Now that the nights are drawing in, I hope to hit the keyboard more often. Life has been very busy lately! Today I attended Dorset BKA’s third annual convention. The star of the show was Robert Pickard, the best lecturer I know! Also in the line up were Joe Turner-Wing, a London inner city teacher, and Celia and David Rudland, commercial beekeepers from East Surrey. There were about 75 of us there and there was a display of books from Northern Bee Books for sale. My (co-authored) book, Getting the Best from Your Bees, wasn’t on show so maybe Jerry Burbidge of NBB has sold all his stock and will get some more in, or perhaps he’s taking them to the National Honey Show where I shall be able to autograph them for buyers.
David Rudland was on first and spent an hour discussing the nature and use of nuclei. I made mine about 20 or more years ago and they are 4 framers. They are past their best now and a couple of them have been adapted for removing bees from cavities so maybe it’s time to make some more, following David’s pattern of 5 frame nucs, using 18mm marine ply with separate floors etc, virtually half sized Nationals. He and Celia often use them as if Nationals, stacking 2 to give almost the brood area of a National, with supers to match. He says that, in their sheltered apiaries, stability isn’t a problem. To me, the main virtue of nuclei is portability and there’s no heavy lifting involved (I’m getting old!).
Next on was Professor Pickard. He is a brilliant speaker but, unfortunately, his talk included a number of powerpoint slides and so the lights went down. As always happens, to others as well as to me, when the lights go down, so do the eyelids and I spent a lot of the time struggling to stay awake rather than paying full attention and enjoying his talk. Maybe the organisers of talks could, as a compromise, darken the lighting around the screen but illuminate the speaker (without blinding him/her).
Pickard’s subject was ‘Honeybees and Humans’ (compare and contrast) and his talk spanned from the Big Bang to the future of mankind. Unfortunately, the lights having gone out, I couldn’t see to make notes except that, as an aside, he told us that candy is a better food for bees than syrup as they don’t have to handle all the water.
We had a lunch break: bread, cheeses and salad followed by sticky toffee pudding and a chance to foregather and natter. There were lots of faces I didn’t recognise, some I did but couldn’t put names to, some names on the list that I recognised but couldn’t put faces to and some good friends. I sat with Jan Stuart (one of several Devonians there) who drove me and David Loo to Gormanston last year and is happy to do so next, possibly with an additional passenger.
After lunch was the talk that, for me, was the most interesting of the day: Joe Turner-Wing. Here I quote from the hand out as, again, I wasn’t able to take notes. Joe, maybe because he is a teacher, stood away from the screen and this helped make him more visible. For many people it is their choice to take up beekeeping, but for Joe and his school in South London, a swarm of bees chose them! Joe is a member of the Senior Management Team at Charlton Manor Primary School, an inner city school in Greenwich where he has worked for the last 9 years. One of his responsibilities is for whole school behaviour and pastoral care. He pointed out that a proportion of the pupils come from deprived areas/backgrounds and have tendencies to be ill-disciplined and difficult to teach.
He told the story of the bees arriving and outlined the events that took place over the following couple of years. He described the ethos that developed and how the social attitudes amongst some of the pupils and staff changed as a result of having responsibility for several colonies of bees. It is encouraging that there are up and coming beekeepers at the opposite end of the age-scale to that of the great majority of the audience! His school has discovered that they can engage and educate children, not just by having them sat in rows with books and pens, but by getting them out cooking, gardening, beekeeping, project planning and other activities and, at the same time, get them interested in doing the maths and creative writing demanded by the National Curriculum. I wouldn’t mind my Grandson going to such a school in a few years time!
Last on the list was Celia Rudland who spoke about communication in honeybees. She’s a good speaker and was visible so I stayed awake without difficulty. She ran through the Why? What? Where? and How? of bee communication. Most of it was familiar stuff to me but I did learn about the ‘sickle dance’, intermediate between the round and the waggle dance, indicating food at a distance of about 150 yards. Also she told us that Aristotle had written about bee dances. She didn’t mention bee hearing, about which I led a discussion at a recent DARG meeting (about which I’ve been meaning to blog!), although she did mention that Kirchner and Towne had done work on acoustic communication via comb vibration during dances. She said that Tautz had written it up in The Buzz about Bees, which I got from the Library only a couple of days ago and have yet to open. Maybe I shall this evening.