Does luck come in threes? If it does, then it certainly did this year for honey production.

Beekeepers having had a good honey harvest from clover and blackberry could hardly have hoped for the Ling heather to complete the trio.

Well, the Ling did oblige when the nectar flow arrived and lasted for a good week in August.

As is often the case with nectar flows from ling heather, it started quickly and ended like a door slamming closed, weather being the culprit.

Beekeepers working for heather honey require a lot of skills in bee husbandry alongside a large pot of good luck if they are to get the most from this crop.

The native black bee suits heather honey production. Their ability to cap the honey with pristine white wax cappings make that honey very attractive. Much of this honey is sold as cut comb (honeycomb in a tub). This method of selling comb honey has largely taken over from the “sections”. Section honey comes in a square wooden frame, filled directly by the bees. They are very attractive but have many drawbacks from a production perspective. Much more honey can be produced by the conventional beekeeping methods, allowing the beekeeper to cut out the honey from its frame and place it into tubs.

Looking at comb honey, one may be unaware that beneath the domed wax cap covering each cell containing honey, there is a void or air space. The native black bees are masters at sealing their honey with pristine white caps, making it very attractive. In the event that the honey is badly handled, where the dome cappings are pressed into the honey, one will see a “wet” surface, making the product less attractive.

Sometimes the bees themselves will be the cause of this phenomenon, most likely due to severe overcrowding in the honey super and excess travel across the comb surface. Perhaps the beekeeper should take some of the blame.

Ling honey, while naturally a gel product, requires specialised equipment to extract it from the honeycomb. This equipment is beyond the reach of most beekeepers. A much simpler way to get the honey out of the comb is to press it using a “honey press”.

In this method the honeycomb is cut into pieces and placed in a mesh bag within the honey press. This piece of equipment squeezes the comb, forcing the honey out in a bubbly liquid. The liquid honey is caught in a settling tank and bottled off. A feature of ling heather honey in a jar will be, the myriad of tiny air bubbles which are its trademark.

The moisture content of ling honey is always high, ranging from 21% to 25% moisture. Normal honeys would be below 19%. This high moisture content arises because ling honey is a gel in its normal state, making it difficult for bees to fully evaporate the moisture from it. Technically, this is a sitting duck for fermentation. However, the nature of the separation of the air bubbles slows the problem down.

The flavour of ling heather honey would require a dictionary of terms to describe it. Suffice to say that, once tasted, you will never forget it. It is unique, strong, cutting and aromatic.

Could we be favoured with four in a row for this year’s ivy flow, which will soon start?

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