When I was a teenager, I dreamed about being a beekeeper. I am not sure why, for I understood very little about their importance then. To me, it seemed different and intriguing and that is what I wanted from everything back then.
Fast forward some years and I am sitting with my now-husband. We had only known each other for six months. He had just moved in to my lovely home where I lived with my daughter. We had a gorgeous, green garden and the topic of bees came up. Turns out we both wanted beehives and we got our first hive together then.
For years I had been working in Fremantle Markets in different stalls. One of them was for a lovely man, Wayne Ridley, who was (and is) a beekeeper extraordinaire. I sold the most delicious and naturally produced local honey for him in between my other jobs in the markets. I always think back at those years with a big smile.
Over the years, Wayne became a good friend. Being the Master of Bees and having spent his whole life pursuing his passion for bees and their golden honey, he was our go-to man. He gave us the first bits of knowledge about hives and how to work them. He also passed on his love and deep care for bees to us.
Fast forward another few years and my husband’s sister, Akyra, got her passion for bees ignited after being introduced to one of our hives. The rest is history.
Today, my man and I have four hives, mostly worked by him these days. Akyra however went all the way with her passion and has to date forty hives! She runs her own business selling high quality boutique, limited editions honey from the South West of Western Australia. Her business is called Queen Bee & The Honey Makers. Yes, I know, its brilliant…
Akyra is now a full time apiarist. I take my hat off to her, it takes quite something to take a passion to this level and in this industry.
I am sure you will enjoy reading Akyra’s story on how she got to where she is at. Let me introduce you to Akyra K!
Devi Living – Tell us about your journey that led you to the bees and how you became the beekeeper you are today.
Akyra – I came to the bees through my absolute need for healing. I was burnt out from a very stressful job with unsustainable working hours and ridiculous pressure.
During the first six months after I left, I sought solace in libraries and walking on the beach. I started to read a lot of books on bees.
My brother and his wife had had beehives for a few years. I went with my brother one day to one of the hives and was taken by the the bee’s mystery, magic, and absolute presence. My brother and Eva (Devi Living) were friends with a beekeeper, Wayne, who they said might be interested in sharing his story with me.
Wayne has been a great inspiration. Having had bees since he was a young lad, now well over 50 years ago, he had many a story to tell. He has so much knowledge to share about the bees and of places to source nectar including an introduction into the flora of WA.
Knowing the history of the beekeeping industry in WA and Australia really gave me a deeper insight into how tough and yet vulnerable the industry can be during times of plenty and dearth.
I think it was my passion for knowledge and not shying away from the hard yards that are a beekeepers’ life, that Wayne appreciated in me. After about six months of helping him out and asking him a constant barrage of questions about just about everything, Wayne asked me to work for him.
I had my Truck Drivers Licence which was a bonus! Moving an Apiary is such a big endeavour and was so exciting to me then. Now, it is a lot of hard work and a long, long night with little sleep before getting the bees onto the ground where they will stay for the duration of the latest honey ‘flow’.
I loved driving the truck again, doing something this different – moving the bees only at night when they are subdued by the darkness and cold or cooler temperatures. Road Warriors with a truck load of bees! HaHa!!
I loved the times of camping out under the stars not far from the Apiary. Waking up each day to campfire coffee and what the day would hold, with hopes for a good day. Talking about how we would proceed to make the most of the day. This was followed by heading back to the camp in the evening for the campfire yarns where we spoke of yesteryear or did some outrageously great bit of spiritual sharing.
The weather is of utmost importance for a good day in the Apiary. All senses are completely focused on the elements and in the moment. That is how to work the bees….be in the moment.
Learning ‘the ropes’ took time, there is so much to know! I learnt how to work the bees – when to work them and how to keep them healthy and to know what to look for regarding diseases, unhealthy behaviour, or swarming tendencies. I had to learn to think ahead – knowing how long food sources would last and making sure all would be ok until we return to check the bees again.
I also completed Cert. III in Beekeeping when it became available in the state I live in, Western Australia. This training was worth doing.
For the last six years I have started my own little business. I don’t know where I would be without the support of friends who have shared beautiful gardens and land, allowing my bees to live in fabulous places.
In particular, a very special friend, Julia Boyle in Bridgetown who is a great wealth of social support and a wise woman. She has supported me in so many ways. She introduced me to people who have amazing gardens or land out of town. She offered me accommodation in her home and provided me with a little shed to store equipment.
Most of all, she has had an amazing belief in my abilities even when I have questioned what the hell I was doing!
I now help others learn about their bees and hives. It is encouraging to see people want to know how to look after their hives, keep the bees healthy and learn how to sustain them by planting the most appropriate plants.
Devi Living – You decided to dive in completely. Today you have forty hives and a small business, Queen Bee & The Honey Makers. I am curious, are there many women in the industry? Have you had to break through any barriers?
Akyra – Yes, there are women in the industry, but I am unsure how many are doing it on their own. I have come across numerous women working with their partners and in research.
Yes, there are barriers as is the case in many traditionally male dominated areas. I believe in time as more women become interested and make a go of it, these barriers will fall. Beekeeping has generally been a man’s game. It is intensely physical the more hives you get so it is an arena that women have to extend themselves in and prove over time their tenacity. In the end that proof really is to oneself!
Devi Living – I envision you in beautiful bush lands, surrounded by friendly bees and sweet honey – but what does reality look like for you when you are fully engaged in your role as a beekeeper?
Akyra – Yes, it is a lovely vision! And it is true, I am often out in beautiful country. I have my bees in the South West of Western Australia and I travel to the countryside often, many hours from my home. This suits me perfectly as I am a bit of a loner and I love the countryside.
Mmm, surrounded by friendly bees!? Bees are generally not friendly per se, not like when we think of a cat or dog! They are very industrious and can handle humans around them but are never to be taken for granted!
The reality is – in the most productive seasons it is hot and heavy work. With a bee suit on it is even hotter!
When there is a honey ‘flow’ on, it can be very taxing on one’s energy resources. As I am an older starter, I certainly choose a challenge! I work very long hours when it is time to gather honey from the hives.
When I am away, I work a certain number of hives, taking honey frames out in the day and in the evening, I extract the honey. The next day I return the ‘stickies’ back to the hives and then start with the next number of hives.
This continues until all hives in that area are done. The good thing is, when there is a ‘flow’ on, the bees are just interested in one thing – the nectar flowing from the blossoms. They are easily managed.
It is a different story in inclement weather if I have to open and check a hive. You avoid working the bees or opening a hive in weather that is windy or cold. The bees maintain a warm hive, approx. 34-36 C. Opening the hive in cold or windy conditions will cause them to lose a lot of heat. This means they have to expend lots of extra energy just trying to get the hive warm again.
You might notice at a hive in winter, if it is cold and windy, that the bees are not so industrious. They don’t like this type of weather, and this is a time when the hard work of keeping the temperature of the hive needs more attention.
Keeping the temperature of the hive under control is important for the brood and really, it is nice to live in a warm home!
If I need to open the hive anyway for some reason, I have to beware and have good suit protection as this is the most likely time you will get stung.
Devi Living – You are in a kind of relationship with the bees on a daily basis. Have you learnt something from them that has made a difference in your life?
Akyra – Yes! I have returned to a slower pace of living. Mind you, building a small business has its pressures!
But, when I am with the bees it is absolutely about being present, in the moment and focused on what their needs are. I forget myself and the world around me. This has got to be one of the greatest gifts they share with me.
Devi Living – Since you began this journey seven years ago, have you seen changes in the bee population and their habitats?
Akyra – The bee population…With the number of amateur beekeepers here in Western Australia, the bee population would definitely have increased!
I understand that we are incredibly lucky here in Western Australia to have very few of the problems that have decimated the bee populations overseas, i.e., Varroa Mite and various other diseases.
If bees are kept near Agricultural areas where farmers incorporate the use of certain chemical herbicides and insecticides and beekeepers are unaware of spraying routines, the chemicals can decimate an apiary population.
The bee’s habitats are an issue of paramount importance. With the outdated destruction of our native forests and the overuse of destructive ‘burns,’ much of our precious high activity honeys are under threat.
Our Jarrah, Karri and Marri forests are dwindling and access to these areas in State forests are hampered by not only the felling of the forest, but the burns that are so destructive. It takes years for the forests to recover to a state of surplus nectar production. In wildflower areas the burns are overmanaged and create areas of charred ruin.
Devi Living – What do you see as the biggest threat to the bees and their hives – in the world, in Australia and here in WA?
I am not informed enough to give an opinion on the world. Generally though, the threats are the overuse of chemicals that weaken the immune system of bees, corporate greed and ignorance, the destruction of forests and foraging areas and dare I say climate change! The changes in climate create adverse conditions to the areas that were once good nectar and foraging sites for healthy bees.
Also, a lack of knowledge and ignorance of the diseases and pests that can ravage our bee populations. This is an area of concern with so many amateur beekeepers having hives. It is so important to be informed if you choose to keep bees!
Devi Living – Can you share with us what you feel are the most important things WE can do to ensure that we have these precious pollinators around in the future?
Akyra – I feel the most important things we can do is to look after our/your environment. Plant as many bee loving plants as possible, plants that produce pollen and nectar. They don’t necessarily need to be planted together. Plant plants that bloom at different times of the year – therefore your garden is blooming all year round, where possible.
Plant lots of native plants too. Go wild in the planting! Diversify and be messy, give the pollinators heaps of variety. This will ensure they will survive well in times of dearth and hopefully you will not have to feed the bees with sugar syrups etc. Find natural ways to work your environment without the use of chemicals.
Become aware of and support organisations that care for the forests and the environment.
If you have beehives stay aware of their health or seek advice from someone who knows what to look for in a hive. Become informed.
Support beekeepers. You can join organisations that support the industry and all apiarists. They are a wealth of knowledge.
Devi Living – If you could give one piece of advice to a woman who might get inspired to keep bees after reading this interview, what would it be?
Akyra – Go for it! Learn from experienced beekeepers. Spend time with a commercial beekeeper, you will learn more in a year than you will in many by yourself!
Devi Living – Imagine the bees as a collective having a voice and a message – what would they want us to know?
Akyra – Together we can create a wonderous life. Know the magic of community and work with each other. Get out of your own way and be present, slow down, be peaceful. Care, really care for this beautiful planet.
Thank you Akyra! I can’t think of many jobs that hold such importance for the future. I for sure am re-inspired. I bought myself a new bee suit and will take up my role as a hobby beekeeper and do my little bit for the future of our food supplies and for these gorgeous creatures, the bees.
Did you get inspired to support the bees and beekeepers after reading this interview? Or to plant masses of amazing nectar- and pollen producing plants?
Maybe you got inspired to take your passion, whatever it is, to the next level?
If you live in the Rockingham area you’re in luck and can purchase honey at Rockingham Pantryman, Seahaven Newsagency, Rosie’s Cafe in Palm Beach.
Honeycombs can be found at Gilbert’s Fresh in Mandurah (soon in Hilton as well!) and Mailibu Fresh Saferty Bay
You can email Akyra to inquire about her amazing honey – firstname.lastname@example.org or send her a message on Messenger/Akyra K Bee
I would love for you to share this interview with someone who you think would love to read it!
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