That long heading was the title of a seminar from which I have just returned, held in darkest Devon in the Victory Hall at Kenton, not far from Powderham Castle. It was organised by DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, to which I have belonged for many years. There were about 40 of us there. This rather exceeds our membership, so there must have been reinforcements from elsewhere.
The first speaker was Dr Madeline Harley who used to be the head of the Palynology Unit at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. She really knows her stuff on pollen and is the co-author of a brilliantly illustrated book ‘Pollen: the hidden sexuality of flowers’. Unfortunately she chose to make a powerpoint presentation and that isn’t what’s she’s best at! Her voice isn’t the loudest and, even in the second row I had difficulty in hearing her. I wasn’t the only one as, looking around, I could see others with a hand cupped to an ear. And, of course, there’s always the problem with powerpoint, that when the lights go down, so do the eyelids! It’s difficult to make notes in the dark too. She was reading hers from the screen. Her subject was the introduction of GM crops: addressing concerns about health versus wealth & stealth.
Next, after coffee and mingling, we split into 2 halves for workshops. My half went upstairs to where Dorset’s President, Mervyn Bown, had set up several tables. We split into 3 groups, one sorting by colour small packs of pollen loads collected at various times of year and, with the aid of the charts in Dorothy Hodges’ book, identifying them. It was time to change tables before the book got around to me, but I enjoyed the chat with my neighbours as we worked.
At the next table we made up slides of hazel pollen using dyed glycerin jelly. Hazel is used as a size reference as the pollen grains are consistently 25 microns across, so when you are trying to identify a pollen and your microscope doesn’t have a good scale you can estimate the size by comparison. That went well and I brought my slide home with me.
We ran out of time before getting to the next table where Mervyn was teaching people how to get pollen from honey for analysis. He has a centrifuge for doing it in a hurry, but you can do it with distilled water, gravity, a test tube and patience.
Back to the main hall for the second lecture: Dr Michael Keith-Lucas on ‘Comparisons between Bumblebee and Honeybee foraging’. Again the lights went out for a powerpoint so I didn’t attempt to take notes. Dr Keith-Lucas has more of a gift of the gab than Dr Harley. He was bemoaning industrial agriculture reducing sources of pollen through the removal of wild flowers and of hedgerows. Honeybees can fly miles to sources of nectar and pollen but bumbles are more local. He had studied two side by side agricultural areas, one ‘organic’ and the other conventional. Organic was much better for the bees.
Lunch. Ploughman’s plus scrummy cake with cream. I had a second helping, having been given the nod by the caterer, my friend Jan Stuart who goes to Gormanston.
Lecture 3 was Dr Harley again, her subject being ‘As nature intended sexual excitement & hybrid vigour or, new wave self sufficiency’. Again a powerpoint with the lights out and curtains drawn, the point being the reduction of genetic variability due to the practices of seed merchants.
Then came the second workshop, this time downstairs where Sarah Holdsworth had raised my curiosity by fixing some long rustic poles along the front of a number of tables. She assured me that they weren’t for dancing. This turned out to be not a workshop as much as a powerpoint. But what a powerpoint! It was the best I have ever attended and was done without electricity or computer!
The subject was Plant Propagation and Seed Collection. She began by handing round about a score of cardboard placards, each about the size of the screen you’re looking at with string at the top, so we ended up with about one each. They were numbered and each bore on the front in large lettering the ‘power point’ and on the back a print out of the discussion point. Each of us in turn read the front of our card aloud and then tied it to the pole while Sarah discussed with us what was on the back, there being plenty of interaction, which had been completely lacking in the other powerpoints. I even managed to take notes and can almost read them!
Back to the the hall again for tea and more cake followed by a general forum until we packed up at about 4.30. It had been raining all day and I can’t think of a better way of spending a rainy day than what we did.