Pure, raw bee talk with Fethiye-based beekeeper, village dweller and story teller Beyza Yavuz...
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Opening a conversation with talk of the weather holds much more meaning in the company of a beekeeper. It’s not small talk, it’s big talk.
On an unusually warm, Spring-like day in early February I pay a visit to Beyza Yavuz at her home in rural Zorlar, a village close to Seydikemer which is home to many local beekeeping families. Flowers are blooming well before they should, the birdsong accompanying the change in season seems to be around 5 weeks early, and my opening question, ‘How’s the weather for the bees?’, is met with a concerned glance from Beyza. Quite rightly she predicts a cold spell will soon come and kill off the flora, meaning the bees will be left confused and starving.
Being a beekeeper is hard work. Not just in the physical sense (Beyza currently has 60 hives which get moved at least 4 times a year according to the temperature and blossom trends), but being bound to the unpredictability of nature: weather, climate, viruses, parasites, plus increasing amounts of human disturbance to the environment; means nothing is guaranteed and no two years are ever the same.
Last year, as our species faced the threat of COVID-19, the local pine-honey bee population suffered a catastrophic collapse in their food chain caused by May temperatures soaring to around 20°celsius higher than usual. This heatwave mostly wiped out the basra böceği (marchalina hellenica), a scale insect which lives in the bark of the endemic pine species in Turkey and Greece, and whose honeydew secretion is a primary food source for forest honey bees. As a result, last summer’s pine honey harvest was almost non-existent. This was a prime example of the increasingly common climate change woes that blight the rhythm of agriculture, and keep those dependent on steady behaviour from Mother Nature ever resilient to the challenges thrown their way.
Beyza doesn’t, as you might expect, come from a long line of beekeepers. She was born in Istanbul and moved to Fethiye with her parents when she was 11. She started her career as a kindergarten English teacher, but a desire to plant lavender & herbs on family-owned land near Patara led her to consider the possibility of placing some hives near her flower meadow. Five years ago she started ‘halk eğitim’ (a public training course) in beekeeping and was awarded a government grant to set up as a working beekeeper. She currently produces pine, orange blossom, hayıt (chaste tree), and heather honey, in addition to producing other honey and beeswax products such as bee pollen, propolis, candles, balms and creams.
Aside from being a 30-something female, there are numerous other things that make her a little different from your average beekeeper. Beyza adopts a chemical-free approach to beekeeping, meaning low yields (around four-in-ten hives die off), but deliciously pure, raw honey, which truly is nutritionally beneficial. In contrast, the mass-farmed, pesticide-infused, pasteurized honey sold at the supermarket (with an attractive price tag), will most likely be doing you more harm than good. Pesticides are commonly used by industrial beekeepers to control the parasites which threaten colonies, most commonly the varroa mite. Beyza looks to nature for alternative methods of controlling pests. Although not as effective at mite control as chemical options, she regularly smokes the hives with locally foraged eucalyptus and sage, and applies a few drops of rosemary oil inside the hives. Pasteurisation, a method of heating the honey, killing the natural yeast in the process, is favoured by mass producers as it creates a clearer honey with a longer shelf life. Sometimes additional filtration is conducted, making the honey more transparent and smooth, a process which further removes beneficial pollen and enzymes. Raw honey, such as that produced by Beyza, is laden with amino acids, vitamins, minerals and enzymes, it’s these magic components that are the reason honey has been valued as a traditional medicine for centuries.
Storytelling is another of Beyza’s loves, a passion which rooted during her previous teaching career, and now intertwines amongst her apiary practice. She believes the only hope for our planet lies with our children, and by organising workshops and school visits for local children, and hosting high school visits from larger cities, she aims to share the story of bees and the importance of respect for the nature around us.
A further example of her drive to educate is seen through her promotion of Turkish village life via social media. Beyza doesn’t need to roam far to find tales of rural living in days gone by, and often spends time in conversation with her neighbours discussing mostly forgotten farming practices, crafts which have withstood the hands of time, and sharing concerns about the changes our world is seeing. She has also recently started to offer online and in-person training in beekeeping. It is clear that Beyza places as much importance on educating as she does on apiary.
I visit Beyza again as the sun begins to set on a Friday afternoon in late February. We take a walk a few hundred metres into the pine forest adjacent to her home, to visit some hives that have been sitting on the hillside since last autumn. We spy a shrub with delicate pink flowers poking through a larger myrtle bush, which Beyza later identifies as Daphne sericea. The flowers smell divine and are an exact candy floss colour match to her sweater. Dappled sunlight hits the pine-needle carpeted ground as Beyza knocks on each hive and listens for signs of life beneath the covers. All but one of the colonies have died off over winter. Alongside the hives sits a homemade, mud-covered basket hive, another traditional practice that she is, somewhat unsuccessfully, experimenting with as a hobby. I ask Beyza her dreams for the future. “I’d like to find a way to travel, telling the story of bees along the way.” But for now she is content in her little village, tending to her hives, creating, crafting, collecting and sharing stories of beekeeping, nature and village life, plus awaiting the next challenges nature throws her way.
Follow Beyza on Instagram for a deeper insight into Turkish village life , and the highs and lows of beekeeping in southern Turkey @paye____
A link to her online store can be found here