They were expecting over 100 people at the Convention today at Stratton Village Hall, but very few of those present were of that age yet, most having 2 or 3 decades to go. There was nobody who could be described as a ‘young beekeeper’ despite recent efforts to encourage youngsters to take it up.
The presentations were blighted by the use of Powerpoint, about which I’ve bleated before. Not only do eyelids tend to go down when the lights do but also it is very difficult to take notes and for the lecturer to interact with the audience, although the last speaker, Marin Anastasov from Bulgaria, managed to do so quite well.
If people insist on using Powerpoint there’s no great advantage in going through all the trouble and expense of booking a village hall, baking lots of cake and wasting fuel getting there, when people could see the presentation downloaded from a link on the website (if the website manager has the skills!).
My notes of the lectures are therefore brief and based on memory as much as my scrawl.
The first speaker was our SBI, Kevin Pope on queen rearing. He’s been keeping bees for 50 years and knows his stuff. He prefers the grafting method and makes his own wax queen cups. Start when there are lots of drones as drones can take up to 6 weeks from an egg to sexual maturity.
He splits a hive in 2 brood boxes, the lower one has the queen and all the young brood. The upper one, above a queen excluder, has only sealed brood apart from the frame with all the cups into which very young larvae have been grafted using a fine paint brush. The frame next to the cups should have lots of pollen.
Lots of drones are needed per mating. He sees little sign of inbreeding; diploid drones making a spotty brood pattern. Chemicals in wax and food can reduce drone weight and sperm count.
Average age of queen? Up to 3 years but they’re not so good at that age and he usually requeens when they’re 2. The average therefore is less than 2.
Best way to improve stock is to cull the worst. Drones are highly important so he doesn’t like the removal of drone brood for Varroa control. Lots of drones have no sperm. He doesn’t know why. (I shall ask Sue Cobey).
He prefers the Butler cage for queen introduction, with 4 layers of newspaper and 2 elastic bands. A tiny hole is made in the paper to get them started. It’s best not to introduce queens in a honey flow.
The next speaker was Ken Basterfield, also on queen rearing so there was an overlap with Kevin. Although Ken certainly knows his stuff, he’s not as good a communicator: he was talking faster than we could listen, often straying away from the microphone, and had even more curtains drawn so he was practicably invisible. At least the darkness will, I hope, have concealed me nodding off in the front row.
Here are a few scattered points that I can read from my notes. He started keeping bees in the mid 1970s and does so on a large scale. The price of a good queen at £40 is a bargain he asserts (I started beekeeping in 1977 and haven’t paid for a queen yet!).
Inbreeding may reduce longevity. Buckfast bees are a trade name and they aren’t kept at Buckfast Abbey. They’re mostly Carniolan.
Drones take 38 days from egg to sexual maturity while queens take only 22 days so drone rearing must start at least 16 days earlier than queen rearing. Drones can fly up to 10 miles to a drone congregation area.
The first speaker after lunch was Ivor Davis who was struggling with a croaky voice because of damaged vocal chords. Nevertheless he was quite good in that he kept on the move and interacted more with the audience. I think some of the curtains may have been drawn back as I could see him better.
His subject was Winter Bees and he started by trying to define winter using a range of criteria such as temperature, daylight etc but, in practical terms, it is a period without forage as bees can behave in a similar way if deprived of forage at any time of year.
He showed graphs based on statistics of winter losses, both at home and abroad. His conclusion on the American CCD was that it was a money spinner, drawing in Government funding, not only in America but here also of about £9 million!
His preferred method of Varroa control is a Christmas present of oxalic.
The last and best lecture was by Marin Anastasov, who started beekeeping in Bulgaria 25 years ago. He asked for the curtains to be drawn back so he could see and interact with us. His subject was: How do bees learn?
One answer was as he began his beekeeping: by trial and error. There’s instinct, inherited and embedded in the genome, and also communication: information obtained from others. Changes in function over time such as from a house bee to a forager are not learning.
Why do bees need to learn? A changing environment. Foragers need the ability to respond to change. Their sense organs enable taste, touch, sound (maybe), speed, magnetism, humidity and CO2 to be detected and assessed.
They don’t see things the same as we do in that they can’t tell red from black, but they can see into the ultra-violet, which we can’t. They can recognise patterns but their criteria are not the same as ours. They can remember colour, shape and pattern. Memory is not a tape record as no two people who experience the same event have the same memory of it.
He gave us a test, flashing a series of 15 words on the screen for 2 seconds each and asked us at the end to tell us what they were. Most of the words that were shouted from the floor were from the end of the series, thus demonstrating that short term memory is more reliable.
He mentioned the waggle dance and told us that there’s also a very short waggle in the circular dance as well as in the 8 shaped dance. Bees’ distance judgement is based on the variety of the terrain and bees sent down a 6 metre tunnel to a food source may dance as if it was 200 metres long if the tunnel was zebra striped.
Factors affecting learning include age, juvenile hormone, pupal temperature while developing, neuroactive chemicals (neonics), strain/sub species.
Neonicotinoids interfere with nerve signal transmission. High doses kill and low doses cause disorientation, at colony level having more effect on solitary and bumble bees than on honeybees.
Drone congregation areas aren’t learnt but are based on landscape features causing rising air currents. Waggle dances indicate the general direction but the flight of bees who have already found the target assist with guidance. He told us that Tom Seeley has also done some work on dances.
The day had been punctuated by tea and cake. As there were fewer people than cakered for, I came away with a substantial doggy bag!