Over recent weeks we have achieved a great deal with our bees because of a spell of good weather. Many young queens have been introduced into small hives (nuclei) and are now mated and hopefully will make good colonies next spring.
The weather has changed to such a degree that we must now move all our hives to the hills to get some heather honey. The heather might be out by the 25th July. In the meantime it is important that we move the bees into sheltered places on the moors or they pack up for the winter. They know the date! If the bees are taken to the heather too late then it is a wasted journey for them. In a bad year the heather might come out on the 25th of August or not at all but we must go, as the bees generally get enough honey to see them through the winter.
This week we are moving 20 hives of bees to the Breamish Valley where there is a large acreage of indigenous white clover which we think is in fields that have been established for a long time. Modern clovers have been hybridized and yield no nectar, except at very high temperatures.
Indigenous white clover, which is now a rare plant, will yield a huge amount of nectar, provided the night temperature is 60 degrees F and there has been rain once a week, as it is very shallow rooted. This plant was the mainstay of agriculture and beekeeping between 1925 and 1965. As well as producing nectar it fixed nitrogen in the soil which meant that animals could be grazed without the use of artificial fertilizers. Clover did better is the ground was treated with basic slag (lime) which was a by-product of the steelworks. Thus we had sustainable agriculture and relatively easy beekeeping from June clover!
In the Lammermuirs willowherb grows naturally and is also grown in large patches for game birds and this plant sustains honeybees and many other insects before the heather comes out. The heather yields honey when it is ‘dusting’ – that is producing a great amount of light grey pollen. This is to encourage insects to pollinate the plant and lasts from 3 to 14 days.
Heather (Calluna vulgaris) had been damaged greatly in recent years through not being burnt on a six year rotation, although one landowner has made great efforts to re-establish this most wonderful plant.