The DARG Pollen Project 2017.

Some 5 years ago COLOSS developed a project to look at the diversity of pollens collected by bees. It involved beekeepers worldwide collecting samples of pollen on a regular basis and then sorting it into the diverse colours and reporting their findings. The pollen was then stored as it was hoped that microscopic examination would occur but it only occurred on a couple of occasions. Several beekeepers in the South West took part including the late Kay Thomas, a DARG member who was keen to continue the project when it ceased.

To this end DARG in association with Bridgewater BKA are promoting a ‘Pollen Project’ in Devon, Somerset and Dorset to look at pollen diversity in samples collected from honeybee colonies. To take part all that is required is a bee colony in a suitable hive, a Fairweather pollen trap, or similar, and a little time to sort and record samples and compare them with colour charts and local knowledge for identification. Ideally microscopic identification but this takes time and some practice. During the year DARG some pollen microscopy training sessions were arranged for DARG and Bridgewater BKA members.

In 2017 I practiced our proposed system. From April to September, as near to the middle of each month as possible, I placed a Fairweather pollen trap on a colony of bees for 24 hours to collect a pollen sample. 20 grammes of this, roughly a 12 oz. honey jar lid full, was sorted into the different colours, categorized as Rare, Very, Rare or Abundant and an assessment made using colour identification charts as to the plant it came from. This took about two hours to complete. As I was also using microscopy to look at the samples I took a pellet of each colour and made up a slide to examine in the winter.

The project has certainly improved my microscopy skills and has shown the importance of building up a local library of pollen types. I used the identification system described by Rex Sawyer in his book ‘Pollen Identification for Beekeepers’ and I must add that unexpectedly I have become hooked on the subject! 40 slides were made up, 11 remain as un-identified for the moment. Sawyers tables only cover 134 species and my local library is still to be built up, so this is not unexpected. The species decided by colour and microscopy agreed on 8 occasions. One interesting slide showed black pollen indicating the Field Poppy, with which microscopy agreed, but also observed on the slide was pollen from Jerusalem Artichoke. I was only able to identify it because I had made up a library slide from the 5 plants I was growing in the garden. No one else in my valley is growing them.

My apiary is located on East Devon Pebble Bed and about half the local foraging area is Heath, the remainder being Mixed Agricultural, Orchards and Gardens. So what did I find coming into my colonies?

Pear/Apple   Gorse   Oak   Birch  Willow

Hogweed   Meadowsweet  White clover    Blackberry   Ash

Virginia Creeper    Red clover   Lime   Buttercup    Dandelion

Bell Heather   Sweet chestnut    Ling    Field Poppy

Jerusalem Artichoke

Hogweed was a surprise but it is a very distinctive pollen grain and widespread in nearby rough grass and stream banks.

A protocol for this project will be put on our website early in 2018.

Richard Ball

Chairman DARG

A Modified National Hive fitted with a

Fairweather Pollen Trap

Unsorted Pollen

Sorted Pollen

Pollen Grain of

Jerusalem Artichoke