Winter and Bee keeping in Scotland - recommendations?

I live in Scotland and am a community development worker for a charity addressing sustainability. I am seeking funding for the charity to keep bees as, amongst other things, an educational tool. I worked with school kids who were killing bees, thinking they were wasps and not knowing either the difference, or that bees even made honey! And that’s without touching on all the other things bees do. However, local bee keepers are very against flow hive. Whereas I felt it was a good way to introduce anxious children to bees and get their parents to allow them to engage. The aim was to keep 1 traditional hive and 1 flow hive. But local bee keepers claim in Scotland (and elsewhere with a cold winter) that no colony has survived winter in a flow hive. Can this be true? It seems unlikely having read of people using flow hive in worse winter climates (i.e. parts of Canada and North America). Can anyone advise?

Hiya @Hilary, welcome to the forum! I pasted that quote because it’s a great example of the misguided “reasons” some beeks claim that the Flow hive is bad. They are missing the point of the Flow system, which is simply an innovative honey harvesting method, not part of the brood area where bees would overwinter. It has nothing whatsoever to do with what you’d normally do to care for your bees in your locale. People in North America with cold winters remove the Flow super, just as those with traditional hives remove empty supers once the nectar flow is over for the season. It’s sad that the experienced folks near you have made such big assumptions and seem unsupportive of your very admirable efforts :confused:

And, I must say that in my area, outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it IS difficult to overwinter colonies - but because of varroa mites, not whatever manner of harvesting honey people are using. The only issue to do with harvesting and bee health is making sure to leave enough honey stores for the bees to eat all winter. That’s a pretty basic concept that even us nutso Flow Hivers adhere to :wink:


Try it. Is your traditional hive a Smith? I would start in a National and get Flow frames for a National too rather than a Lang. That way you keep a locally adapted bee in a smaller box. It depends if course where you are. Borders and central Scotland should pose no problem. Problems do arise the further north you go. You may not get sufficient flow of nectar to fill those frames. If you have heather near you then I would forget it

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Hi Hilary,

The best thing may be to read through the “wintering section” on our Community Forum. You can see how beekeepers manage their Flow Hives in cold climates all around the world:

Hi, I am curious why heather causes a problem. I have started looking at keeping bees and there is a large heather covered hill about a mile away.

Hi Andrew - welcome! I see you replied to Dee, but she hasn’t been around in a long while (and we miss her). To answer your question I believe heather nectar is thixotropic, so it crystallizes easily - can be tough to extract from Flow frames. I wonder if @HappyHibee can give any tips, perhaps you just have to keep an eye on things and harvest incrementally?


Hi, thanks for the reply. I can see how that would make things harder.This is day one for me reading around the subject. So much to learn.

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The first part is true, but that doesn’t mean it crystallizes easily… Thixotropic honeys like heather and manuka (jellybush) are notoriously difficult to get out of any frame. The problem is that the honey is only liquid when it has been agitated or shaken (like tomato ketchup).

For traditional frames, there are a variety of ways to get this kind of honey out and commercial producers have some very fancy machinery. The only non-destructive way to extract it is using a Perforextractor - a device with a row of needles which agitates the honey in each cell. Once agitated the frame can then be spun. This method is not very efficient, as a lot of honey is left behind in the comb, and you have to be quick to extract after agitating the honey, or it thickens again and can’t be spun out. However, most hobby beekeepers just crush the combs to extract the honey. Obviously you don’t want to crush your expensive Flow frames to ge the honey out… :blush:

The good thing is that the flowering season for heather is quite short, and doesn’t overlap the main nectar flow for most regions. It usually flowers from August to September, sometimes a little earlier. If it was my Flow hive, I would put the Flow super on the hive from March/April until July, and then replace it with a traditional super until September. Heather honey is delicious and sells for a premium price, so it is worth the effort involved.

I hope you try beekeeping, and please let us know how it goes for you. :wink:


Oh wow, I had (obviously) forgotten the meaning - such a strange property for honey, it’s hard for me to picture it. Thanks for making it crystal clear :rofl: sorry, couldn’t resist!

There is another interesting thing about heather honey that I just remembered. It is often quite high water content, even when capped. Around 22-23% water is not unusual. This means that it is prone to fermenting if stored for more than 6 months. To get around this, some people blend it with a lower water content honey, making a mixture of 2 parts “dry” honey to one part heather honey. As heather honey has a fairly strong flavor, some people prefer this blend in any case.

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Hi Andrew. Fellow Jock :grin:.

Heather honey traditionally is pressed to harvest. Impossible to do with a Flow Super.

I’ve personally never experienced Heather honey in any of my flow hives as not much around me.

In your neck of the woods you’d still get spring and main summer harvest using a flow hive then removing the flow super and let the bees bring in the Heather nectar either to fill standard super of for winter stores.

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There are two other major nectar sources in parts of Scotland that are not suitable for a flow super, rape (canola) and Ivy. Both of these crystallise quickly and can go too hard in your flow frames.
Ivy is an autumn flowerer and is a valuable pre winter nectar source. Rape is a farm crop which blooms in the spring, bees love it and it is a heavy nectar provider. Check for your area but most rape is finished by the end of may.

You can harvest Rape with a flow hive no problem.

Google Jamie Oliver harvesting Flow Hive. He has a video from this year harvesting rape. You just need to harvest a little earlier.

Heather honey definitely won’t end well but it’s just as difficult to harvest traditionally (pressed instead of spun).

You’d normally have the Flow super off before Ivy blooms in the UK and used for winter stores in traditional super or brood.

My own personal account :slightly_smiling_face:

Aw shucks! :heart: ……………….


Well hello there Dee! So good to see you here again :star_struck::two_hearts: