Today (yesterday by the time I’ve finished writing this) was the bi-monthly meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, at Uplowman Village Hall, near Tiverton.  The attendance was good, 15 of us, but it’s worrying that our average age is older than me, the two chaps sitting next to me were swapping memories of WW2!

As usual, the session started with nattering and exchange of information.  I was told by the editor of the Devon BKA newsletter that a member of my Dorset branch had submitted an article on multiple oxalic acid sublimation, a thing I haven’t tried yet, although I usually do it once in the depth of winter with my home made applicator.

South Devon Beekeepers have a Convention coming up on the 3rd November at Totnes.  The speakers and subjects are Celia Davis (who as kept bees almost as long as me!) on Mr Bee, the life of the Drone and on Bee Plants and the Environment.

Prof. Francis Ratnieks of Sussex University will speak on Policing and Conflict Resolution in Honey Bee Colonies.  I first met him in 2000 on my first visit to Gormanston and we visited Newgrange together.  He was at Sheffield University then.

The third speaker will be Gerry Brierly on the subject of Apitherapy in which she will explain how bee venom has saved her life!  She will also share her research on the medicinal properties of honey , apilarnil (what’s that??) pollen, bee bread, royal jelly and propolis.

If you’re over 18 and not a full-time student the price is £16.50 (soaring to £20 after 20th October) plus £3.50 for a pasty lunch if ordered in advance.  I paid cash to Lilah who’s organising it.  If YOU want to come and learn you can book and pay on line at or if you’re not too techie you could email

Our book: Variations on a Beehive is about to be published by Jerry Burbidge of Northern Bee Books.  I have contributed a chapter on Top Bar Hives and so will get a free copy.  Jerry will have some for sale on his stall at the National Honey Show but only 16 copies so get there early if you want one!

Our next meeting will be at Uplowman on 8th December where  the main topic for discussion will be pollen patties etc but before then we have our AGM on 2th November at Buckfastleigh where the guest speaker will be Francis Ratneiks who will happen to be in the  area around then.

Lynne Ingram updated us on next year’s visit to Morocco that she’s organising.  I went to this year’s and it was very successful.  The main problem is that of timing as early May is in the swarming season when beekeepers prefer to be at home. I haven’t yet decided whether to go but, if I do, I shall take a bigger suitcase to allow me to buy souvenirs in the souks.

After all the nattering (and lunch) we got onto the main subject of the day: Pests and Predators.  We concentrated on the Asian Hornet and Chris Utting, who is due to give a talk on this tomorrow, ran through his powerpoint presentation.  I think we spotted all his spelling mistakes!

Several of those present have been hornet chasing  on Jersey and there were samples for us to see. I took a photo but can’t persuade the computer to add it here,  or maybe I can (after several attempts!).


They were very impressed with the support given by the Jersey Government, probably much better than we’ll get when the hornets gain a foothold here. Jersey, being a smallish island, has local politicians whose ears are in reach for bending.

We packed up and left as 4pm was approaching.  It was well worth attending but, being the first comparatively dry day for ages, I could have been attending to some of my bees.


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GORMANSTON 2019 – Part 20

On Thursday evening after dinner there was the Deasy Memorial Lecture: Dr Una FitzPatrick, and her subject was the All Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015 -2020.  She is the Chairwoman of the steering group that produced the plan and oversees its implementation.

She gave an interesting talk about the threats to bees of many species, 17% of which are doomed unless we do something about it.  You can see her talking about it on You Tube if you Google the All Ireland Pollinator Plan. There’s also a website: that my computer’s security system won’t allow me to open.

It was an interesting lecture and she’s a good speaker. I brought away several leaflets, including bumble bee identification charts and how to set up local projects. It might be worth while trying to get something set up locally at home.  I shall do some more research before starting as I know that the Dorset Council has reduced verge cutting and there’s a wild flower area left unmown in the village churchyard.  Perhaps it’s something the local BKA could encourage.

I was intending to go to the Monster Quiz at 9pm but they were charging 20 euros a bottle for wine! I went to the pub instead,   walking along the village road and the main road to see somewhere different and get more exercise.

The usual crowd were in the pub and I bought a bottle of Guinness and joined them.  I stayed for about an hour then got ready to leave.  A lady asked if I’d escort her as she didn’t feel safe walking alone. Then Pam Hunter and Dave Tarpy joined us so we had a pleasant bee chat on the way back.

I was first in our room so was able to pack my bags in preparation for leaving early in the morning.  I seemed to have got rid of about half the copies of Bees vs People I brought. Incidentally, if any Irish readers would like a copy, I think Ben Harden still has a few.

I was in bed by 11, before  John and Roger  got back . I had a good night’s sleep and awoke from a dream just after 6am. After ablutions I finished packing and went downstairs to write up my notes in a comfy armchair. It was wet and windy out so I couldn’t go for a walk. My mileage yesterday was 10, which will help keep me near my target.

Breakfast was as usual. I gave a copy of Bees vs People to Dave Tarpy.  I collected my case and dropped in my key to Reception, getting my deposit back.  Four of us: me, John Gowar, Helen Tworkowski and Chris Utting sat waiting for the taxi that Chris had arranged, so the fare was only 12 euro each, a little more than the bus but it saved us a walk in the rain.

We booked in at the airport and got through security without problems.

The snoring competition this year was won by Roger Patterson as there was so little competition.  When I started coming to Gormanton 20 years ago there would have been about 40 of us in a dormitory and the competition was far more vigorous.

The morning after I got home my bathroom scales told me that I had gained 8 pounds while away!  It took me 8 days to loose them.


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GORMANSTON 2019- Part 19

The second lecture on Thursday afternoon was David Tarpy on the Quality of Commercial Queens.  Beekeeping is a bit different on the other side of the Atlantic as 90% of the bees are owned by 10% of the beekeepers and the remaining 90% of beekeepers buy their queens from the 10%.

Queen failure is a significant cause of  colony losses,

How to measure queen quality: Physical – body size, parasitism.  Insemination – stored sperm count, sperm vitality.  Mating quality – drone number, colony diversity.

Experimental procedure – order many queens from many queen producers across the USA. Measure them for physical quality – weight, width, wing length.  Significant differences were found in the queens from different producers.  There is also natural variation.  Queens aren’t as good as they used to be.  No nosema found. 2.5% had tracheal mites.

Critical numbers of workers are needed in mating nuclei – more than 500.

Ideally small scale beekeepers should rear their own queens.

Then it was dinner time: rice, salmon, mushrooms, onion gravy, chips and chocolate cake.  After dinner I walked down the road to Tobersool, bringing the day’s mileage up to 8.  As I was walking, a car stopped. It was Maraid on her way home. She repeated her offer of a bed at West Cork and gave me her email address that I ought to write down somewhere.

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Today, 8th September, there was a meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group and a dozen of us from three counties met at the Village Hall of Uplowman, near Tiverton.  There might have been more of us but some had gone to Canada for Apimondia.  Glyn Davies wasn’t there as he has suffered a slight stroke and is banned from driving for a month.  We signed a ‘get well soon’ card for him. We were told that he’s recovering ok.

Our book, a revised version of A Case of Hives, but with a new title: Variations on a Bee Hive, or something similar, is now with the publisher, Northern Bee Books, who have sent Tricia Nelson, our organiser, about 25 questions.  We hope it will be on the shelves at the National Honey Show.  It’s not a slim volume – about 220 pages!  It is the work of traditional and natural beekeepers working together and treated equally.

It was reported that the Asian Hornet nest at Tamworth, Staffordshire has now been discovered and destroyed.  The Nelsons have recently been in Jersey playing with the Asian hornets.  Alan had made a baited lure to attract wasps and hornets so they can be identified and showed it to us.  It is a standard honey jar, although other jars would do as well, with a hole in the lid through which was poking about 3″ of J-cloth acting as a wick to spread the scent of the Suterra bait, about half an inch deep with the bottom end of the cloth in it.  The bait has now changed its name to Trappit I think, but it’s the same fluid.  Tricia put the jar outside the Hall, in the garden while we got on with the meeting, having finished our picnic lunch.

The subject of the day was beekeeping in Turkey, Morocco and Malta.

Chris Utting spoke about Turkey and showed us pictures on screen as he had been there on a tour with Bees for Development.  Turkey has 5 million hives owned by 40 thousand beekeepers producing 70,000 tons of honey annually.  They have many hives close together in an apiary.  Most of the colonies are weak and have AFB. The bees are Caucasian.  He met Sue Cobey there.

Next came Tricia Nelson with her picture show of our trip to Morocco earlier this year when it hadn’t rained there for 2 years (but we changed that).  The first picture was of an argan tree with goats climbing it for forage as little was growing on the ground.  Bees have been kept in the area since 2,400 BC.  There are two sub species: AM intermissa and AM sahariensis.  The former are black and bad tempered but the latter are yellower and gentle.  Much of the business in the area is run by female cooperatives.  The local hives are cylinders about a span in diameter placed horizontally so honey can be harvested from the rear. The honey tastes horrible and is used for cooking.

Richard Ball spoke about beekeeping in Malta as he had been sent there by HMG when he was the chief Bee Inspector and Malta had just joined the EU.  Malta has been invaded many times by Africans, Turks raiding for the honey, and later by the French under Napolean and then by us who ousted him.  Registration is compulsory for beekeepers and hives without frames are banned.  There are 168 beekeepers on Malta and 57 on Gozo, their offshore island. 8% are less than 35 years old, 59% have over 1o years experience, 54% are 45 – 64 years old. 1 beekeeper has over 150 hives. Honey is expensive there. The hives are mostly Nationals and the bees are AM Ruttneri, closely related to AM intermissa.  Varroa arrived in 1992.

Then Tricia went out to get the hornet jar and there were 2 wasps on it!



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GORMANSTON 2019 – Part 18

The first lecture after lunch on Thursday was Dr Dara Kilmartin on Climate Change and Phenology – Effects on Beekeeping. I wish I could read my notes!  What follows has bits missing so may not make as much sense as the lecture did live.

Some people may have a vested interest in the climate change debate. He mentioned the 16 year old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg who was on her way to a climate change conference in New York.

Climate change effects.  In Ireland, wetter winters and drier summers, more storm surges and tornadoes. Ireland is the 3rd worst place in the EU.

Impact on honeybees. Direct – behaviour – foraging – can adapt to gradual climate change. Earlier and greater nectar flows.  There’s likely to be more chalkbrood and Nosema.

Leaving the lecture I saw a cluster of people around a flower bed so I joined them.  They were hunting and recording bumble bees. I continued around the ground and photographed the Foot Golf notice and a bucket sized hole.

Back indoors I booked in for next year’s Gormanston and paid a deposit of 100 euros. It runs from 2nd until the 7th August 2020.  If you like what you’ve been reading, you might want to book a place too.

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GORMANSTON 2019 – Part 17

On Thursday morning I got up at 6.30 after 4 hours of good sleep.  I went for a walk along the yew cloister then along the drive to the main entrance and back along the road to return via the Stamullen Road entrance: 1.6 miles.

Breakfast was the usual.  I had brought down some copies of Bees vs People and managed to sell 5!

I went along to a video room for Clare Densley’s lecture on Beekeeping at Buckfast Abbey.  Clare has been at the Abbey since 2008, doing a few hours a week, concentrating on honey production, not breeding.  There are 150 employees at the Abbey. Tonic wine is the best seller. There are about a dozen monks left, all oldies.

Brother Adam died in 1998. He became famous because he was a monk, but none of the current monks have a nice word to say about him. The Buckfast bee is an inbred hybrid.

The Abbey was founded in 760AD.  In 1882 it was acquired by the Benedictines.  Brother Adam arrived from Germany at the age of 11.  He was a lay brother and was never ordained. He had asthma and wasn’t strong.  He took over the apiary in 1918 and began to sell nuclei and breed queens.

Isle of Wight Disease came in 1904, Nosema in 1912 and Acarine in 1919. Bro. Adam established an isolated mating apiary in 1925. Peter Donovan (whom I have met) was an apiarist.  Bro. Adam travelled the world from 1948 until 1987 selecting bees for breeding.

If you buy a Buckfast queen the next generation can be appalling – awful! You really need a locally adapted bee suitable for the local environment.

They’re down to 30 colonies now in 5 apiaries, planting lots of wild flowers and running a teaching apiary.  Her colleague, Martin Hann is a Seasonal Bee Inspector. They run a community apiary and run workshops. The honey is just for the mead.  The Abbey is very rich and generous.

I gave Clare a copy of Bees vs People to add to the library of bee books at the Abbey.

Then I waked down to the beach, missing a lecture.  It’s a lovely beach, stretching for miles with views of the distant Mourne mountains in the north. There were thousands of razor shells on the beach and I scrumped a pair for percussion at folk sessions.

I got back in time for lunch; soup, pork steak and vegetables.  I sold 3 more copies of Bees vs People.

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GORMANSTON 2019 – Part 16

On Wednesday evening there was the Dave Cushman Memorial Lecture on Synergy Between Science and Beekeeping by Prof. Grace McCormack, an evolutionary biologist.  She covered natural selection, bee imports, racial types and DNA.  She’s encouraging beekeepers to get involved with citizen science.

Then it was time for the evening frolic, with lots of free wine and nibbles.  I must have got through about a bottle of red during the evening.  There was singing and dancing.  I read some of my poems including chanting Workers Rule and getting people to join in the chorus.

I got to bed at about 2.30am.

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