Summer vs Winter honey

How and when bees store honey alters the composition and taste. In conventional beekeeping, all the honey from the preceding season is taken in late summer/early autumn, and the bees fed a sugar syrup to replenish their stores.

I don’t do this. Instead, I take honey little and often through the summer and leave the bees with more than enough to last them well in to spring. This means that I can take honey from a strong hive before the main honey flow (as it’s known) from June to September, and this honey will be a combination of winter (store) honey that the bees haven’t eaten, topped up with new spring nectar. This isn’t generally available as the honey you buy from most beekeepers will be a homogenised product from across the previous months, but the advantage of taking honey at intervals means you can enjoy small quantities of different types of honey from your bees.

Bees forage on ivy flowers in the autumn, and this solidifies in the combs and can’t be used by the bees as it granulates to a solid mass, so needs diluting with water. The first nectar of the new year is from willow and crocus, and then blackthorn, hawthorn, buttercups and dandelions. This honey will also crystallise as it has the granulating nuclei from the ivy to make it seize, so although it is clear and runny when first extracted, it will firm up so enjoy it as soon as possible!

Summer honey from my part of the world here in the south of England is from clover, bramble, sycamore and lime trees, and this tends to be lighter and less likely to set. The wax tends to be thinner and more palatable as it’s not been used for brood or walked over too much, so letting the bees build their own wax (rather than using preformed foundation) means this is the best time for cut comb honey.

Of course, the main thing is to leave enough for the bees to eat at all times, but small amounts (say a frame or two) are delicious and a great way to connect with your bees and enjoy the subtle differences across the seasons.

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