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The glory of heather honey

Nectar from ling heather produces of one of the world’s most stunning honeys. It takes quite a lot of effort to obtain a crop, the harvest is usually limited in size, but the taste makes it all worth while.

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Heather honey gel

Heather honey

Heather honey liquid

Here is one of the fascinating aspects of the end result.

Once extracted, pure ling heather honey is as stiff as a gel. But one quick swirl with a spoon and it turns liquid again before settling back into its gel state. This characteristic even has its own word: thixotropic.

The honey even looks diffferent. If it is extracted with an apple or honey press, bubbles will appear in the gel and won’t disappear. That’s another sure sign it’s pure ling heather honey. Extracting with a normal centrifugal extractor is not easy – the gel will just sit in the cells unless it is first agitated with a special multi-pin, agitating device.

New Forest ling heather in flower

New Forest ling heather in flower

Obtaining a harvest requires some special steps. Ling heather, growing in Britain in upland moors or lowland heath like the New Forest, begins flowering in late July and continues until September. So, any colonies taken to the heather need to be approaching peak condition after the summer flow has finished. They need a young queen and plenty of bees ready to forage.

Healthy bees are vital. The varroa population needs to be low  – at a time of year when varroa populations are near their peak. And care must be talken at the heather in reducing entrances to try to ensure their is no robbing by other colonies. Migratory beekeeping can promote the spread of disease, and plenty of beekeepers take their bees to the heather.

As ever, good weather is essential. Throughout Britain  this August seems to be brought fairly good conditions and there are reports of it being a good heather year. Yields are seldom high, but at worst bees usually fill their brood boxes with plenty of winter stores.

Cut-comb ling heather honey

Cut-comb ling heather honey

And the taste? Ling heather honey is not as sweet as other honeys and even has a slightly bitter taste. Caramel, woody, fruity and tangy spring to mind as taste descriptors. The taste persists for a long time on the palate and the smell of an opened jar is instantly recognisable.  A small amount will go a long way in flavouring foods. My favourite is to have it with Greek yoghurt and banana.

There is a new, very comprensive book on Heather Honey just published by Bee Craft: Heather Honey by Michael Badger. It tells the story of heather honey from its environment and ecology, through the history of ‘heather-going’ to the practicalities of heather honey beekeeping today.

 

Turlough
Vita’s Guest Beekeeper Blogger

 

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