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Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Autumn honey harvest - Aug 11

Its been a tricky year for honey with many months of very dry weather and our novice handling which resulted in maybe 5 swarms from 3 hives.  So since the bumper spring harvest the bees have been either struggling to find food or messing around without mummy to organise them into honey production. With this in mind we didnt expect to get much honey from our 3 hives and we didnt. Thirty jars was all. But it tastes great; very strong flowery flavour. In think its our best yet (not that we can take any credit).

What is also interesting is how different in colour and flavour it is from last autumns honey.  See the comparison in the picture from the far left (this weeks) to far right (last Sept).

Honey from rapeseed (canola)

Honey from rapeseed has many advantages but, for beekeepers, it is tricky to process.   In this article I am trying to balance the various perspectives: For the consumer

Appearance: The honey is an opaque pale buff/cream colour which is lighter than the supermarket style set honey. (LEFT:light coloured jar next to our darker autumn honey)

Texture: it is a firm honey but not too hard to spread.  It is also a very fine creamy smooth texture as the sugar crystals are very small.

Taste:  it is a mild honey (this varies slightly according to the variety or rapeseed and also what else might be mixed into it) with a very slight but pleasant peppery aftertaste.

 

For the Beekeeper

Rapeseed is a mixed blessing as the bees can produce quite large quantities of honey in May and June (and this year - 2011 - even in April).  Its always good to have a plentiful source of nectar and pollen to promote healthy productive bee colonies and even better to get lots of honey.

But....and its a big 'but'....beekeepers have to keep a close eye on the honey being produced when it contains rapeseed as it crystalises so readily it will set in the frames making extraction almost impossible.   Most beekeepers empty any capped or half-capped frames at the end of May but if the temperature in the hive drops below 30 degrees the honey can begin to set within 24 hours.   The reasons why the temperature might drop are:

  • reduction in bee numbers keeping the frames warm - possibly because they have swarmed
  • a very cold night reducing the temperature at the top of the hive further from the brood box heat
  • the honey is fully capped so the bees leave it alone to cool as their work is done

You can tell if it is beginning to set by scraping the cappings off a small area of honey cells. If you see that the honey is some of the cells is opaque, its setting. Once it has begun to set there is no stopping it and the race is then on to remove the honey as quickly as possible.

Once extracted, it will set completely in the jars within a few weeks. If you want to keep it clear you need to pasteurise it by heating gently to about 50 degrees centigrade.

For the bees

Rapeseed is great for both nectar and pollen and therefore really boosts brood production.  They will fill any free areas with pollen - sometimes more than they need taking up space that would otherwise be used for laying.

The colony can be so boosted that risk of swarming is much greater so weekly checks for queen cells will be vital from the first sign of rape flowers in the fields.

 

Our spring honey harvest

Last weekend we managed to find time to take our first spring-time honey harvest.  We live in rural South Oxfordshire where most of the land is under grain production and of course, oil seed rape is one of the rotations.   We were not sure how much rape was in our honey as the nearest field has been over a mile away and the blackthorn, hawthorn and other tree blossom has been nearer and plentiful. Each week in May we checked to see if the honey was trying to set and then a week ago we saw the first signs.  We put the clearer boards in and took the supers off two days later. In that time about 10% of the honey had begun to set. I guess that was because the bees had been keeping it warm and when we cleared the out the temperature in the supers dropped.

We decided that we needed a really warm environment for the extraction. My creative-thinking husband suggested the conservatory which is south facing and was sunny.  This worked a treat although we all needed large amounts of water to avoid collapsing with the heat.

We have been having queen trouble for the last few weeks so the bees have not really been producing honey since mid April. In spite of that we got two supers from one hive and one from another.  In total it came to 50 jars of honey so we were delighted (but very sticky).

We left the last of it draining through the double sieve over night in the kitchen and by morning it had thickened so much that it was no longer going through the sieve at all. That just shows the difference room temperature makes with rape honey.

Its pale and taste mild with an almost peppery aftertaste.   I hope that the friends and family who have placed order like it.