A YOUNG East Clare man who runs a thriving beekeeping supply store is proof that “bloom where you’re planted” is good advice.
After his family moved from the Netherlands to Tuamgrane 23 years ago, Chris Jeuken found his place to work with the skills and resources nature gave him.
He credits his father, Harry, an organic farmer, with inspiring him to start out on his own. At the age of 14, Chris transitioned from making and selling chicken coops to beekeeping and most recently to producing high quality beehives. Started in 2017 as “a way to keep busy in the old days”, Apis Bee Supplies now has 2,000 customers across the country.
Chris admitted that it was a bit difficult to adapt to a new language and country at the age of five. “He is now at home,” he said. “There is less stress here, and I like the friendliness and openness of the people, the greenery and beauty.”
Chris attended the local national school before developing his woodworking 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 took off because people were interested in producing their own food and eggs. I sold them all over Ireland.
“I really learned through trial and error because I got feedback from people about what they wanted. To understand correctly, you need to listen to the customer. I did that until I was about 17 and I guess I was always looking for something to keep me busy.
An interest in bees developed when Chris’ brother was doing his Leaving Cert.
“He was learning something about bees and I found it very interesting,” he said. “My brother has bees and then I had the chance to volunteer with James Hogan on a bee farm in Wexford. He gave me a family of bees and I’ve had bees ever since.”
Chris called beekeeping “addictive” and said most people who start out with one hive will have three or four within a few years. “It’s very interesting to watch the bees and see what they build,” he said.
“What bees create inside the hive is very complex. You can watch them for hours and see where they’re foraging.”
While there are some jobs involved in beekeeping, Chris said it’s a matter of staying ahead of the pack.
“It’s like anything really, because once you know what to do and when to do it, it’s so easy. You need to stay on top of things. “Between April and mid-July, you need to check the hives every eight days or you can overbreed and lose bees.”
The result of all the work to manage the hives is Lough Derg Honey.
“It’s kept in Scariff, Killaloe, Ennistymon and Doolin,” said Chris. “We have a stall at the gate in Tuamgraney and it is one of our best places to sell. We have a trust box. People can see the hives and know exactly where the honey comes from.”
The family home in Tuamgraney is the 200-year-old Georgian Glebe House, where Chris started his beekeeping business.
“I was doing landscaping and wanted a way to keep busy on wet days,” he said. “I started making standard hives and it got busier every year. We currently have 2,000 customers and sell 245 products.
“Our customers come from all over Ireland and include local authorities and six branches of Dublin Bus who want to have beehives on site,” he said. “We have a lot of private and commercial customers and it’s great to see so many customers coming back because it means they’re happy with the quality.”
To keep up with demand, Chris had up to ten people working with him in June. “We have a staff of four and that goes up to seven in the summer,” he said. “We have two or three students for four months of the year. At this stage of the year, things turn into honey removal.”
Chris has taken over the majority of the seven warehouses at The Glebe and leased two commercial properties. It has also received planning permission for another warehouse in Tuamgraney to build more beehives.
While his beekeeping supply business continues to grow, Chris admits he didn’t start out with a carefully thought out plan.
“It just grew organically, it wasn’t really planned,” he said. “Because I had bees, people started asking for hives, and then the demand grew every year. During the Covid era, many people wanted to get back to basics and there was a lot of interest in beekeeping. You don’t need a lot of space, you just need a few hundred square meters and you can really walk in.”
Chris can be contacted via Apisbeesupplies.ie.