WBKA – The Last Lecture – Seeley

I skipped Carys Edwards’ lecture on Honey Showing as it isn’t a subject that interests me.  Instead I went into the adjacent building and looked at the stalls there. The NBU had some frames with foulbrood on show and we had to put on plastic aprons and gloves to look at them. I hope they’re recyclable!

Then I went to the final lecture: Tom Seeley on the Bee Hive as an Information Centre.  As he was setting up he saw me and said he’d been reading some of my poems.  The first poem, Bees vs People, could almost be a description of the bees in the Ithaca Forest!

Tom told us that commercial companies are copying honeybees to allocate resources on computer services. The less profitable a nectar source, either through distance or weakness of nectar, the less vigorous is the waggle dance that vibrates the adjacent comb.

He described 2 frame observation hives, each with 4,000 bees individually labelled with a number on the thorax and a blob of colour on the abdomen.  The bees were trained to feeders, which were moved step by step.  The bees remembered the old position of the feeders.

Dancers, when they had found the feeders again reported direction, distance and desirability: the richer the food source, the longer the waggle dance and thus more bees recruited.  Individual worker bees are individuals (like people!).  Bees do not have to compare food sources as they have a built-in scale of goodness.

From honeybees to internet services: biomimicry for distribution management of internet hosting services, which is worth $50 billion a year!  Honeybee algorhythms boosts the range by 10 – 20% so boosts revenue by $5bn – $10bn per annum!

That was the end of the lectures and was followed by  looong drive home of over 200 miles.  Next week I’m off to Gormanston.  I spend far more time talking, listening and writing about bees than I do playing with them!

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WBKA – Sunday morning: Bee Farming

The talk mid-morning was by Margaret Ginman, General Secretary of the Bee Farmers’ Association and was titled: Climbing the Beekeeping Ladder.  Unusually, the talk was without Powerpoint so the lights were left on and we could see and visually interact with each other.  As I’ve remarked on the blog many times before: when the lights go down, so do the eyelids and I often saw people nodding off in other lectures.

The BFA has 467 members each with an average of 300 hives.  It takes about 5 tons of honey to keep a man for a year.  They have a website: http://www.beefarmers.co uk and a ‘pop up shop’.  Wax is more lucrative than honey.  They have Health & Safety policy and Hygiene Certificates and a Pollinator Strategy, promoting high quality beekeeping.

The average age of bee farmers is 66.  They must know how to run a business, doing tax returns and other paperwork.  The UK produces 14% of domestic demand for honey.

Bee Farmers work from dawn to dust. Benefits for members include bulk buying, insurance, and a magazine.

Someone asked what was their policy on imports and Margaret told us that 95% of imported bees go to the amateur sector.

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WBKA – Sunday Morning -Pickard

Sunday morning began well enough. I got up early, packed and breakfasted as the keys to the room had to be handed in before 9.30 (although they had granted us some slack).  I fetched my car from the park about 100 yards away and brought it down to the digs for loading.  Then I drove across the road and down and along to the University Reception and handed in the keys on time.

Then the car wouldn’t start!  The battery appeared to be dead.  Luckily Reception had a battery booster and started me again but I daren’t stop, so I dropped my passenger off by the lecture theatre and drove around for half an hour to get the battery charged again and then found a parking place on a slope so I would be able to start on the roll if necessary.

All this made me very late for the first lecture: Professor Pickard on Honeybee Thoughts and I didn’t take any notes so what follows is cribbed from the programme.

The talk compared the honeybee brain with the human brain.  He illustrated the evolution of these brains and explained the fossil record is shown to tell us more than just the structural changes that occurred.  Senses, emotion, learning, memory, navigation reasoning and social communication were all discussed.

Only honeybees and humans can give complex navigational instructions to others of their species.  How did brains evolve cognition, a concept of self and an ability to believe?

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WBKA Saturday evening

The main event on Saturday evening was the Gala Dinner but before that there was a short talk by Eric Verge who was evacuated to Lampeter in 1939 and was there introduced to beekeeping.  He soon joined up and during the next 37 years as a naval officer wasn’t able to participate actively. He became Secretary to the WBKA in 1976, CONBA Chairman from 1983 – 1986 and the first UK delegate to the EEC Honey Working Party at Brussels from 85 – 85.  He initiated and ran the first WBKA Convention at Builth and was also the WBKA President for 3 years in the 90s.  He’s getting on a bit now but is still a good speaker.

Then came the dinner.  It was very good but I’ve forgotten what was on the menu.  I was sharing a table with, among others, Wally and Jenny Shaw.  There was some speechifying, including a comedian.

It was an enjoyable evening.

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WBKA Saturday pm. The Honeybees of the Arnot Forest. Tom Seeley

The Arnot Forest in in the northern part of New York state. The soil is poor for agriculture so mostly the land is left alone for nature to take over.   Tom started watching the bees there in 1977.

In 1978 there were 9 wild colonies at an approximate density of one wild colony per square kilometre (I don’t know why he’s gone metric!) with an average distance between them of 780 metres (about half a mile). Varroa arrived in 1990.  In 2002 there were 8 colonies despite the untreated Varroa.

How do they survive without treatment? Bees resistant? Nest spacing? Nest type (high up in hollow trees)?

Workers are smaller now than they were in 1978. 35% of fallen mites are damaged. Tom (and students?) tested VSH (Varroa Sensitive Hygiene) behaviour by freeze killing brood, from which they deduced that the workers are good at uncapping Varroa infested cells.

Tom described an experimental array of 2 groups of 12 colonies with no Varroa treatment. One group was closely clustered, the other spread out.  The clustered group had lots of bees drifting between colonies, the spread out group about 1% drift. None of the clustered colonies was alive after 2 years whereas 5/12 hives in the spread out group were still alive then.

The cavities selected by the bees for their nests were small compared to hives, about 40 litres (a bushel), so the relevant factors for comparative success of the wild bees are colony spacing, nest size and small cell size. The propolis coating of the inside walls of the wild colonies acts as an ‘anti-microbial shroud.’

After the lecture I gave Tom a copy of Bees vs People, the book of my poems about bees and their keepers.


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WBKA Saturday mid-afternoon: Wally Shaw

I met Wally and his wife, Jenny, on the way to the pub on Friday evening and we joined a quiz. We also shared a table at the grand dinner on Saturday evening.  His name was ringing bells with me but I didn’t know why, but now I’ve seen an article from him in the BBKA News.

The subject of his lecture was self sufficiency, locally adapted bees and apicentric beekeeping.  Varroa destructor came from Korea, other strains from other areas.

We should stop importing bees and reduce demand by rearing locally. Requeening skills of beekeepers – do they know how to raise queens?  What sort? Locally adapted: type of bee that survives in the beekeeper’s area with similar colours to ferals in the area.

Natural selection is possible only where there is minimal importation from abroad or other areas.  Two way traffic with several nearby areas is important. Our variable climate means bees can be very local. They have nearly pure AMM on Anglesey (where Wally lives) and they store lots of pollen.

Bees arrived here about 6,500 BC as the ice retreated and before we became an island.  Our AMM are now different from Eu dark bees.

Simple methods of making increase: don’t use mini nucs!  Keep it simple, no grafting. Use emergency queen cells. Split colonies. Colonies making queen cells should be on the verge of swarming.  Give each split nucleus a couple of cells, preferably on the frame on which they were drawn.

Higher genetic diversity results in reduced Varroa population.

Propolis collection is a useful trait to select for. Google Marla Spivak + propolis.

These notes are rather sporadic and some illegible bits have been omitted.  Wally was telling us so much interesting stuff that I couldn’t keep up!

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WBKA Saturday post prandial Prof.

After lunch there was a choice of lectures: Mike Brown on 30 years evolution of the National Bee Unit and Professor Francis Ratnieks on the Sussex Plan for Honey Bee Health and Well Being.  I chose the latter.  I first met Francis Ratnieks in 2000 when we landed at Dublin airport and were collected by a local beekeeper, Brian o’Dochartai, and shown around Newgrange before going to Gormanston where Francis was the chief lecturer that year.

He told us that the pollination value of honeybees equals that of all the other bees added together!  He has been studying bees over 5 continents.  There’s much less nitrogen fixing clover nowadays and more chemical fertilisers so that 50% of the nitrogen in your body came from five factories!

There are 50 times as many insects on unmown meadows as mown on chalk downland.

The most visited flowers are called ‘weeds’.  He recommends marjoram and borage.

There’s a video on the LASI U tube channel that I have yet to visit.


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