Driving to work last week, I noticed across a long section of hedge that a couple of fields were taking on a bit of a yellow tint to them. Passing an open gateway to a field further up the road on the right, an abundance of yellow flowers had almost opened overnight with the warm weather. What does this mean for the beekeeper? Well, if conditions are right, it could mean an early crop of honey.
These fields full of yellow flowers is rapeseed (Brassica napus) which is a member of the mustard or cabbage family. It has a high melliferous potential and is an excellent foraging crop for our honey bees and other insects to gather nectar to take back and convert into honey. However, because of its low fructose-to-glucose ratio, it quickly granulates in the comb.
Rapeseed is great for both nectar and pollen and can really boost brood production. At the weekend I watched one of my colonies taking in masses amounts of yellow pollen which I have no doubt was coming in from the rapeseed. They probably have more than they need taking up space that would otherwise be used by the queen to lay eggs and increase the colony size. As it was my first inspection of the year, for this particular colony I put them on a brood and a half to give them space and the queen plenty of room to lay. This will also, touch wood, prevent the colony from thinking it's time to swarm - something that can happen when the queen has no room to lay in the springtime.
This is the first time as a beekeeper I have seen any rapeseed growing within the flying zone of my bees so will need to keep an eye on the girls and watch when the supers are capped as it will need to be extracted within 24 hours of it being capped. I am told rapeseed makes a beautifully light coloured honey and if it granulates, can be used to make soft set honey. I have also read that it can crystallise quite quickly in jars as well and by warming it to 50oC to pasteurise the honey it will prolong the crystallisation.
This all assumes that the conditions are right as I mentioned earlier. If the temperature isn't warm enough, then the nectar isn't produced and there will be no early honey crop.
Looks like I'll need to keep a close eye on what is happening in the supers over the next couple of weeks.
The image used has been published under the terms of a Creative Commons License and is attributed to Jenifer Tucker.