It is not easy to meet a bee-keeper whereas the weather is nice… he works in his hives whereas we meet his wife sitting in the sun. We buy him two pots (one for us, the other one for Vincent, Elsa’s father) and take an appointment later with Andrew, when the bees will sleep.
It is 7 p.m, high tide and a man around fifty years old comes with a smile after having driven away the indiscreet tourists from his tractor. “It is rusted but it is not abandoned ; my tractor works perfectly! I should think about putting a panel in front of it.” With these words, we discover the man that we were looking for. He was informed of our presence by a telephone call from his wife, we introduce ourselves. “Let’s talk about bees. We can see the hives tomorrow, we can discuss this evening with a beer if you come back in one hour.” We will be there !
Andrew Abrahams is professional bee-keeper since 1977 and has between 50 and 60 hives according to the years divided into 8 parks in the two islands (Colonsay and Oronsay). He uses “British National Hive” which produce every year on average 10kg of honey by hive. The last year, catastrophic in Europe for many bee-keepers, the British national average fell to 3kg/hive.
Between two mouthfuls of a 12 years of old Bowmore Whisky, he tells us the story of his bees, the British black bees. Until the Forties, they were the most widespread everywhere in Europe. They are the original bees of Europe however, during the Second World War, the Nazi undertook to replace them by a crossed specie more aggressive and more sensitive to the varroa but more powerful. The genetic hybridization of the bees in Europe gave chances to the black bee only in insular or moved back spaces(the islands of Colonsay, Ouessant and Norway are some examples).The black bee has however advantages in these regions subjected to difficult climates, by collecting pollen they can create important reserves of “bread”(honey-pollen mixture) to survive long winters and windy weather. Some bee-keepers use these bees to collect the bread of bee and resell it in the form of capsules for its many virtues. Andrew insists on the importance of the protection of these bees which, on their islands, are also protected from the infections and new predators such as the varroa and the Asian hornet. On the other hand, he must find a way of keeping enough bees year by years in order not to resort to the importation of external species which would hybrider its bees and import certainly diseases. Since 8 years he puts pressure on the Scottish government to create a nature reserve on the island of Colonsay in order to protect his bees. This project by prohibiting the importation of other species of bees on Colonsay, should succeed in August if the Parliament’s vote is positive. In France, this kind of initiatives already exist on l’île d’Ouessant pour ces mêmes abeilles.
By proposing us a shower we could not refuse, he continues on the characteristics of his trade with Colonsay. He started more than 35 years ago as a seasonal worker in a large apiarian farmil and he quickly set up his own business to supplement his incomes of oyster culturist. At that time, the ensured lenient weather of May and June allowed him, in the Eighties to start: “It would be difficult to begin today, the weather does not allow all the mistakes I could make at the time! The weather became too unstable and it is necessary to seize any opportunities. The “Bee-days” (hot and sunny days, without wind) are rare and you have to dot it at the right moment otherwise you will have nothing at all!” Therefore, he must surround his hives with polystyrene, so that they remain dry, if not the wind cools wet hives. However, for him Colonsay is unquestionably a place favourable with the bee-keeping. It is difficult, certainly, but the absence of intensive farming on the island helps him. This kind of climate is difficult for the bee-keepers. It is necessary to be an expert and anticipate: “The bee-keeping in Colonsay it is like the bee-keeping in Europe in the Forties!” When the summer is good (many Bee-days), Andrew can do a first collects at the beginning of August but generally he makes only one of them a year after the season of the ferns, at the end of September/beginning of October.
Andrew chose this job with passion and whereas we ask him if he makes other products that honey, he explains us on what, financially, the cosmetics could bring him by selling them to the tourists, that would be certainly even more profitable than oysters…but it is not really his way, he doesn’t want to do it. He just makes his honey with love and sells it very easily.This honey, which melts and runs in the throat without any roughness with a light wax odor which returns in the nose and brings again to a spoonful. We are seduced.
Flowers gathered nectar and pollen on the island: ferns, sycamores, hawthorn, willow, brambles, clover, queen of the meadows, thyme,…