August will soon be here, and with it the prospect of heather honey! Here, Bee Craft’s Scottish representative, Graham Torrie, advises us how to make the most of the opportunity:

Up here in rural Aberdeenshire we are blessed with huge areas of high moorland, and so an abundance of ling heather. Like many hobby beekeepers, I take the chance to shift a couple of my hives up to higher ground in August to tap in to this late season resource. If you are thinking about doing the same, here are some ideas based on my own efforts that you might want to consider.

Your ideal site will be amongst the heather, sheltered, with suitable access for dropping off, visiting and removing your hives. You should always have permission from the landowner. My own routine involves, in early July, contacting the factor of the estate I go to, providing him with a hand-drawn map of where my hives will be, and collecting a key to the access gate to the hill. The traditional ground rent, at least in these parts, is one pound of heather honey per hive.

Towards the end of July, pick out two or three of your strongest colonies. Aim for around eight frames of brood and three of stores. If necessary, you could unite two weaker stocks to make up a strong one. A couple of days before you intend to move the hives (which will be dependent upon the timing of the ling coming into flower in your area) put a clearer board under your supers and remove them. The goal is to have a congested, single brood box, ‘boiling over’ with bees.

The next step is to arrange the brood nest as follows: Frames with mainly sealed brood should go in the centre; those with open brood and eggs should go on either side of these. Frames of stores will be on the flanks of the brood nest. This arrangement will ensure that the outer frames of the brood nest will be unavailable to the bees for storing incoming nectar for the next three weeks, meaning that more will go in the heather supers. Over that time, the cells containing the sealed brood in the central frames will become available to the queen to continue laying.

On each of your heather-bound hives, place a super, complete with frames fitted with thin, unwired foundation. Alternatively, save some money and cut two-inch deep ‘starter strips’ from your foundation and fit one of these to the top of each frame. The bees will easily draw this out to fill the frame. Some beekeepers don’t bother with queen excluders under the heather supers, but I always do. Maybe you could try it either way and see what results you get.

Lifting these jam-packed hives, with supers in place, is a heavy job; get someone to help you. If you have carrying handles that hook under either side of the hive floor, all the better. Take along some form of light-weight stand to lift your hives off the damp ground; I use small pallets. Take care as you carry the hives over rough terrain from your vehicle to their site, then set them down on even ground, facing south to make the most of the sunshine.

That’s it. You’ve done all you can do. Now it’s up to the bees.

For many of us, going to the heather is one of the highlights of the season. These short notes just scratch the surface of the subject, which is so rich you could write a book about it. And that’s exactly what Michael Badger has done. You’ll find his unsurpassed work, HEATHER HONEY: A Comprehensive Guide, on the Bee Craft website

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