Last night I went to West Dorset BKA’s meeting at Marsh Barn near Bridport where Ron Hoskins from Swindon was giving a talk. Ron has been beekeeping since 1943 and knows what he’s talking about. His presentation was illustrated by over 300 ppt slides, mainly photographs, that he talked around.
He has been leading a local bee breeding group for ages, selecting for native bees and using artificial insemination. He started getting early supersedure problems. He went to America to see Sue Cobey and brush up his technique which was ok; talked with Jeff Pettis, and concluded that chemicals in the hive were affecting drone quality/sperm production. Thereafter he and his project went chemical free. They lost quite a few colonies at first, but not too many. They kept looking at, not just counting, fallen mites. In one or 2 hives he noticed lots of pupal debris, antennae etc., as well as immature mites and mites that had chunks or limbs missing. This was evidence of workers uncapping cells with mites and chomping the contents out. Only the small bits would fall through the mesh floor to be collected and examined. Note that the mandibular shaped dents in the carapace of mites are natural and not bee-inflicted.
I asked about learned vs inherited behavior, citing my own observations of the % of damaged mites increasing. He had swapped a queen in a colony that had been ‘hygienic’ with one from a colony that was not. After allowing for brood cycle time, the behavior of the colonies was reversed, thus showing that the behavior went with the queen and is therefore genetic.
They have a Drone Congregation Area close by and are aware that this may result in in-breeding and so are beginning to stop clipping queens so as to lose swarms that will go feral and also are distributing nucs over a wider area. There are more ferals around than generally supposed.
Surplus/ replaced queens are squashed on a fence post to which swarms are attracted. This trick follows Colin Butler’s use of the mast of his boat to place queens for mating to see how far drones would go to find them – drones were still visiting his mast several years after the experiment ended. Butler is the man who discovered the pheromone we call ‘queen substance’.
Ron showed slides of the phacelia and hyssop that they plant around the area and bees working it; also bees working for guttation fluid on several plants, emphasising that this is a way in which agricultural chemicals and toxins from GM plants may get into hives. Bees were shown working ripe blackberries!
Slide no 121 was particularly interesting. It showed a pollen-filled comb with many varieties/colours of pollen each kept separate with very few showing evidence of more than one colour per cell. Why?
Slide 194 showed wild comb with ppt added lines demonstrating uniformity of cell size, which he has measured at 4.54mm. This is contrary to my experience and that of another member present. We find average size to be 5.1 or 5.2mm with variation across the comb and through the colony.
He also showed an idea that I shall pinch: one of those plastic crates inverted with top bars screwed to the underside of what becomes the roof to become a transparent skep! He had got the bar spacing wrong though and you could see how the bees were gradually making adjustments down the length of the ‘hive’.
That’s all I can remember from a talk that lasted almost 2 hours including questions.