Future promise

Winter-sown OSR

Winter-sown OSR …

With the days getting shorter, the weather worsening and the bees hunkering down until the spring there’s little to do in the apiary. The warm weather, weekly inspections, swarm collection and queen rearing are months away … and it feels like it 🙁  However, things are already happening in the fields that hint at the season to come. The winter-sown oil seed rape (OSR) has been through for at least a month and is now 4-6″ tall. There’s a field just outside the village with acres of the stuff and it will be good to watch it develop into a sea of yellow next spring.

I have a few colonies well within range of this field, as do at least a couple of other beekeepers. Using a Google Maps Area Tool I measured the field at about 17 hectares. Although primarily self-pollinated there’s evidence that the yield and quality (i.e. the percentage that germinates) of OSR seed or its oil content, are all increased if honeybees are present at a density of about 2 colonies per hectare. So, ample to go round for the colonies I’m aware of in the immediate vicinity. Furthermore, if colonies are located close to the OSR field boundaries, honeybees forage for a considerable distance across the field – certainly hundreds of metres. This is in contrast to wild pollinators – like solitary bees and bumble bees – which tend to decline in density away from the field margins (see also this recent paper which reports the same thing; PDF). Whilst this is a compelling argument for wide, species-rich field margins and smaller fields, the reality of modern farming is unfortunately very different. However, the benefits of honeybees (and for honeybees) mean that it might be worth having a chat with the farmer and moving a few colonies onto the field.

OSR honey isn’t to everyones taste and it certainly involves more work for the beekeeper. It must be extracted soon after the supers are collected or it crystallises in the comb. In addition, unless it’s converted into soft-set or ‘creamed’ honey it will inevitably set rock-hard in the jar, resulting in many bent teaspoons. On a more positive note, the availability of large amounts of pollen and nectar relatively early in the season helps colonies build up strongly. With good weather it’s an ideal time to replace comb, getting the bees to use the OSR nectar to build brand new comb – perhaps on foundationless frames – free of diseases for the season ahead. A great way to start the year.

And finally, a reminder of what’s to come …

Early May 2015 OSR ...

Early May 2015 OSR …

5 thoughts on “Future promise

  1. Richard

    I would caution against placing hives in the middle of OSR crops. These crops are sprayed several times, mostly with fungicides. The spraying of any dangerous chemicals have to be done after the bees have stopped flying and having warned the beekeeper first. Which works fine if colonies are located on the edge of the field or within range but if actually in the field it could be a disaster!

    1. David Post author

      I’d place the hives at the edge of the field … where I have easy access. The great thing about honeybees is that they will forage a very long way across an OSR field – much further than bumblebees for example – so reaching the parts other bee(r)s cannot reach (with apologies to Heineken). I’ve seen farmers spraying OSR more during the neonic moratorium and suspect this is going to continue.

  2. Talking With Bees

    Hi David,
    I always read your posts with interest. I’m still a novice/improver …
    I would appreciate and thoughts you have on my honey sections post (www.talkingwithbees.com/honey-sections). I understand it has its challenges, but I am looking to save the time of extracting honey and the opportunity to produce a beautiful product.

    1. David Post author

      I’m not the person to ask Roger as I’ve yet to try to produce section or cut comb. I’m tempted to try sections next season but I’m aware you need a good flow and a strong colony. I’ve been told one or two tricks to getting perfectly filled sections but will need to give them a try before knowing what really works.
      However, I don’t find extracting a chore … it’s actually rather therapeutic. The extracted honey keeps well in buckets and the wet supers can go back on the colonies to be cleaned up before stacking them for the winter. Although therapeutic, it can be physically hard work if it’s been a successful season … not that this was an issue in 2015 when yields were generally low and, because of my move, I concentrated on making bees not honey.

  3. David

    As you say, the active season does seem a long way away.

    Unsurprisingly I think we’re a little ahead of you here in East Angia (a picture of a field near us in mid-November is here: http://www.stpegashoney.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/IMG_0484-Copy.jpg )

    Interesting the research you’ve highlighted, as you say modern farming relies on these big fields which really need pollinators that can extend their range a long way to get into the crop. Field sizes around here seem to range from 5 up to nearly 25 hectares. That’s a lot of hive potential albeit for a short period, the challenge then is finding somewhere else that is as rich once the OSR goes over.


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