At the last Apimondia conference held last year in Dublin Barbara and I met up with an old friend from Tobago, Gladstone Solomon. Some of you will have met him at the National Honey Show or when he has stayed with us in Cheshunt. Gladstone has been trying to persuade us to visit the Caribbean for a long time and this time he was successful with the added incentive of attending the fourth Caribbean Beekeeping Conference in November Some of you may also remember 3 beekeepers from the Caribbean who attended the South East Herts BKA meeting in November 2000 and shared a little of their beekeeping with us. They were visiting England to attend the National Honey Show, where other Herts members may remember meeting them. Ramesh Jadoo and Anthony David are both with the Trinidad Ministry of Agriculture and Francis Forbes is now the vice president of the Tobago Beekeepers Association. Ramesh. Anthony and Gladstone were involved with the organisation of the conference. Originally I booked into a hotel but Ramesh invited me to stay with his family and so the hotel booking was cancelled and I spent a week outside the conference staying up in the jungle, the only white person in the community. The whole community made me feel at home with jokes such as “Why does a group of black men take a white man swimming?" Answer "The sharks see the white man first."
The Jungle comes to within a few feet of the houses in the community and even the telephone wires have Bromeliad plants growing on them and flowering, So many plants were growing wild that we regard in England as delicate houseplants, some of them to enormous size. Philodendron species 50 or more feet high growing up trees, Crotons growing as hedges. The highlight of the week however had nothing to do with bees but another small creature. Ramesh took me to visit his watermelon plantation on a hillside in the jungle one night. In the inky darkness there were 10s or even 100s of thousands of fireflies twinkling away all over the hillside like random Christmas fairy lights. Ramesh runs around a hundred hives of his own (all Africanised bees) but I never got an opportunity to look at them in daylight. Those of you that are interested may like to know that despite their reputation the stings felt no different to those that our own bees can inflict.
The week long conference was attended by beekeepers from all over the Caribbean, and a few from further a field, the USA, UK, S America, Holland and Tanzania. There were sessions on adding value to bee products, international trade, stingless bees, bee diseases, beekeeping on different islands and more.
The Friday of the conference was given over to technical visits and I opted to look at stingless bees Mellipona trinitatis. Our host for the day (Harry Ramsamooj) runs around 50 colonies and a larger no of colonies of honeybees. These are probably only half the size of our honeybees and have much smaller colonies. They do not produce large quantities of honey and harvesting is done using a 50mil syringe to suck the honey from the honey “pots”. There is growing interest in possible therapeutic uses of this honey. The honey was rather watery, with a mildly bitter taste and from what I could gather fetches a good price. Harry generously supplied me with a quantity to forward to University College Cardiff for their research.
On the Saturday a number of people flew over to Tobago for a weekends beekeeping and sightseeing with Gladstone before departing homewards. I stayed on with Francis and his family on the island. Most of the second week was spent on Tobago staying with Francis Forbes and his family. Francis and Shirley made sure I saw a lot of the island in my few days with them. The coral reefs seen through a glass bottomed boat are spectacular, and for a little culture "Sunday School" which I was surprised to discover was an evening of steel band music on the waterfront.
The honeybees here are European and easily to handle, at least the bees in the apiaries I visited were. I was surprised at how weak many of colonies were but the beekeepers assured me that this was normal and they were capable of producing crop in February. In late November (end of the rainy season) all the apiaries were being fed, mostly the feeders were trays holding several gallons of syrup set out in the open and when I asked about robbing I was assured that this was rarely a problem. I suspect that with the discovery of foul brood on the island which is easily spread by communal feeding this may change. On the Wednesday Wellete Toby-McMillan showed me around some of the government agricultural stations and here was the only example of in hive feeding that I saw. The beekeepers were feeding a light brown semi-refined sugar and water mix which was cheaper than white sugar, but the bees can fly all year round so this does not cause any problems.
All the apiaries on the island had lizards running around and in one apiary a number of the hives had large cockroaches inside on the walls but away from the area occupied by the bees. Apiaries of 50 or more hives seem to be normal and whilst most of the honey bees are kept in Langstroth hives I saw a number of Kenyan Top Bar hives in use.
Since his visit to England Francis has become well known among the beekeeping fraternity on the island for his mead making. I would like to thank all the beekeepers on the islands who shared their homes, their bees, and their islands with me.
Bees for Development are running a safari to Trinidad and Tobago from the 29th January to 8th February 2007. Details can be found in the newsletter.