I met Sister Dolores and she gave me her photo, which I will doctor for use in my next book: “Bee People” in which she is featured. I got somebody to take a photo of Vanessa and me on the couch for the same purpose. It is a book of poetry. The poems are all written but I am having trouble assembling everything and creating artwork and anecdotes and fitting them to the pages.
The first afternoon lecture was Professor Pickard again and his subject was Bees and Flowers, but my notes suggest some digression. The flowering plants are classed as angiosperms and the Professor demonstrated by ‘stripping the willow’ that petals and sepals are modified leaves. Bees’ antennae are highly modified legs. He recommended the Dulux colour chart for pollen – must get one! The purpose of sex is to generate diversity in offspring. CO2 re-sets the bee’s brain. An infusion of mallow leaves is good for bee stings. We share 60% of our genes with the honeybee. Keep active to burn calories and avoid Type 2 Diabetes. Honey contains 4% vitamins and minerals. Eat a little of everything but not much of anything. Hazard and risk: 95% of people die in bed!
The next afternoon lecture was Peter Whyte and his subject was “Bee Flora and Ecology” Ecology, he told us, is the study of the relationship between living creatures and each other and the natural environment. Where do honeybees fit in? There are about 101 bee species in Ireland: 1 honeybee, 19 bumblebees and 81 others, mainly solitary; 30 butterfly species and about 180 hoverflies. Honeybees are not the bee-all-and-end-all of pollination. They can’t ‘buzz pollinate’ tomatoes as bumbles can. Peter told us that they don’t pollinate blueberries and I queried this as I understand that in NE America bees are taken on pollination contracts for blueberries. His answer was that there are numerous varieties of the plant. Bees prefer flowers that are vertically symmetrical, have a landing pad, a colour range between orange and ultra violet and single rather than double flowers. The bee has effects on the environment as through increased seed production in favoured plants they increase at others’ expense; the bees compete with other species for forage and can suppress other species and the plants that depend on them. Beekeepers can skew the flora of an area and so we were urged to be careful. Predators of honeybees include birds, eg blue tits, (which is why bees use the ‘safety in numbers’ of a mating swarm), rodents and mites. Beekeepers, in order to help other bee species, should not over-populate areas with colonies; should encourage more spring flowering native plants; sow wild flower lawns; leave verges uncut, leave soil exposed on south facing banks and lawn edges for miner bees; provide dry stone walls, bee motels and nesting sites. Plants to encourage are: dandelion, apple, willow, sycamore, hawthorn, charlock, white clover, blackberry, rosebay willowherb (which produces white tasteless honey), lime, ling (which needs potash) Fuchsia and ivy.
We had a treat in the evening as Mary Ryan was going for her Lecturer’s exam! This isn’t quite as much fun for spectators since dear old Dan Deasy has no longer been with us. He was the ‘wild card’ questioner among the judges. Nevertheless, Mary attracted a good crowd which filled the large lecture hall. The subject she chose for her main lecture was ‘Simple Genetics for Beekeepers’ and started off with the encouraging news that we share 25% of our genes with bananas, 40% with the lettuce, 60% with the bee and 99% with the chimpanzee! With the aid of diagrams she described, first of all, mitosis, the process by which cells duplicate and replicate unchanged; how genes are clumped together in chromosomes, the diploid queen having 32 and the haploid drone half that number, 16. She then proceeded with meiosis, sexual reproduction with swapping and shuffling of genes, describing the way genes are coiled round the the chromosome as a spiral staircase with differently lettered steps. She defined the technical terms: alleles are different forms of the same gene; homozygous is the same genetic formula, heterozygous is different. There are, on average, 12 sex alleles, the range being from 6 to 19. Any queen can have 2 sex alleles, the drone only 1. If, by chance, the egg gets fertilised by a drone with the same sex allele the result will be a ‘diploid drone’ egg. Workers recognise the pheromones given off by such eggs and eat them, resulting in patchy brood. Scientists have managed to raise diploid drones in vitro.
There had been no announcement by the time I left of whether or not Mary had passed her exam, but the lecture was of a very high standard, exceeding that of many I had attended during the week and so she can’t possibly have failed.
The evening was cool and I strolled to The Cock for a final Guinness, returning in time for the social evening. My friend Lorraine Priestley dragged me onto the dance floor! Dancing isn’t what I’m best at and she didn’t ask me again! However, Jan Stuart who had walked the beach and supped Guinness with me several times during the week trod the boards with me several times. I had my ballad on the life and times of the worker in my back pocket and let our Master of Ceremonies, Micheal Woulfe, know that I was willing to recite it. Fortunately time ran out. Maybe next year.