Category Archives: Honey

Where did it all go wrong?

Synopsis : Why was the summer 2023 honey crop so poor (at least here in Scotland) after a bumper Spring harvest, and what could or should I have done instead? Where did it all go wrong?


Last weekend effectively marked the end of the worst summer season I’ve ever had since starting beekeeping.

At least when measured by honey yield.

Lots of other things went OK and some things went very well, but one of the reasons I keep bees is for honey production and that’s been an abject failure this summer.

I’ve yet to extract – and briefly considered leaving it all for the bees – but am pretty confident that it’s ~25 kg less than 2022.

That’s per hive 🙁 .

That’s a shortfall of over 200 kg from about the same number of production colonies.

I’ve ended up with just half a dozen supers, and not all of them are full.

Another one for the extractor ...

Hello stranger, where were you in summer ’23?

I’m pretty certain I got more full supers in my very first year when I had just two hives … though this was helped by 30 acres of field beans just over the apiary fence.

Location, location, location 😉 .

So what went wrong?

How did this season differ from last season?

And, before I start, it’s not that 2023 was average and 2022 was freakishly good. Since returning to Scotland in 2015 the spring and summer honey crops have been reasonably consistent … and generally pretty good.

2022 was a little better than average and 2019 was appreciably worse, but all of them produced enough honey to make extracting (and the interminable cleaning up, jarring, labelling etc. afterwards) very worthwhile.

2023 is the outlier.

Why didn’t I leave the honey for the bees? Because I treat with Apivar and I’d prefer not to have to melt out the super frames that were exposed to miticide.

So, comparing this year with 2022 (and some earlier years), where did it all go wrong?

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Lime time

Synopsis : Lime, linden, basswood … a fickle source of excellent honey and a potential bee killer. When and why does the lime yield well and what explains the association of some trees with dead bees?


There’s an early 20th Century faux castle near me with extensive ornamental gardens. These gardens – or, more accurately, the gardeners – are almost certainly responsible for the introduction of Rhododendron ponticum to the area. This is an invasive species and has spread east with the prevailing wind, blighting the environment, choking the life out of the near-unique temperate rainforest and providing me with an almost unlimited supply of firewood.

Rhododendron provide no nectar or pollen for honey bees in the UK, but are famous as the source of mad honey in Nepal. The local bumble bees do visit it, but I don’t remember seeing a honey bee on the flowers.

However, on a more positive note 1 those same gardeners also planted a row of lime trees along the road which are now a stately 30-40 metres high, in full flower and which can sometimes provide an excellent source of summer nectar.

Listen … you can hear it from here

Early on a calm July morning you can hear the insects buzzing in the canopy from at least 75 metres away … not just honey bees, but bumbles, wasps, flies, moths, butterflies and all sorts of other things as well. If we had hummingbirds here (we don’t) they’d probably visit the lime when it’s in flower.

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The Hopkins method (and more)

Synopsis : Three short(ish) related topics; the spring honey harvest, queen rearing without grafting (the Hopkins method) and a brief mention of swarm control. And, if that wasn’t enough, a bonus discussion on keeping virgin queens in an incubator.


I started writing this post at sunset on the longest day of the year. In my part of Scotland it’s light enough to work outside from about 3:30 am until 11:30 pm which means you can get a lot done … if you have the energy and distant, deaf or understanding neighbours.

With the good weather we’ve had for the last 2-3 weeks the bees have been out well before I’m drinking my morning coffee and don’t stop until after my evening glass of Barolo.

In my experience, some of the earliest to start are the scout bees that appear at bait hives before foragers are really busy. Some might even stay overnight, though perhaps these are scouts ‘lost’ from a swarm that had decided to occupy a different nest site 1.

It’s lucky the days are so long as this is the busiest time of the year for beekeeping … at least for my beekeeping.

West coast apiary

I am, as the saying goes, ”running around like a headless chicken”.

Rather than write an in depth (well researched 2 ) post on an esoteric aspect of the coxa and trochanter of Apis mellifera scutellata or virus replication in drones (though I’d strongly recommend readers check out our latest paper on this topic, published today) I thought I’d write a few notes on three practical beekeeping topics that have been entertaining me recently.

I can’t promise something for everyone, or even anyone, and inevitably the focus will be on the trilogy of queen rearing, swarm control and the honey harvest.

If you’re a beekeeper and haven’t been busy with these three things over the last few weeks then either something has gone awry with your season … or you live in New Zealand.

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High volume beekeeping

Synopsis : The Spring honey harvest, heavy supers, extra supers, clearers and the space all that spare equipment occupies. You always have too much … until you run out.


It’s usually about this point in the season that I start running out of equipment – brood boxes, supers, clearers, frames, buckets, jars 1 etc. Unusually, it’s not happened this year … yet. However, as I drove back home with a car bulging with weighty supers on Monday, it did make me think about the space needed for beekeeping.

Beekeeping requires quite a bit of space … both in area and height.

Is there a pastime that takes up more space?

Stray ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) in the apiary

Hot air ballooning perhaps? But the balloon is deflated and packed away when not in use, whereas unused supers take up exactly the same amount of space as those in use. They’re just in a different location.

Furthermore, for a significant part of the year, all those supers remain in teetering stacks waiting for the nectar to start flowing. They might only get used for 3 months a year.

And what about feeders and those other items that get used for a week or two a year, or in the case of clearers, only a day or two?

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Dancing in the dark

Synopsis : Hive inspections, receiver bees and the complexity and inherent errors of the waggle dance. Lots to think about as the nectar flow (finally) starts.


I spent a lovely day on Tuesday checking my colonies in Fife. Finally – better late than never – we have a nectar flow and the bees were making the most of the good weather. The air was thick with returning foragers and the hive entrances were very busy.

Busy boxes and lots of brood

Although there was a bit of nectar in the very strongest colonies last week, the majority had needed feeding … not entirely surprising considering the temperatures has averaged less than 10°C since mid-April. With only about three days exceeding 15°C (maximum) since the OSR started flowering it’s no wonder that supers were empty and colonies were dangerously light.

Fife temperatures – mid-April to early May 2023

It’s great doing colony inspections on warm days when there’s a good nectar flow. The bees are so preoccupied with piling in the nectar and pollen that they barely notice the beekeeper rummaging about looking for queen cells.

My own colonies are some way off swarming yet. There were a handful of play cups, but not a sign of a queen cell. This isn’t altogether surprising. The absence of nectar has held the colonies back, meaning they are less strong than they should be.

This also means that it’s a bit easier to see what’s happening inside the hive and there were a few things I noticed that were worth commenting upon.

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