Quite probably, oil seed rape (OSR) honey is what keeps commercial beekeeping alive in Britain, but it can pose extraction problems for beekeepers big and small.

Long-time beekeepers say that OSR honey isn’t what it used to be. They say it used to crystallise even faster than it does today! And that it was more attractive to bees.

Speedy Granulation

The speed of OSR granulation in the comb is the core of the problem. It can set in days or even hours. The speed at which honey crystallises depends on the balance of glucose and fructose sugars in the honey. OSR is one of those unusual honeys with more glucose than fructose.

Extraction Distractions

Extract too soon before enough of the frame is capped and you risk fermenting honey. Extract too late and you’ll lose the comb (but not the wax) because you’ll have to melt honey and wax together to separate them.   And then there’s the half-way house where you can extract part of the frame, but leave behind enough crystallised honey to encourage faster setting of the next nectar to arrive.

Here are our tips to help with the first harvest of the season.

If you want to extract, aim to take the filled supers off the hive just as green starts to appear through the golden blossom cover – so long as when you shake the comb, very little nectar falls out of the uncapped cells (if it does drip too much, you’ll risk fermented honey later). If lots does drip out, it’s best to leave it on. Some people leave it on until it sets anyway.  Extract as soon as possible after it’s been removed from the hive and don’t leave the filled supers in a cool place for any length of time before you extract.

If the honey does set in the comb, you can liquify both using a Pratley tray or other heating extraction device.  Some people simply put the chopped-up comb in plastic buckets in a heating cabinet – they can control the temperature more easily and reduce any off-flavours of possible over-heating. However, by deliberately under-heating they won’t extract the maximum amount of honey.

Always store the honey in buckets to let it set – no-one will thank you for rock-hard, spoon-bending honey in jars. By carefully heating the set honey in the buckets, the ultra-fine crystal structure will be broken down and reform to give a more forgiving, more socially acceptable texture. Or you can liquify the honey completely and add a partially set honey as a seed to make a desired texture. Properly handled, OSR honey can have a butter-like texture.

If you have been able to extract only part of the honey in a comb, consider chopping out and liquifying the cells still containing honey to avoid ‘contaminating’ the next nectar flow. The bees will undertake the repairs.

If you are intent on liquifying through heat, consider using unwired super foundation to avoid a fight with the wires. Some people alternate frames with strips of foundation with full foundation.

Put the empty(-ish!) super frames back onto the hives straight away so that the bees remove any remains – this way they won’t contaminate your next crop. If you put the super below your brood box, the bees usually move the honey up into the brood box.

Of course, conditions vary from place to place, so you’ve either found out, or soon will, what works best in your area and with your bees. Good luck. This issue should reach most of you just in time for this season’s late OSR harvest. Tell us your favourite method of dealing with OSR honey.

Appears in the June 2018 Edition of Bee Craft Magazine

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