This year’s Spring Convention in Sidmouth was a record breaker for me as organiser, with eighty-two attendees staying in two hotels, six more officially coming along for the days only, and several others appearing at the visits on spec. The Bedford Hotel had too few bedrooms for such a large number and we almost took over another hotel, The Woodlands, for bed & breakfast with the Bedford being the venue for evening meals and talks. Both hotels coped splendidly and we were very comfortable and well fed by their cheerful staff.
Friday evening after dinner, Paddy Wallace gave us some background to the development of Quince Honey Farm, The next day we descended upon South Molton and at his invitation spent the day poking and peering here and there in best bee farmer tradition. We saw the exhibits ranging from the demonstration hives that he built himself through to the latest innovation of a large (and very popular) indoor children’s play area which was the brainchild of the new generation, his son Ian who is his full-time help. Ian has also obtained a large colony of leaf-cutting ants which while we were visiting completely stripped a bunch of cuttings of their leaves. I don’t mind bees at all, but I would not want to mess with those ants, especially the very large soldiers. Paddy very kindly provided us all with soup, large roll and tea for lunch. Thank you Paddy, Jean, Ian and fiancé Karina, and all of your staff for such a warm welcome.
On Saturday evening Ken and Dan Basterfield (Dan having come straight from sitting two advanced beekeeping exams) told us of their new venture, a bee farm comprising three large buildings (it would have been one larger building but for the local planning committee) built on virgin land in a large field. We were told about the planning struggles and other hurdles that had to be jumped to get where they are. The next day we all coached it to gaze in awe and envy at what they had achieved. One building is large storage area for equipment – including the BFA bulk purchase materials – with almost half of it being the water purification plant. Why? – because there is no water to the farm, so the rainwater from two massive roofs is piped into a very large water tank and purified to the highest drinking and food processing standards on site. A second building is a vehicle and farm machinery store. The third includes a warm room, extraction room, kitchen / bottling room, large classroom, toilets and office, all kitted out to very high standards with stainless steel equipment. In the kitchen is a large white box the size of a fridge-freezer, with numerous water pipes leading in and out. This is the ground-heat recovery machine, which then directs to heat to under-floor heating in the building. Dan will have to give a proper description of the process if you want to know more. The whole set-up, as yet untouched by any honey, was something any of us would love to have, or to have had when we were young enough to have the energy to run it.
On arrival we were treated to tea or coffee and a selection of wonderful cakes cooked by Maureen B. who had drummed up help to make sure that we wanted for nothing. Once the investigations were complete we all decamped to Seaton Town Hall for a delicious buffet lunch organised once again by Maureen and a local caterer and the helpers from the morning feed who included some beekeepers who were able to stay to listen to our two speakers for the afternoon, Poul Erik Soerensen who spoke about his queen breeding enterprise – he takes his queens to an island to mate, ensuring drone quality; and Poul Bach Soerensen (no relation) who is MD of Aulumgaard who spoke about hive hygiene and nuc production in Denmark. I hope to have details of these talks in a later bulletin. After dinner Poul Erik and Poul Bach took questions from the members until it was time to call a halt. Thanks to Ken Maureen and Dan, their band of helpers; and to Poul Eric and Poul Bach for making the day so memorable. I must also thank the very tolerant coach drivers and staff at the hotels and everyone else that helped to make this another successful event. Even the weather was obliging. For information about the two hotels, The Bedford (our base hotel, with splendid sea views, comfortable rooms, good food, and a bar with TWO real ales from the local brewery), and the Woodlands Hotel, also Quince Honey Farm, Dan Basterfields, and the Danish speakers, see the links page.