We have now taken bees to the oil seed rape for 50 years. We cannot avoid this crop because there are so many fields in the Tweed Valley. But we need to take the bees into the fields to get them away from the bitter North Easterly winds that have gone on now for a month. We leave them as long as possible in the winter sites to get their numbers built up, and then shut them in, in the morning or late evening, and away to their new home.
More recently, oil seed rape varieties have tended to yield less nectar, particularly the hybrid types because one imagines that the plant would be better putting its energy into producing oil rather than nectar and so hybrid varieties are self-pollinating. A further problem looming on the horizon is that rape crops are being decimated by the flea beetle which were once controlled by neonicotinoids that were banned for a good reason. Very mild winters are also part of the problem when pests get off to a flying start in the spring. Systemic insecticides have been found in pollen thus poisoning insects that are doing the pollination. The practice of applying chemicals to agricultural crops prophylactically has to stop otherwise we will ultimately destroy every living thing.
As a result we are now told by our farming associates that nectar rich flowers will be planted on most farms to a varying degree and we will be involved in supplying hives in smaller numbers to very many farms so the future is brighter than it might have been.
It wouldn’t surprise me if oil seed rape might disappear altogether which would be a pity because this honey mixed with other local honeys and properly prepared was and is the mainstay of our business (Tweedside Honey).
Previously up to 1965 indigenous white clover fulfilled this role. Modern clovers are hybridised and yield little nectar. Phacelia makes lovey honey, blue borage (starflower) much less so. These will be honey bearing plants of the future in the Borders, before the long trek to the hills and the heather.