jars. My honey is never heated to make it pass through fine filters or to turn it into a run honey like that is found in the supermarket, as a result my honey will always crystalize naturally.
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Dexter cows graze on some of the last potatoes grown in 2014 at Olly’s Farm.

What are some of your favourite uses for honey?

We have replaced the use of sugar with honey for most things, with the most common use being a teaspoon in a cup of tea. I also take a teaspoon every morning before my breakfast and if I have a bowl of porridge another big spoon of honey goes on top of that too.

Is there anything a layman wouldn’t know about honey production?

Something that never ceases to surprise me is that most people presume that all honey tastes the same like the blended supermarket runny honey. I love seeing when a new customer comes up to the farm to buy honey and I get them to try all the different varieties. I’ve currently got 7 varieties from my different apiary’s including Dublin Mountain Heather honey to Dalkey Summer floral. They always say I thought honey tasted like honey. As I don’t blend all my honeys together to make a single generic honey, each honey from my different apiaries is totally different in both colour and taste. For example, my apiary in Dalkey had 2 harvests last year, the main summer flow was collected in July and has a light colour with a sweet flavour whereas the second harvest from the end of August was a lot darker and has a taste and colour of sticky toffee.

Any interesting business plans in the works?

As well as growing my beekeeping business over the next few years I also want to develop my herd of pedigree rare breed Irish Dexters. They are a small native breed from Ireland and are renowned for their well marbled beef. It’s important to preserve our native breeds and breeding them in a small beef enterprise is a great way at keeping the breed alive. They are 100% grass fed and finished unlike the larger continental breeds that need to be finished on grains & concentrates. Recent media coverage has been following how grass fed & finished beef is far superior and healthier than grain/concentrates.

Are there any points you’d like to drive home about Olly's Farm?

Just that I’m a smallholder up in the Dublin mountains producing all our own food and aiming to produce the finest local raw honey and grass fed & finished Dexter beef.
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Olly butchering a pig.

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Step three in the processing of raw honey on Olly’s Farm.

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