We spent 2 weeks in Scotland in late August/early Sept 2017. I wrote about the trip & a 1-day bee conference we attended for the NH Beekeepers’ Winter Newsletter. Here’s the first part of the story:
Beekeeping in Scotland
What could be better than a vacation in Scotland? A vacation in Scotland and getting to attend the Scotland Beekeepers Association Fall Conference while you are there! That is what happened this year when my husband and I planned our vacation. Once we had the dates for our trip, I looked to see if there were any bee club meetings I might attend so that I could meet some local beekeepers – and low and behold I found the SBA conference.
Scotland is a small country. Compared to NH, they have approximately 4.5 times as many people (6 million in Scotland vs 1.3 million in NH), and approximately 3 times as much land. The country is very rural – mostly made up of huge estates where they farm all sorts of things from livestock to barley to strawberries. To give you an idea of how big these estates are – approximately 500 people own more than ½ the land in Scotland.
We drove all over the country during our trip, and I was amazed at how similar the landscape was to NH (but with a lot more sheep and castles!). It is not as forested as NH is now – but I can imagine that NH looked very much the same during the “sheep boom” that we had in the early 1900s.
The weather in Scotland is generally wetter and colder than NH. We were there in late August/early September, and the temperature was in the high 50s/low 60s. They seldom have to water their crops or flowers (one B&B owner was telling me how dry it had been. She had to water her flowers once this summer!).
As I met beekeepers, I found it interesting how similar (varroa is their biggest challenge, they must deal with cold winters), yet different (hive types, honey crops, etc.) beekeeping is in Scotland.
Most beekeepers I talked to use “National” Hives which have 14”x12” hive bodies. They use “British standard” frames which have much longer “ears” so they can fit in the hive body either left-to-right or back-to-front. Poly-styrene hives instead of wooden ones seem to be much more common than here in NH.
They do not use inner covers – even on Langstroth hives. Instead their outer covers are deeper (6”) and have ventilation built in.
Most folks I talked to seemed to use 1 brood box and only 1 or 2 supers. They were shocked to see a picture of my hives which are 5-7 medium boxes tall. Unfortunately, I did not get to ask how big their typical honey harvest is or how often they harvest. My guess is the fact that they have so much rain may limit how much their bees can forage; thereby limiting the harvest.
One of their biggest honey crops is heather – which blossoms in August/Sept. We timed our trip so I could see “heather” blossoming (for obvious reasons!). I figured we would have to go on certain roads or to particular towns to see the bloom (like going to Sugar Hill to see Lupine), but the heather was absolutely everywhere, covering entire mountain tops. It was in full-bloom in the Highlands (northern Scotland) and had just gone by in the “Borders” (southern Scotland).
I also learned that in Northern Ireland, a big honey crop is a combination of heather and fuchsia which blossom at the same time. Apparently, the combination of the two nectars has a wonderful taste. Unfortunately, I never saw any “heather honey” so I did not get to sample it.