Monday, 17 November 2014

Very poor Honey harvest 2014

Churning out bad news isn’t fun but there is no avoiding the fact that honey yields continue more or less year on year to reduce in both my part and many other parts of France. This has nothing to do with any real or imaginary issues with honey bee populations but is simply a result of the amount of nectar that is available for any single bee colony to collect.

These days increasingly large swathes of France are used for growing cereals where it is the main use of the countryside.  I know I’ve said this many times but it’s fundamental in understanding what is happening with just about every non-woodland species you can think of being affected and needless to say honey bees are no exception. As a result of this massive change in the landscape honey bees and their keepers have become increasingly dependent on a couple of crops to produce surplus harvestable honey due to the loss of native habitat and related flora. This isn’t the same as a bee colony having enough for its own survival which it usually will have but about producing an excess that the bee keeper can remove.

Where I live there are essentially three main possible sources that can provide harvestable honey or at least the bulk of it.  These are Oil seed rape, Sweet Chestnut and Sunflower but all three are relatively short flowering and subject to weather conditions being right.

Right conditions in the case of Oil seed rape means a temperature of 16°C or more with good bee flying weather. As Oil seed rape usually flowers here in late March / April these conditions are often not met or perhaps only for a few hours in the afternoon. The flowers last from three to six weeks depending on the weather, (they will last longer in poor wet weather). Another issue with Oil seed rape is that the colonies need to have grown enough to really work the flowers when conditions are right.

The right conditions for Sweet Chestnut are simply long hot dry days, 20 to 25°C being ideal with a flowering time here usually around the second half of June / first half of July. Unfortunately in recent years it has tended to rain a fair amount in this period and heavy rain finishes the flowers off completely. The flowers last a couple of weeks or just a little longer.

Click on photos to enlarge.

The right conditions for Sunflowers to produce a decent yield are more complex and depend on both regular rainfalls while they are growing, then fine weather with a temperature of at least 25°C to produce a good nectar flow. The flowers last a couple of weeks or just a little longer and will be in flower between July and September depending on when sown.

Of course some people will have more favourable conditions and depend less on these three sources if they live in or close to a town, village or hamlet with an abundance of other flowers within flying range, sadly not the case for me although mercifully we do have our own three hectares with quite a lot of bramble and other honey bee flowers.

This year conditions just weren’t favourable for the three main sources where I live and the result was a honey harvest that produced about 25% of what it ought to be. Not a disaster personally but worrying as this is the way the countryside is going and it will lead to commercial producers quitting in even larger numbers. Crazy because we are continually being told that there aren’t going to be enough bees to pollinate the crops but it has to be understood that we need more than the agricultural crops to sustain our bees unless we are to become like large parts of the USA shipping the bees round the country in greater and greater numbers and loosing them in equally large numbers. Recent studies are showing that the best place for bees and many other species is in peri-urban situations but these are not usually places where it’s possible to have concentrations of hives.

So thinking positively and working with what I’ve got I’ve been raising, splitting and planting hundreds, (thousands), more plants in our fields to increase the quantity of bee / insect friendly flowers which if nothing else will look nice and provide the variety of nutritional sources that honey bees need to be healthy and at the same time be beneficial to a whole range of other creatures.