Bee keeping as a commercial proposition is very much dependant on the weather for success. For the last three summers, the bees of Carsebuie have produced little or no honey, and consequently have had to be fed. Feeding consists of mixing sugar syrup to the ratio of one pound of sugar to one pint of hot water. This is then poured into the feeding tray which is inserted into the top of the hive. With 250 hives spread over five locations, and given that a hive of bees can empty a feeding tray in 24 hours, this can be a time consuming task for a beekeeper in a bad year.
Bees have been known to starve to death on Midsummer Day in a bad year when not fed. During an average day, a bee farmer must carry out many other tasks to ensure the smooth running of his apiaries and the good health of his bees: for example, he must check the health of his queen bees, he must see if any hives require extra space (as bees reproduce very rapidly during the season), he must gather and re—hive any new swarms, and he must maintain his everyday equipment.
In an average year, a farm the size of Carsebuie produces about 4 tons of honey, with each hive, about 30 lbs. showing a profit of about £20.
This is far below the output of bee farms in places like Mexico and Australia where, because of the different climate, the farmers can expect about 100 lbs of honey from each hive each year. Consequently, most honey sold in Britain is imported and is much cheaper than the home—grown product .
Scottish honey is of high quality and expensive enough to be considered almost in the luxury market. Heather honey from the ling heather is especially prized for its unique bitter—sweet taste. Because it is a little trickier to process, it is more expensive than other types. There is a healthy export market for Scottish honey, especially in Germany.
Different types of honey are produced from different plants at different times of the season which covers the months of May, June, July,
In May and June, the bees harvest plants like oil—seed rape , and August. sycamore trees, bluebells, and raspberries; Clover honey is harvested in July, but only in very good years. As the plant only secretes nectar in high temperatures (80 degrees, according to some experts), the weather must be exceptional to gain a crop. More usual July crops are bramble, willow herb, and lime trees. The two types of heather, bell and ling, are harvested in August.
The bees are kept in five different locations with about 50 hives in each area. Each hive i 6 able to expand by taking up to five ”supers” , or extra layers. Bees should not have to search outside a one—mile radius for crops, but if the weather i 6 settled fair, they will travel two miles or more to forage.
The honey is normally sold in one—pound labelled jars, but it can also be bought direct from the farmer by the comb. A by product of honey farming is beeswax which is produced at the rate of about 1 cwt. per ton of honey. This is sold for around £1.25 per 1b, and is used in the production of furniture and shoe polish, etc.
In late autumn and through the winter, the farmer’s time is occupied by processing and preparing his honey for sale and with repairing and maintaining his equipment for the following spring. Unlike other livestock farmers, he is even able to take a holiday as, once the swarming season is over, the bees do not need to be tended every day. Another advantage is that bee—farming does not require the same large capital outlay that is needed by other stock farmers. The main disadvantages of beekeeping are the unpredictability of the British summer weather and the fact that bee farmers get no subsidy to help tide them over difficult years. (Feeding the bees on a farm the size of Carsebuie in a bad year costs at least £2000.)
Beekeeping has been found to be a satisfying and interesting way of earning a living which not only turns out a delicious product, but is also beneficial to the environment and in tune with the natural order of things.