Once again we had a meeting of DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group) at the village hall at Uplowman, near Tiverton.  There were 14 of us plus our guest speaker, Victoria Buswell  (not buzz well!) of Plymouth University.  As usual, we sat round the table interacting with the speaker, a far better way of learning than just watching a screen and listening.

Victoria is doing her PhD on local adaptation in the UK of populations of honeybees with native genes: the black bee, Apis mellifera mellifera. She is working with the B4 (Bring Back Black Bees) project.  She’s not a beekeeper herself (yet!) although her sister is.  I did suggest that she takes up but warned her that it is highly addictive.  She has funding from NERC for 4 years in total, ending in October 2020, so there’s still time for YOU to join in and play with her!

I was the only one present who has been undertaking the survey and had already sent her my results so far.  With experience and improved technology she is altering the methods.  New participants will not need, as I did,  to mark 100 workers and count how many marked bees remain at subsequent inspections.

Although local weather will need to be noted, the Met Office can provide much of the required information.

I had to tie string round an empty frame to make squares of 10 x 10 centimetres, place it against a comb from which the bees had been shaken and guesstimate to amount of various types of brood in each square.  That is no longer necessary.  Instead, Victoria will give participants a stand on which a beeless comb can be placed and a coloured screen to be placed behind it while a photograph is taken of the comb.  When she receives the photos her computer can distinguish and count the occupied cells.

She wants a sample of 30 bees from each colony, which gives an accuracy of about 90%, and will analyse their DNA and let people know the result. This will help make evidence based decisions on the proportion of AMM genes in the pool and also local sub-sub species.  All beekeeping is local and I told her that Prof. Len Heath, who was at Plymouth University several decades ago, kept bees both locally and also up on Bodmin Moor.  If he moved a colony from one place to the other, it took them about 2 years to catch up with the locals.

Victoria needs a lot more people to take part in the survey. Besides individuals,  it would be an ideal project for local BKAs, especially with club apiaries.  Although the title of the project is local adaptation in UK colonies, there’s no hard border for bees in Ireland, where beekeepers are keen on AMM.  Victoria would be very happy for  beekeepers in Eire to join in.

If you would like to play with us, contact Victoria at: Beesurvey@plymouth.ac.uk

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A few days ago, at a folk session at the Convivial Rabbit micropub (which is in the Good Beer Guide) local journalist and musician Jerry Bird gave me a copy of the latest edition of Merry Meet, his journal of folklore and pagan heritage.  Towards the back I found his review of my book of poems!

He wrote: “Bees feature prominently in the public mind at the moment, largely due to their steep and worrying decline brought about by mankind’s self-destructive path which currently involves the industrialisation of our countryside and the widespread use of toxic pesticides.

Thus this ‘collection of poems about bees and the people who keep them’, by a Dorset beekeeper, is unusually relevant to our times.  It is an immensely entertaining and informative book.  Chris Slade has a passion for bees and Beekeeping and his knowledge and enthusiasm shines through all of these verses, many of them in sonnet form, which Chris seems to favour.

I learned an awful lot about bees from the poems, which are interspersed with snippets of autobiography and apian behavioural science, which explains their context.  I also laughed a lot, as they are infused with the poet’s laconic sense of humour – including the final one, ‘stumped’, a grim tale involving an encounter between an electric circular saw and the writer’s thumb, during an episode of beehive maintenance. Oh, and I learned something about oak trees too!

Recommended.  Available from https://chrissladesbeeblog.wordpress.com/     

I hadn’t come across the Merry Meet magazine before. This issue, no 63, published at Samhain, contains articles about Stonehenge’s Welsh connection, Dorchester’s ghosts, Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chambered long barrow, Woodbury Hill fair and the Revd R.S.Hawker: the Mystic of Morwenstow.  If you would like to learn more about this fascinating magazine, visit the website: http://www.merrymeetmagazine.co.uk

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Today, the 3rd of November, was the Annual General Meeting of the Devon Apicultural Research Group attended by 2 dozen people from as far apart as Cambridge and the USA, the American being Keith Delaplane who was our guest.

We arrived about noon and clustered in the bar of the Furzeleigh Mill Hotel at Buckfastleigh, where we’ve had the AGM for many years.  Eventually we were let into the dining room where we had a splendid meal, my only criticism being that the plates were too small!

After lunch we shuffled the furniture to form a rough circle so we could all see each other.  Keith hadn’t prepared a lecture so we had a round tables discussion/debate with Keith providing expert information.  This was a much better format than the usual lights out/ eyelids down/ ppt lecture that is common at beekeeping and other events nowadays!

Much of the conversation centred around Asian hornets and the other beast from the east: Varroa.  In answering a query as to whether, in the fullness of time, our honeybees will evolve to defend themselves successfully from these predators, Keith pointed out that the oldest ancestral bee fossils have been found in central Europe and they must have sent off branches to Africa and Asia about 80 million years ago.

Viruses transmitted by Varroa were mentioned and it was pointed out that there are different strains of Deformed Wing Virus, some of which display no symptoms.  CCD was discussed.  It seems not to be a real problem nowadays and Keith associated this with IPM (Integrated Pest Management) providing more and varied treatments.  He likes the thymol gels etc. MAQS works well. Oxalic is as effective as formic acid and not as nasty.

I think Keith has been over here so often that he’s becoming Anglicised as he mentioned treatments in the Autumn rather than ‘Fall’, the usual American term (although William Barnes was using it about 150 years ago).

Africanised bees in the US stopped spreading north about 2005 and aren’t found north of Tampa(?), Florida.  They seem to tolerate Varroa. They don’t treat for it in Brazil but they do in Mexico.

Is shook swarming effective against Varroa? A brood break is what’s needed and is effective, so let them swarm!  Tom Seeley reckons that bees that are allowed to swarm are healthier.

The future? Honeybees aren’t the best pollinators; bumbles and solitary bees being better, so the market for hives for pollinating might well reduce, perhaps being replaced by humans in polytunnels!

Time for tea. They gave me a de-caffeinated pot!  Then came the business part of the day: the AGM.  Minutes were approved. Matters arising: the figures were wrong!  AOB. Glyn Davies’ report on the Drone Laying Queens project is currently in a paper file and will be revised to go onto the web site.

We now have 29 members, one of whom joined today!  With membership increasing, we might need to look for bigger halls to hire for our meetings. The bank gave us an unexplained windfall of £131.  The financial year in future wil end at the end of September in order to give the Treasurer more time to get the figures done.  Glyn Davies is stepping down as web master, being replaced by Peter Weller who has expertise in this field.

Glyn was elected President, succeeding (in reverse order) Ron Brown, Prof.Len Heath and Bro.Adam.

This was all done in about 15 minutes and we hit the road at about 4.30.  I shuffled my gps to take me via Trago Mills where I managed to find some dark mesh at a cost of 26 pence that I hope will render bee-proof my Sherriff veil that I bought about 30 years ago and is now falling apart.



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GORMANSTON 2018 – Part 22 (the end)

At 11.30 on Friday was the closing ceremony. President Gerry Ryan thanked a long list of people in the team who made the event run so successfully.  There had been about 600 people there this year, including day visitors.

Lots of people were awarded certificates for passing exams. Eleanor Attridge, who had been taking photos of the event to be posted on Facebook, became the first lady Honey Judge.

Next year’s star lecturer will be David Harpy from North Carolina.  Stephen Barnes of the BBKA was there for the first time.  Maybe the BBKA should aim to develop an event as good as Gormanston!  Terry Clare gave thanks to all and he too was knighted by Queen Lynn.

Lunch was a large helping of mince pie with chips, mash, gravy, carrots and a bowl of soup.  I was about to go for a dose of caffeine when Jim Elliott said the lift to the bus stop was about to go.

We didn’t have long to wait and caught the 1.20 bus at a fare of 7.7 Euros.  I noticed, as we passed through Balbriggan, that it has lots of small shops and I didn’t see any charity shops.  I was nodding off at times on the bus. We got to the airport and discovered that we had hang around until 2 hours before boarding time so I thought I’d try to find a comfortable seat and catch up on sleep.

I didn’t sleep but sat and chatted with Jim and Mary Elliott.  Jan and Chris Utting had gone off to explore Dublin. I could have gone with them but didn’t as I don’t like towns.  A Dane, Axel Jorgensen I think, had lost his passport and was marooned despite the desk having his photo on a screen.  He had gone into Dublin and got a temporary passport at the Embassy but there was no flight until tomorrow.

Our flight took off on time, 10pm, and arrived at Execeter at about 11 with no customs or security checks on entry to the UK.  Jan’s hubby, Mike, who had been going to pick us up, was in the USA so a neighbour met us at the airport entrance and took us back to Jan’s.

I gave her a jar of kefir as hers had died and she gave me my penknife that she had carried in her suitcase and I drove home, getting here about midnight. Time for bed!

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GORMANSTON 2018 – Part 21

The second lecture on Friday morning, following on from the first with no break was Plants for Bees by Mary Montaut. It was fast, lively and entertaining.  She told us that the best plants for bees are trees as they have so many more flowers in one place.  The BBKA has a list available of the best trees for bees from which she quoted.

The co-evolution of plants and insects about 150 million years ago and the production of nectar and pollen allowed the split between bees and wasps.  Races diversified rapidly.  We are currently losing species of plants and animals at a rapid rate.  There is an ‘allele effect’ as one extinction promotes others as everything links up.  She went through the gardening year listing, month by month, the most productive plants.

Then came a break and I had my last cup of caffeinated coffee, deciding later in the day that it would be good to reduce my intake of mind-altering addictive substances.  Since then, over 2 months ago, any coffee and tea I have consumed has been de-caffeinated and I feel better for it as the ups and downs of the day have been reduced.

Catherine Caulwell bought a copy of Bees vs People, the 19th of the 20 I had arrived with!

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GORMANSTON 2018 – Part 20

Roger Patterson delivered the Dave Cushman memorial talk : The Journey to Sustainability.  To reduce several pages of notes to a sentence: Ban Imports!

At 9pm the quiz started.  I was in a team with John, Mollie and Jill. John bought a bottle of red that he shared with me.  We were useless at the quiz!

Bedtime arrived and I emptied my hip flask so I wouldn’t have to do so at the airport, which may have helped me get off to sleep.

There was no morning sun so I slept on a little longer, not getting up until 6.45 on Friday, the last day.  After ablutions and breakfast I packed my bags, including a banana and apple for provisions at the airport.  I didn’t go for a walk as there was light rain.

The first lecture was Otto Boecking on Wild Bees – the other bees.  In Germany they have one species of honeybees and more than 570 wild bees.  There are only 101 types of wild bees in Ireland and they aren’t protected.  Their value as pollinators is about 2,000,000,000 Euros per annum in Germany!  75% of their nests are underground and 25% above ground.

He showed us lots of colour slides in the dark.  There is some competition between wild bees and honeybees.

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We met this time at Uplowman village hall, near Tiverton in East Devon and had a good number of people from 3 or 4 counties.  The main subject of the day was hive hygiene but, as usual, we covered a lot of other ground and nattered. I was asked for a copy of my book of poems: Bees vs People, but unfortunately I had forgotten to bring any.

Hygiene is the colony’s natural ‘antiseptic’ against EFB, AFB, chalkbrood and varroa mites.  The standard way of testing is with pin holes on an area of brood or freeze killing.  Alan Nelson had brought along his copy of the COLOSS book which deals with the subject. It’s over an inch thick!

There was a lot of talk about the Asian hornet and one of our members had spent 3 weeks in Jersey hunting them: great fun!  Those of us who had been using the Suterra bait that has been successful there recounted our differing experiences in attracting wasps and hornets over here.

Our AGM is coming up next month on Saturday 3rd November at Furzeleigh Mill Hotel, Buckfastleigh at which Professor Keith Delaplane of the Department of Entomology at the University of Georgia will be present and chatting.

Do YOU want to come and join us?  Annual membership costs £10 and if you want to lunch with us on the day it’ll cost nearly twice that, depending on your menu choice. Visit http://www.Furzeleigh.co.uk for location and menu details.  The business part of the meeting is after lunch but the social part is more fun.

The guest speaker at our December meeting will be Victoria Buswell of Plymouth University who’s undertaking the Bee Survey in which I’m taking part.  She’s going to send instructions and a container soon so I can send her a sample of my bees for DNA testing.  The study’s going on for 3 years so there’s time for YOU to join in if you like.

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