The extremely dry spell in August will not be forgotten for many reasons. The ling heather bloomed early and gave a fantastic nectar yield within the first weeks of August. It was one of the best heather honey crops for many a year.
The blackberry and clover nectar flows had no sooner ended when beekeepers had to load up hives for transport to the hills. Given the high temperatures and brilliant sunshine, nectar yields from the heather flowed earlier in the flowering period than one would have expected. Those beekeepers, lucky enough to have taken hives to the heather, got a good return for their efforts. Bees quickly converted the nectar into honey, capping the cells over the liquid gold, sealing in its goodness and creating a honeycomb worthy of a place in any museum. In fact, most of the frames of honeycomb were of show quality.
Given that the normal time which one would expect the ling to yield would be in or about mid-August and up to the first week of September, some beekeepers may have missed the bus on the early flow. Hives placed in the heather later than the first week of August would have honey in the supers, which bees had not finished capping when the weather broke. Once this happens, despite a return to favourable weather, bees seem unable or unwilling to complete the sealing of the honey by placing a wax capping on the honeycomb.
The ivy flowers are on the horizon, but who knows how the elements will facilitate a good nectar flow from it
Partially sealed honey does not look well in cut-comb honey intended for sale and in fact should not be put for sale. Those beekeepers who have a honey press can press the honey from the combs and put it into jars.
Heather honey has a tendency to have a higher moisture content than multifloral, ranging from 21 to 23% or perhaps marginally higher. A moisture check on some heather honey removed from the hives towards the end of the dry spell had a reading of 17%. The moisture content is excellent and keeps the honey out of the fermentation range, which is above 21%.
Heather honey is a unique product, of a dark and somewhat reddish colour, with a strong and unmistakable flavour. The product may be hard to come by in the comb form and may be of limited supply.
Beekeepers are winding down now and preparing colonies for the winter. Honey shows are a feature at this time of year, with some beekeepers specialising in preparing entries for them. The London Honey Show is a Mecca for Irish exhibits, often culminating in prizes for Irish honey.
The ivy flowers are on the horizon, but who knows how the elements will facilitate a good nectar flow from it. With brood chambers already well supplied with winter stores, resulting from a continuous nectar flow after the main honey crop was removed, there is a strong possibility that much ivy honey will be stored above the bees.
Overall, the year so far appeared challenging at times for bees and beekeepers. Nature did win out, giving a tremendous crop of honey.