Beekeeping is a remarkably social hobby; if you want it to be. This is thanks to an army of generous and enthusiastic volunteers who organize events throughout the year.

In my first two seasons I failed to take advantage of these events, frankly I was too lazy to make time, but this year I’ve decided to attend a few. Boy have I been missing out!

The most recent meeting I went to was a day of presentations organised by the Surrey Beekeepers Association hosted in Ewell. It was a great venue and after registration there was time to chat to the other attendees over coffee and pastries.

The day had four presentations:

  • Paul Metcalf: The bumble Bee through the eyes of a beekeeper
  • Nick Von Westenholz: Agriculture under the neonicotinoid ban
  • Richard Ball: Managing varroa in 2014
  • Steve Alton: Bees need buddies

Unfortunately I had to leave before the final presentation but if it was as good as the previous three that was a real shame.

Paul Metcalf kicked off the day with with a very informative and amusing overview of the lifecycle of bumblebees. I was very interested to hear that they are now being cultivated as green house pollinator. A few days later I found this story on the BBC website regarding honeybee diseases jumping species to bumbles bees. One of the causes appears to be the practice of using honey bee stores in creating these bumble bee colonies which are being used in greenhouse pollination. I wonder if these farmers thought of contacting their local beekeepers association, I know that the members of mine are always keen to build new relationships with local landowners and often they could arrange to place a few hives on their land for free.

The next presentation was my Nick Von Westenholz who is the Chief Executive of the Crop Protection Association; the trade body for the pesticide industry. Given the passions surrounding this topic I must admit I wondered if it was going to become a little shouty; however everyone listened to him very politely asking some insightful and considered questions. Nick’s presentation outlined the dichotomy facing modern agricultural. There is a finite amount of land to grow food on and an ever increasing population to consume it. To address this problem he provided two options; use more land for faming or use technology to produce more food. You won’t be surprised to hear the CPA are in the technology camp, which in Britain a country that struggles with divide land between housing, agriculture, industry and conservation is probably the only real option.

After the questions and answers session we broke for lunch. This was a catered affair offering a wide choice from curry to pasta. I can report the chicken curry and apple crumble were very tasty.

The final session I caught before I had to leave was a brilliant presentation by Richard Ball on using predatory mites to control varroa. Richard has been working with the folks from Bet Vet testing a predatory mite called stratiolaelaps scimitus against varroa. This mites have been used in pest control on chickens for well over decade and Richard reported some very promising data from his trails. The biggest challenge appeared to be the distribution mechanism as these mites live in soil. An ingenious solution to this is to put the soil and mites inside teabag type packaging which can be laid on top of the frames.

Although Richard points out that these mites cannot deal with a heavy varroa his studies show promising signs they can maintain low varroa numbers. I am going to be keep a close eye on the Bet Vet site to see if this novel varroa treatment comes to the market.

If you’ve never attended any of the numerous events hosted by local and national bee association I would strongly recommend giving one a try. They are great fun and you can pick up all sorts of useful contacts.