Who would have thought that a few years after bringing colonies of honeybees over to Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli) that we would be living and working here ourselves? Unexpectedly, the bees had sweetened a way for us.
We are now just emerging from our fifth winter here on the island, and what a windy one it has been! Wind speeds of 93mph were recorded in Aberdaron during January and as all our supplies have to come by boat across the rather notorious Bardsey Sound, we always have one eye on what the weather is doing. Despite the milder temperatures, another affect of the storms has been to salt-scorch the vegetation nearest to the coast, and consequently many of the pastures are only just beginning to recover.
However, we have recently enjoyed what has felt like the first taste of Spring. Yesterday, I spent a while watching and photographing the bees as they excitedly made the most of the calm and warm day. At the hive entrances, large amounts of gorse pollen were being brought in, as well as the odd yellow-dusted worker returning from the willow blossom.
The Spring build up is quite slow on Bardsey, probably because of the exposed nature of the island, and also because their nectar sources don’t really begin to appear in any quantity until late May. The first of these is the wonderful salt-tolerant Thrift (‘Sea-Pink’), which carpets much of the coastal heath and ancient earthen banks (‘Cloddiau’). Nestled among their taller neighbours are the vivid blue flowers of Squill, which the bees also like to visit. Literature suggests that Thrift can produce a honey surplus in favourable conditions but I have yet to observe this happen. The usual time for the main honey flow has been during late June and into July, corresponding with the flowering of the abundant white clover. Mixed in, for extra flavour, the bees add nectar from Brambles, Bird’s-Foot Trefoil and Bell-Heather.
I have been pleasantly surprised at the consistent harvest of honey that we have had over the last eight years, usually a modest 30-40 lbs per hive. I sacrificed some of the honey yield last year for the sake of increasing the number of colonies. I now have six hives. I’m hoping this will help meet the demand for ‘Bardsey Honey’ at our cafe/craft shop, which regularly runs out part way through the summer.
Some of the advantages of having such a unique and isolated apiary include being largely beyond sources of disease, and the re-infestations that can affect mainland bees. I have not seen a Varroa mite in my hives for at least three years now, much to my relief. However, one of the downsides of isolation is the weakening affect of in breeding. While I still had my bees in Conwy I would regularly bring nuclei over to enrich the gene pool. More recently though, without my Conwy bees and with the difficulty of transporting nucs, I have begun to use bought-in queens. I will be watching with interest this season to see how they perform, compared with their in-bred predecessors.
Spring is a time of new life and brings with it the busiest period of the farming calendar. Lambing is already upon us, a month earlier than expected, thanks to the work of a mystery fence-jumping ram! So far we’ve 26 new arrivals out of a possible 450. Lambing leads rapidly into calving, then cultivation and before we know it we’ll be clamouring for our annual two weeks away as a family…post GCSEs and A-levels!
Well, hopefully the winds may ease long enough this year to see you over on this side of the water for a visit.
We look forward to welcoming you.
Steve Porter, March 2012.