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Heather Honey Production

Very different from flower honey

This page is written from notes I took from a lecture that was given by Archie Ferguson at Gormanston 2015.

The best moors are grouse moors, where there is a 5 year rotation of burning. In the 2nd year grouse and sheep feed on the shoots, in the 3rd year there are a few flowers and the 4th year is good for honey.

Heather in marshy areas yields nothing, but when adjacent to other forage such as clover, willowherb and water balsam there is a mixture of honey.

It is important to select the apiary site with care, bearing in mind it is temporary if away from home. It needs to be dry and accessible, but hidden away from tourists, as Archie has had people picnicking close to the hives. Bracken can provide shelter.

Archie aims to have his bees on the Scottish moors by 12th August. Preparation of the colonies is important, otherwise they are not in the peak condition needed to obtain a crop. At this time of year the queens are reducing laying, so the bees will store the honey in the brood box instead of the supers. Colonies need to be strong with young queens, so they continue to lay, rather than reduce laying as older queens do. If the brood box is full of brood the bees are forced to put honey in the supers. The trick is to put sealed brood in the middle of the brood box and unsealed brood outside it. This allows the queen to lay in the comb that has been vacated. Brood can come from other colonies if necessary.

One way of getting colonies into the right condition before moving is to bring two colonies close together, put all the brood in one colony, then move the other one away, so it has a lot of brood and all the flying bees.

For moving, Archie replaces the OMF with a solid floor and removes the queen excluder. He places one super on with the appropriate frames, over which he places a ventilation screen. When he moves the bees he closes the entrances and straps the hives up in the evening, ready for moving the next morning, so he finishes in daylight. He leaves the roofs behind and replaces them with a plastic sheet that is stapled to the hive.

The bees are at the heather for about 6 weeks, during which he only makes one visit, taking spare supers with him in case they are needed.

When the heather has finished the supers are removed for transport. Bee escapes need two visits, so Archie prefers a bee blower, which is more efficient.

On returning home the first job is to do the winter feeding, as bees don't take feed if left until October.

Because ling heather honey is thixotropic there is no need to drain cut comb honey. Extracted honey can be spun or pressed, the latter giving the distinctive bubbles that spun honey doesn't have. Archie prefers to extract his honey using a converted spin dryer.

Roger Patterson.