DARG DAYS

Today was meant to be a DARG (Devon Apicultural Research Group) seminar to be held at Kenton Victory Hall, near Execeter, but it was cancelled because too few people booked tickets in advance, so a ‘normal’ DARG meeting was held there instead.  I was in two minds whether or not to go as it is 50 miles from home and I spent several hours sat in my car yesterday, visiting family up Lonnon way; however, I decided to make the trip, even though my apprentice, Sarah, with whom I usually share transport, wasn’t going, preferring, on this occasion, to chill at home with dogs and bees and catch up with her gardening.  On the way down I was rather regretting my decision as there were constant traffic hold ups and I must have turned my engine off in a queue, to save fuel, getting on for a dozen times.  When I was there, though, I was glad that I had made the right decision as it was a really good, informative, meeting.

There were only 8 of us around the table and I was the second youngest so we could really do with some fresh blood!  If you’re within range, come and join us! Although the title mentions Devon they aren’t that particular as I’m from Dorset and Sarah from Somerset. We have, on occasion, had people from Cornwall attending.

First, we discussed the seminar which has been postponed until next February, the exact date not being decided until we’re sure we won’t be clashing with other beekeeping events such as that of the Central Association of BKs or of Holsworthy.  I’ve never been to the Holsworthy Convention but it was spoken of highly so I ought to look into it in case I’d like to go.  Our speakers will probably be Ben Jones of FERA and Exeter Uni and Declan Schroeder of Plymouth Uni.  There will also be a workshop or two to get attendees actively involved rather than just sitting and nodding off.  Feeding bees was one subject that may be on the agenda.

We then moved on to discuss bee improvement.  Glyn Davies came up with the idea that there should be networking by members of local BKAs so that they deliberately encourage drone rearing from their ‘best’ colonies.  There are at least 1,000 drones in a Drone Congregation Area (DCA) and a queen will mate with up to a score of them (average 13.9 was mentioned). These drones will come from apiaries miles away from the DCA.  One of the problems with Glyn’s idea is that you won’t get 2 beekeepers to agree which are the characteristics for which to select!

There was some discussion about ‘Buckfast’ bees: what are they nowadays?  Claire, who was sat next to me, runs the late Brother Adam’s apiary at Buckfast Abbey nowadays and she doesn’t use them.  We were told of somebody who is importing them from Denmark.  We talked about the problems arising from subsequent generations of such ‘pure hybrids’  (which has to be an oxymoron!), especially with regard to temper.  If you are into that sort of bee you have to keep going back to the supplier, expensively to re-stock in order to save yourself from a bee-stinging rather than a financial one!

Next we discussed the AGM, the date of which has been moved to 15th November at Buckfastleigh.  That will be better for me as I shall be staying in Devon at that time .

Then came the difficult (for me!) bit.  The next meeting is to be held at Uplowman, near Tiverton on 21st September.  I am expected to lead the discussion on ‘bee hearing’.  Bees don’t have ears!  In our chat around the table we covered most of the points I might have raised and so I doubt if I shall find anything new and exciting with which to entrance them.  Claire told me that Google might be able to provide me with recordings of hive sounds, but I have absolutely no idea how to download them onto my portable computer.  If any 14 year old (or confident/competent older person) reads this and can advise me, please do so,

This blog came up in conversation and several people made approving and flattering remarks, so I’d better continue with it.

The talk turned to Chronic Paralysis Virus (CPV) which is apparently on an upsurge.  Claire has it in many hives at Buckfast Abbey and Glyn also has it in some of his hives and was able to show us a video of the shaking/quivering bees on one of his hives.  He first noticed a heap of dead bees, the lower strata of which were decomposing, indicating a suggession of deaths rather than one hit as with pesticide exposure.  Many bees within the affected hives are trembling and some are hairless.

The virus, according to Leslie Bailey, (who invented/discovered/described it ) is rare and not a problem.  It tends to become noticeable when a colony is overcrowded and is transmitted by bees ‘rubbing shoulders’ when the virus moves from one to t’other via broken off hairs. There may be spontaneous ‘recovery’ (it goes out of sight) when the bee density in a hive is reduced sufficiently.  Pest/host interraction does change over time and Glyn told us that Deformed Wing Virus (DWV) and Varroa are no longer directly linked.

One of the more useful treatments for hive problems, including CPV, was thought to be ‘Hive Clean’ which, we were told, seems to work.  It was said to contain propolis as well as oxalic, formic and citric acids at such low concentrations as to be edible.  Claire said it tastes of sherbert!

Richard Ball used his portable computer and a magic lantern to lead a discussion on bee dances.  He told us that, as early as 1788, Spitzner had described them as a means of communication indicating the location of nectar sources.  He then leapt forward to Nobel Prize winning Karl von Frisch in 1952.  I chipped in to point out that, in about 1870, Pettigrew had speculated about the dances being a form of communication on page 50 of his famous book, the name of which escapes me. It worries me that I can remember a detail such as that, but can walk upstairs to fetch something but, when I get there, forget what it was!

Richard showed the familiar picture of the circular dance, which sends bees seeking something very local and non-directional.  My notes say that the objective is within 10 metres of the hive.  I pointed out that bees were dancing millions of years before the metre was invented, so Richard changed it to yards.  I’m now wondering whether a nought was omitted from the slide as I thought the round dance was for 100 yards radius.

We discussed how bees ‘see’ these dances in the darkness of the hive and the possibility of infra-red detection via their antennae was raised.

Richard gradually took us through the succession of changes to the pattern of the dances, becoming more ‘figure of 8’ as distance from the objective increases.  There is a formula, of which I had not previously heard, concerning the number of waggle dances across the centre of the circle over a period of time (15 seconds). If there are about 9 or 10 the target is about 100 metres; 7 = 600 metres, 4 = 1,000 metres down to 2 = 6,000 metres.

There was also discussion about bees and sound, but I shall keep quiet about that for now!

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About chrissladesbeeblog

I have been keeping bees since 1978 and currently have about a dozen hives. I am a member of the BBKA where for many years I represented Dorset at the Annual Delegates' Meeting. I am the co-author (with Dave MacFawn of of S. Carolina) of "Getting the Best from Your Bees" and am working on a book of my own poems : "Bee People".
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