From our Scottish representative, Graham Torrie:

Last month I described how I was preparing to take two of my hives to the hills in order to take advantage of the abundance of ling heather blooming on the high moorland of rural Aberdeenshire.  Now, four weeks on, they need to come home.  Here are some of the things I'm thinking about, and perhaps you will be too.

Deciding when to call an end to the heather harvest involves a bit of a trade-off.  Even with the ling still offering nectar, I want to get my hives home and make a start on winter preparations.  My plan is always to finish any supplementary feeding by the middle of September.  After that, at least in these parts, there's a risk that dropping temperatures and shortening days will mean that the bees won't be able to properly ripen and cap their winter feed.  The end result can be fermenting stores, leading to dysentery and, potentially, failure of the colony.  If you are bringing your hives back from the moor, you’ll need to make the same judgement as far as timing is concerned.  For me, in the first week of September they're coming home.

As a hobby beekeeper with modest ambitions, I have just one heather super on each of my hives.  This means that I can bring them back with the supers still in place, provided I have a helping hand to lift, carry and load.  If you have more than one super on your hives, you'll likely have to start a day or two earlier, putting clearer boards beneath the supers so that you can remove and transport them separately.  As with the outward journey, the bees will need to be shut in either late in the evening or early in the morning.  I use sponge packed in the entrances, then strap up the hives properly, with two straps, one front to back and the other side to side.

There is a book to write about the next steps, but here is my ‘to do’ list:

Remove the supers and extract the precious heather honey.  Remember, heather honey won’t normally come out of the comb in a centrifugal extractor.  If you have nicely capped frames, think about using these for cut comb, it’s a premium product and saves a great deal of work.  Otherwise, the options are limited.  Very few of us will have a needle agitator to reduce the stiffness of the honey, making it possible to use an ordinary extractor.  So, the other option is to press the honey from the comb.  If you don't have a heather press, perhaps your local association has one that you can borrow.

Assess the state of the colonies you've brought home.  If they are queen-right, strong and healthy, set them up according to how you intend to over-winter them.  For me, this means adding five more frames and arranging them in a double brood box, with eight frames in each.

If you’ve left the colonies short on stores, start feeding a heavy syrup.  Use a rapid feeder for this.  The larger ones are handy as they don't need so much topping up.  You can buy various ready-made syrups for this job, but I like to make my own.  I dissolve 4 kilos of white sugar in 2 litres of warm water.  It takes a lot of stirring, but saves a lot of money.

In her August reminder, Wendy highlighted the subject of autumn Varroa treatment.  This year I'll be using Apivar strips, which will stay in the hive for eight weeks.  If you are using a similar treatment, always follow the instructions carefully.

Make sure you have mouseguards ready to put on at the start of October.  Make a note in your BeeCraft calendar to get this done.

Now turn your mind to how you want to insulate your hives.  This is a subject that generates much debate and disagreement amongst beekeepers.  Find out what other members of your local association do and try it out.

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