Yesterday, the best day so far this year, weather wise, I spent mostly in a car or in Uplowman Village Hall, near Tiverton, in connection with the monthly meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, to which I belong, despite being from Dorset! I first drove to Tatworth to meet up with my apprentice, Sarah at her Bee Happy Plants nursery. She decided that, this time, she would drive us. I don’t know whether it was because she doesn’t like my driving or that she enjoys driving herself. I did remark on her white knuckles on the steering wheel!
The drive gave us time to catch up and to discuss her bee education. Although she likes TBHs she also wants to try a National as it would give her a chance to play with the bees more, for her benefit, not theirs! I suggested that she comes to the Dorchester & Weymouth BKA’s annual auction to be held at Broadmayne on 12th April, where there are always lots of bargains (or do I mean bargains of lots?).
We got to Uplowman Village Hall just before noon and found it locked and empty! We were early! It isn’t often that I’m early for a meeting! It was a lovely day, with hardly a cloud in the sky and warmth to be felt from the sun, so we went for a walk up the lane for a mile or so, chatting and enjoying the countryside. On three occasions bees flew by! We got back to the hall 3/4 of an hour later to find that Bob had opened up and had the kettle on. Gradually others arrived and, eventually, there were 15 of us, probably a record for a monthly meeting. Glyn Davies who has been improving our web site wasn’t able to be with us us he is currently unwell. If you look for our web site, you’ll need to type our whole name into Google as the initials DARG are shared with far too many other bodies for us to be near the top.
The first discussion of the afternoon was about neonicotiniod pesticides which have just been banned by the EU for a couple of years. One of our members had been in touch with the NFU. It seems that the main target of the neonics is the flea beetle on oilseed rape, which can reduce yields by about 10%. There is currently no economically viable alternative treatment so farmers will just have to take the hit. The NFU are to support Syngenta in appealing against the ban on the basis that the science behind the ban is questionable.
CAP payments to farmers, we were told, are based on area, not production so they will still get an income even if they go out of OSR production. One problem arising from that, however, would be that a by product of OSR is the animal fodder from the crushed seeds after the oil has been extracted, so we might end up having to import food for our livestock, becoming even less self sufficient agriculturally.
Thinking as I type, I have noticed that if I wear a yellow T shirt in summer lots of flea beetles land on it, but honeybees don’t. Therefore it may be that the typical brassica flower colour is what attracts the beetles rather than scent and direction as with honeybees. I’m wondering whether it would be worth experimenting by, just before the rape field comes into flower, laying a sticky yellow carpet as a baited trap for the early beetles to stop them getting on the OSR and reproducing and damaging the crop. Probably somebody has thought of this already, so if you know about any such trial, please let me know.
Next we were told about a new toy for beekeepers called a ‘bee gym’. This is a plastic rectangle, about 7″ square, which is inserted into the hive entrance. It has various bits, scratching posts, sticking up which, we were told, enable bees more easily to groom themselves. We were encouraged to buy lots of these, stick them into half our hives, using the other half as controls, to see whether it makes any difference to mite drops. I don’t think anybody volunteered!
We had hoped that a chap from the Met Office would be with us to talk about the weather, but he was too busy! I wonder why! In preparation, I had printed out and brought along my rain chart that I have been compiling from daily measurements all this millennium. I handed it round and it attracted much interest. Sarah took it so that her technically skilled son would be able to put it on a computer for circulation, maybe with a graph.
Next on the agenda was a magic lantern show by Richard Ball about all the various races of the western honeybee, Apis mellifera, including lots of discussion. Richard told us that each year about 6,000 queens are imported from the EU and another 6,000 from elsewhere! That’s the ones FERA knows about: there are probably also lots of illegal imports. Where do they all go? Many, it seems are used by commercial beekeepers to be-queen packages to make up nuclei to sell to beeginners.
There was a lot of chat and informal discussion as the talk progressed and one thing that I took note of was that carob honey is meant to have medicinal qualities. I had just sown some carob beans taken from a pod I found at the roadside in Turkey last year. That was only a few days ago and I have no idea whether they are viable and whether the resulting plants can survive in our climate.
Richard’s talk was followed by Roger doing a show of the other Apis species: florea, cerana, dorsata and its recently discovered variant laboriosa from Nepal.
We wound up the day with our future programme, which includes a Seminar on the subject of Bee Nutrition, starring Ben Jones of FERA, who is currently doing a PhD at Exeter and is sponsored by many beekeeping organisations. It will be on 13th July at Kenton Village Hall, near Exeter, so make a note in your diary. It was at a seminar there in September 2012 on Pollen that I first met Sarah!