The Welsh and BBKA Spring Conventions.

The BeeHolder, Spring 2014

Both conventions are in our neighbouring counties – Radnorshire and Shropshire – not a long way to go to hear the latest thoughts on Beekeeping.

Both conventions offered lectures on the subject of Bee Nutrition and these lectures emphasised that we tend to neglect the importance of pollen in favour of nectar and honey. This seems something peculiar to the UK for on Mainland Europe it is common to make Pollen and Fondant Patties to give to bees in Autumn and Spring. One explanation of the losses in the UK over the last two years is inadequate pollen collection in the wet autumn. This has lead to lower numbers of bees going through the winter and a slow start in the spring due to low pollen stores. We learnt that fresh pollen is best and that the nutritional content drops to 25% after a year and is negligible after 2 years. For some years I have been making spring patties for my bees out of fondant, honey, Soya flour and my magic ingredient... fish oil. There was no mention of this recipe in the lectures. I asked an Italian company, which was selling Patties with irradiated pollen, about the use of Soya flour and they were most dismissive; not quite believing that GM free Soya flour could be as good as natural pollen. Pollen retains its nutritional value if frozen but will also retain pathogens for disease, hence the need for irradiation according to the Italians.

Nectar is for fuel, pollen provides the protein to feed the brood. The bee is quite capable of appreciating the quality of the nectar. Plants that give have high concentrations of sugars in the nectar are favoured by the initial foragers. The bee will return to the hive and give information about the quality of the nectar it has collected. The hive will then choose to send bees to those flowers giving the most nectar. When the foragers come back to the hive the nectar is transferred to other bees and stored in cells which could have nectar from a variety of plants species. Pollen collection is entirely different. The bee is not able to assess the quality of the pollen when collecting it. Each type of pollen is stored in different cells. It is easy for the beekeeper to spot this, for cells will be filled with different coloured pollen. A healthy colony will have pollen from many different sources. This is because not all pollens are of equal nutritional value.

In order to build protein insects need 20 common and 2 rare amino acids. These acids are only made by plants; the insect cannot synthesise them. So the limiting factor in colony survival is actually the least available amino acid that can be gathered from the field. Buckwheat, Maize, sunflower and dandelion are all deficient in some amino acids. Surprisingly the much maligned oil seed rape has a very well balanced mix of all the amino acids essential for insect growth. Pollen also has some vitamins. As with humans the B complex vitamins are essential for bees. But unlike humans the bee can synthesise Vitamin C. Lipids are also in pollen and again humans and bees are different, the cholesterol that is bad for humans is good for bees. The yellow dyes we see in beeswax are from lipids and here the dandelion an especially good source.

These lectures were wake-up calls for many beekeepers. From what I gathered at coffee tables and the bar, many left the conventions with a determination to take more notice of the protein intake of their bees. Collecting pollen from one’s own hives and feeding it back to the bees in autumn and spring was thought to be worth trying. Who knows, some beekeepers may even try some fish oil.

I also learned that feral colonies are not “more Native” than the background managed colonies, they are genetically similar. The Varroa content of feral Honey Bees is about the same as would be seen in managed colonies, the incidence of nosema is lower but not significantly so. However the incidence of Deformed Wing Virus is 2.4 times that seen in managed colonies. Incidentally DWV is seen at a much greater rate in “natural Beekeeping Colonies” than those managed the more orthodox manner. The apparent survival of feral colonies is used as an argument to reduce varroa treatment in managed colonies. But it appears that the incidence of feral bee colonies is related to the increase in new beekeepers. Feral colonies have a higher mortality rate than managed colonies but do not pose a risk to varroa treated managed colonies.

The Welsh Venue, at the Royal Showground, Builth Wells is 32 miles from Newtown and the BBKA Convention at Harpers Adam University is 51 miles away. Most attendees have made much longer journeys to experience the excellent workshops and lectures and sample the trade shows. Why are there so few from the MBKA at these conventions, maybe 10 at the Welsh Convention and I didn’t notice any other than myself at the BBKA convention. Bridgend, Swansea, Anglesey and Conwy BKAs all had good representation at the Conventions. And at the BBKA there were delegates from all over England and Wales as well as Scotland and Ireland. I met one American who said he thought he should come to discover why his beekeeping wife travels every year to the Convention from Florida. He was totally bowled over by the standard of lectures and trade stands. Are Beekeepers in Montgomeryshire so expert that they don’t need to learn new tricks?

Tony Shaw