Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

BBKA Spring Convention 2017

The Spring Convention is an annual event run by the BBKA and I thought it was time I went along to see what it's all about. It was held this past weekend at Harper Adams University in Shropshire, where I stayed in a student room, went to lectures, spent hours in the lab and frequented the student bar, just like in the old days.

There were some very good speakers. In particular:

Dennis van Englesdorp, who studies varroa mites by electron microscopy at the University of Maryland. By looking at the structure of these parasites under the microscope and studying the detail of their various revolting body parts, his lab group have come to challenge the prevailing view that varroa feeds on haemolymph (i.e., sucks bee "blood"). The emerging truth is somehow even more unpleasant...it seems that varroa feeds by chewing bee fat. Gross.

Michael Keith-Lucas, a forensic scientist who works on pollen. Apparently, each of us has about 1000 pollen grains in our nose at the moment. And if we die under suspicious circumstances, these pollen grains can be identified as evidence of when we took our last breath, with remarkable accuracy (within a week, sometimes indicating morning or afternoon). Pollen samples taken from a suspect's clothing also seems to be a very effective way of placing them at the scene of a crime, especially if they were unfortunate enough to bury the body near a rare type of tree. The talk was packed with sensational true stories of crimes solved! It also tied in very well with the "pollen in honey" workshop that I did the next day, by explaining about the biology of pollens and the forensic analysis of pollen in honey, which is used to investigate honey fraud as well as to assist innocent beekeepers.

Graham Royle, who told the story of the Asian hornet's appearance in Britain last year and the ensuing drama as the National Bee Unit swung into action to locate the hornet nest and eradicate it. I had avoided other Asian hornet talks over the weekend, feeling some "Asian hornet fatigue" after all the attention it's been given. But I'm very glad I went to this one - it was really exciting to hear the first-hand account of deploying the "alien species" action plan, setting up the Command Centre, triangulating the flight paths of released hornets to locate the nest zone, and the (literal) legwork to find the nest hidden at the top of that conifer tree in somebody's garden. This was all tied in with explanation of the hornet biology and behaviour. Asian hornet I am ready for you if you visit Copper Bee Apiary!

Workshop on Pollen in Honey

Saturday was lab day for me, learning how to extract pollen from honey, prepare microscope slides, use a microscope to identify the pollens in it, work out the floral composition of the honey, and make pollen reference slides. It was exhausting!

Workshop on pollen in honey led by Marin Anastasov and assisted by Jim Vivian-Griffiths

Workshop on pollen in honey led by Marin Anastasov and assisted by Jim Vivian-Griffiths

It was an excellent workshop and I've got a lot of new skills to practise at home. I made 3 pollen slides: one from each of last year's honeys and one from the set honey of the previous year. So, I hear you cry, what were the pollens?...tell us the floral compositions of those honeys! Well, I had a good look at the pollen, and I sketched some of the grains and compared them with the ones in the book...but it's quite difficult you know. I think it takes practice to get good at recognising the pollen features and figuring out what they are. What I can say is, lot#130816 was not full of thistle pollen...so much for the guess I made about that honey here.

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