Every year I’ll select my strongest colonies to go on the annual trip to the hills for forage. Taking your stock into the hills like this continues the practice of transhumance, as old as agriculture itself. It takes time and effort, setting out the agreed sites in advance, then closing the bees in around 11pm one July night and driving them up early the next morning. Is it worth all the hassle for a honey crop that may fail due to summer drought or wet, cold weather during flowering? You be the judge of that!
The usual heather is also called ling (Heidekraut in German, Callune in French) and comes with the Latin name Calluna vulgaris. It grows in large areas of the hills in Scotland and feeds the red grouse living there. The honey from heather is delightfully aromatic and has an amazing rich flavour that has to be experienced. This particular batch, from near Trochry in Perthshire, has a slight tang from the lime trees nearby and perhaps a little clover too as well as some soft wax suspended in the honey.
Getting the honey from the comb is no simple matter. The honey is gel-like due to proteins contributed by the flowers and cannot be spun out of the combs like other honeys. On a small scale it is pressed by crushing the whole comb. On a larger scale the honey is ‘loosened’ using a special device that agitates the honey in the comb prior to spinning in an extractor. This honey is commonly left in the comb and aficionados are happy to eat it like that, wax and all. Do seek it out!