The most recent meeting of DARG, the Devon Apicultural Research Group, was held at Buckfast Abbey, where 16 of us from 3 counties were hosted by Brother Adam’s successor, Clare Densley. There was excellent cake and honey biscuits!
Discussion ranged over many topics. On Varroa: there seemed to have been far less evidence of Deformed Wing Virus observed last year with no clear reason why. We talked about Ron Hoskins of Swindon having inadvertently selected for a harmless version of DWV. Clare no longer uses the ‘chemical’ methods of combatting Varroa, instead, using Hive Clean which is based on propolis and anaesthetises the mites, causing them to drop through the (essential) mesh floors whence, upon re-awakening, they can’t return to the hive. She says it tastes like sherbet! It can be used at any time, but she emphasises that the instructions should be heeded.
DARG intends to run a pollen project this year and we discussed ways and means. One problem is that colour vision is subjective so people might describe the same lump of pollen differently. Many years ago Roy Page told me that, whereas men see about 60 colours, ladies see about 240!
Another game we want to play is to look for drone congregation areas using the queen pheromone: 9ODA, on the end of fishing rods or dangled below helium balloons. There were reports of masses of drones trying to invade hives with virgin queens. Temper of a colony also seems to be related to the prevalence or otherwise of queen pheromone. We discussed the apiary vicinity mating habit of the native bee, Apis Mellifera mellifera, and wondered whether it is weather related.
Clare had been on a lecture tour in the USA and she gave us a summary of her time there and the (other!) famous bee-people she met. You can see a recording of her lecture if you google ‘Romancing the Honeybee’.
She had printed hand-outs for us of a couple of other subjects from lectures on her tour: The benefits of propolis to bee health by Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota and the ‘stop signal’ in waggle dances by James Nieh of the University of California, San Diego.
Having started at noon, the meeting broke up soon after 4. I went to my car and discovered a flat tyre! Clare kindly phoned the AA for me and left me to wait for the hour or so for the chap to arrive in the warmth of her lovely bee-shed/barn/classroom/office/kitchen. She has a 6 frame observation hive with an armchair each side of it. I’m so jealous!
She also has a bee-book library with even more than I have! I noticed that she doesn’t have a copy of ‘Getting the Best from Your Bees’ but she’ll soon set that right! Many of her books look as if they were inherited from Brother Adam but others are more recent. I got through quite a few pages of Dave Goulson’s ‘A Sting in the Tale’ (or was it ‘tail’?) and, if I can find the time, will borrow a copy from the local library as he’s an excellent, very readable, writer.
Eventually my mobile phone rang: it was the AA chap trying to locate me as the site is off the beaten track, within half a furlong of the Abbey but on the other side of the river. I gave him directions and went down to the road to meet him. He changed the wheel in minutes. If you’re reading this, Clare, I did remember to switch the lights off and lock up, putting the key where you told me.