Candle Making and More Microscopy.

Looking towards the Moray Firth & Ben Wyvis from the grouse moor.

This week brought surprisingly warm weather despite some overnight frosts. The bees have been bringing in yellow pollen and I’ve seen some working the whins, Ulex europa, a mile away. Walking up onto the grouse moor last weekend reminded me of a warm spring day with the familiar and evocative scent of burning heather on the still afternoon air. I was surprised about the muir burning which I’ve only noticed in spring before. There was smoke in the air as far as the eye could see with lots of small fires.

I love hearing the grouse when you disturb them and they fly off making indignant noises that sound like “get back, get back, get back!”

Cawdor Estates must have decided to burn the heather early when the weather is unseasonably good. There will certainly be no nesting birds to harm at this time. Burning parts of the moor encourages heather to produce more succulent shoots to feed the grouse. If you want to know more about grouse moors, burning and heather honey go to Scotland’s Legendary Heather Moors Bee Culture, 22 February 2016.

Making Birthday Cake Candles.

Connie was delighted with the box of candle making kit that Tony Harris gave us on clearing out his beekeeping equipment before leaving for France. Making rolled candles with children is good fun because there’s no hot wax to worry about and the results are instant.

Candle making and hot chocolate after school on a wet afternoon.

Connie cut the wick to the correct size and warmed the small sheets of wax with the hairdryer before rolling the wax as tightly as possible round the wick. We looked at a beekeeping supply catalogue to price larger sheets of coloured wax but Connie was horrified that 10 sheets cost £18 so we came up with another plan. Our next wax making session will involve melting wax in the bain marie and pouring a layer of wax onto a sheet of grease-proof paper in a baking tray. We will let it cool and cut the sheet to size then warm the wax squares with the hairdryer and made candles using our own home-made wax sheets.

Cappings from ragwort honey will make excellent candle wax.

Pollen Slides.

Ali B from Fife was interested to know what his bees were foraging on a couple of months ago so he sent me up samples of bright orange pollen and yellow loads intercepted from bee loads in his apiary. Taking into account the size of each pollen grain, shape, colour, surface and aperture numbers means that it is often possible to identify the plant from which it was collected. This involves a bit of detective work and some knowledge of typical pollens from different families. For example, pollens from the asteraceae (daisy) family are mostly spiky. I’d come across ragwort pollen before but I had never made a broom pollen slide so it was very satisfying to find quite quickly what they were. It can ages sometimes but I had these nailed within half an hour.

I wouldn’t manage without the Rex Sayer guide though. For years, I’ve been trying to hunt down a copy of Dorothy Hodges Pollen Loads of the Honey Bee but it’s been out of print for a long time. A couple of weeks ago a friend with a second hand book shop found me a copy. I’m delighted with it because it is beautifully illustrated with intricately drawn pollen grains and pictures (see below). David might be able to track down more copies if you want to try:

Ali’s ragwort, Senecio jacobaea. The pollen loads are bright orange but I’ve stained the grains pink so that they show up easily.
Broom, Cytisus scoparius, pollen grains which are yellow before staining.
Jane near the wild bee tree bait hive.

Beginner Microscopist.

I spent yesterday morning showing Jane Geddes how to make pollen slides and she was as excited as a child on Christmas day discovering the amazing shapes of enormous spiky mallow grains that I’d preserved in alcohol, and the pillow-shaped Himalayan balsam grains. Jane bought her compound and dissecting microscopes from Tony and is thrilled to bits because otherwise they would have been out of her price-range. Along with some other useful microscopy bits and pieces from Tony, I inherited some very smelly brown fluid in a vial but it is in fact liquid gold and full of nosema spores to make up slides for teaching.

One of the draw backs of mask wearing is that it fogs up the microscope lenses but we managed to also remove a few bee heads to expose tracheae and look for tracheal mites. Next week we will be dissecting the worker bee abdomen and looking at the gut.

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