Oilseed rape and beekeeping

Gavin Ramsay

Talk: Saturday 18 February 2017 at 2.00-4.00pm
The Kinellar Community Hall, Fintray Road, Blackburn AB21 0JQ

Oilseed rape is perhaps the most obvious forage plant for honey bees and produces more honey  in the UK than any other. The crop has been at the centre of a number of controversies over the years. Is it safe, might it give me hay fever, will it contaminate my honey with GM pollen, do modern varieties still yield as well as the old ones, what is biodiesel rape all about, and, not least, are any pesticides used on it going to harm my bees? Most beekeepers in OSR areas end up relaxed about most of these issues and instead concentrate on how to manage their bees for a wonderful honey crop and how to handle that honey.  Those beekeepers with the most data on their beekeeping, the most to lose if things go wrong,  and the greatest experience tend to agree that oilseed rape is an excellent spring forage for their bees, sets them up well for the rest of the season, gives substantial honey crops in most years and poses no additional risk compared to any other spring forage.

Rapeseed is an old crop that had limited use until modern breeders improved the oil quality and the levels of toxins in the remaining meal. Reducing both the erucic acid and glucosinolates gave the ‘double low’ types of oilseed rape which expanded in area dramatically from the 1980s and grew internationally to become the third most important oil crop.  Currently, oilseed rape has the largest area  of any non-cereal arable crop in the UK and Aberdeenshire is particularly blessed with 12,000 ha or over one third of the Scottish area.

In the talk on 18th February I will cover some of the controversies that have dogged this crop and explain the management and the honey harvesting procedures that beekeepers have to put into place for this important honey crop. Beekeeping in oilseed rape areas brings both its challenges and its rewards. Ignore it at your peril!

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