The colonies kept in skeps are allowed to keep their natural sexual behaviour. By so called swarming the number of colonies increase during summer 3 or 4 times. Honey that is gathered is for their own development.
Natural swarming does not only mean multiplication, but unfortunately also a splitting of the colonies, that makes them temporarely weaker. So the work of the apiarist or beekeeper during the few weeks after the swarming period till heather is in full blooming, exist mainly in stimulating their development.
Than they are brought in the moorlands or the sandy woodland which is dominated by the plant calluna vulgaris, ling or heather.
After the blooming of the heather, that is in August till mid September, the number of colonies are brought back to the number of colonies that were in the beginning of the year. That means that 66 til 75% of the colonies might be harvested. Harvest means, taking out the living bees and unite them to some new colonies, sometimes they might be sold or be used to refortificate other colonies, Combs are taken out of the skeps and will be pressed for honey and later again to gain beeswax.
The colonies that are not “harvested” are the new winter stock.
Special attemps are made to harvest a lot of the so called heathercombhoney, that is not just a simple combhoney, but is simple the finest honey on earth. In the United Kingdom and the USA, special artificial combs of beeswax are sold for facilitate the production of combhoney. Here, in the Netherlands as well in Germany and Belgium, this comb is not on the market. We refuse to use them. The bees have to make the combs, that will be eaten with the honey, 100% ly by themselves and then also only during nectarflow of the heather, so it is fresh and soft.