Melissopalynology

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Yesterday's workshop was an introduction to the study of pollen in honey. In particular, we were learning how to go from having a small pot of honey to a slide which can be looked at through a microscope. West Huntspill Methodist Church had been transformed into a laboratory with microscopes, a centrifuge, and other equipment. We spent a few hours washing the pollen sample in the centrifuge, isolating it, and preparing a slide for the microscope. The projector showed the view through the microscope, so the whole workshop could see it and discuss it. The study of pollen is a skill that isn't learned overnight but rather over decades, so our session really aimed to get a general view of the process rather than making any positive identification.

As I described in Friday's post, Dave and Ⓓ's bees have produced a fragrant, darker honey, where as mine is pale and relatively flavourless. The general opinion was that what I had in my sample pot was essentially stored sugar syrup rather than true honey. This wasn't a disappointment — I'm just happy they have made it so far and that they have stores, so anything found in their honey could only be a bonus. Also, we had Dave's honey, which was bound to be interesting.

This was the first honey ever taken from our colonies and we were of course very curious about what it was like. In both cases, the colour suggested the odour and flavour. Dave and Ⓓ already have a rich, deeply-flavoured honey, perhaps evidence of that colony's tendency to forage rather than feed. Mine and Ⓑ's, on the other hand, was sweet and perhaps slightly floral, but essentially stored sugar.

After a few runs on the centrifuge, we made the slides up, put them under the microscope, and alien shapes began appearing on the screen. The first surprise was that my honey indeed contained pollen, but which were too small to see on the equipment we had. Only blurry blobs could be seen. Later, Dave found a cluster of tiny grape-shaped pollen on one of my slides that some of us speculated might be ivy. Dave's slides were a kaleidoscope of shapes, the most striking being a very geometric straight-triangular one with perfect circles on each vertex. We were at a loss for what this could be, going by the monochrome photographs in the copy of Rex Sawyer's Pollen Identification for Beekeepers. However, Dave mentioned that primrose was a possible pollen on the slide. I was hoping that we would see some pollen from the blackberry brambles all around the hives, or from the clover all around in the field, but without further understanding, it's hard to confirm that. We have experimented with feeding them this year with Candipolline Gold, which contains pollen of its own (sterilised by gamma rays). Some of that pollen will have inevitably ended up in the sample.

There are a lot of terms involved with pollen identification that I will need to bone up on in order to describe these shapes with any accuracy. Pollen can appear at any orientation on the slide, making things even more difficult. When I do get the hang of all this, PalDat search is likely to be of use.

I really enjoyed the workshop. There was a little concern that the time spent waiting for the centrifuge slowed the day down a bit, but this meant that there was plenty of time to talk with beekeepers who, over the course of the last year, we've come to rely on for useful information and advice. It was good to talk about bees and other topics over a cup of tea in an unhurried way like that. It's from those kind of conversations that I feel like I learn the most.

Today, we shared the rest of the honey at my house with Ⓑ, Ⓒ and Ⓓ before enjoying the improving weather by swinging by the apiary, exploring the local footpaths and searching for fossils in the local woods.