The heather 2014

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In most years my bees have been struggling to get to full strength in time for the heather. Too much swarming, too many nucs produced, poor summers and my reluctance to spend money on sugar. After managing my colonies for strength this year, and replacing queens heading some stocks with something better (thanks Jon!) I'm optimistic about a better heather crop than recent years.

They went up a little later than planned, on 2 August. Just too much going on this year. Many thanks to FD for spending half of a Sunday helping! This year I've managed a rape crop, some lime cut comb, a two full supers of clover cut comb from one colony shifted to Glen Clova, and now there are half a dozen colonies in Glen Isla gathering in my last crop of the year. I looked in yesterday, 12 days into their 5-week spell up there. The weather hasn't been great with a lot of rain and temperatures much reduced compared to earlier, but the honey is coming in. Two have more or less filled their first super and now have a second, one is packing it in to an upper brood box furnished with thin unwired deep foundation (bit of an experiment), and the others look as if they will produce a crop too.

Anxiously eyeing the forecast for next week ..... sunshine and showers sounds good, the lowish temperatures and particularly the low night temperatures in the middle of next week less welcome. One frost up there can more or less put paid to the heather season.

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  1. gavin's Avatar
    Was up at mine last night and had the chance to discuss the season with beekeepers at a funeral today. Despite the poor weather here mine have been holding their own, stores in the super-wise, and one has expanded its super stores. All feel particularly heavy (unless my arms were particularly weak last night!), suggesting that they are packing it into contracting brood nests in those brief spells when the sun comes out. One colony last night was purring away, suggesting they were processing the day's haul, much to my surprise given the weather yesterday.

    An Edinburgh beekeeper with bees in the Lammermuirs has filled supers in the last fortnight, and John M, famous beekeeper in the Dumfries area plus the Robsons in the borders are apparently talking of a great heather season. This year there is plenty of healthy flowering heather, good levels of dampness at the roots and there was a good early summer to give the plants oomff (if that matters!). All we need now .... please! .... is some warmer weather. In some places it hasn't been quite as cold as here, and they're doing well.
  2. John M's Avatar
    Purely by co-incidence I logged into SBAi tonight and noticed Gavin was commenting on the heather. It is amazing how stories get about, both that this is a great heather season and that someone is a famous beekeeper!
    Just for the record my view is that the heather is looking stunning pretty well everywhere and in some locations there is a very good crop. We have around 100 colonies in two valleys just south of Broughton which are doing well/very well. We also have around 100 spread around Leadhills and there the results are more variable. In a proportion the bees are packing what honey they are collecting into the shallow upper brood box, backfilling with honey as the brood hatches while doing very little in the supers. Still, a shallow box of heather is well worth the effort of getting the bees up there and there are others which will have a good bit more.
    A few miles west of Biggar the hives are stuffed full with no space left for the bees so location is probably a critical factor.

    It is all relative, last year my heather average was just 3 lbs per colony, this year I am reluctant to speculate but if the weather is kind it could be the bumper year we hope for. When the alarm goes off at 4am and it is time to move yet another load of bees to the moors the temptation is to say "I'll give the heather a miss this year" and of course that would be the one time when big crops can be got. A good heather crop can be the making of a bee farmers livelyhood so we persevere.
  3. gavin's Avatar
    And there was me thinking I'd hit the big time with seven colonies on the heather this year! (One in Clova too.) Great to hear from you John.

    4am? No idea what that is!