story by Christine Thomas
photo by Jack Wolford
“Make your spirit like honey,” said the bees. While Alison Yahna was a high school biology teacher in Portland, Oregon, she had been dreaming about bees. Then a swarm settled in a tree near her home, and Alison helped a friend and former beekeeper transfer the bees to a hive. Suddenly, the dreams made sense.
“They’d drop to the bottom of the paper bag I was holding and start crawling up on my arms,” Yahna recalls. “Then I remembered my dream. I was just thinking ‘make your spirit like honey’ because I was afraid they would sting me.”
She didn’t get stung, but she did contract “bee fever,” a healthy obsession that eventually led her to the Big Island to learn permaculture, raise queen bees and become a full-time beekeeper.
Even more remarkable than Yahna’s dedication to “her girls,” as she calls them, is the rare, single-blossom honey her colonies produce at her Artemis Smiles Bee Sanctuary. In wild areas of Ka‘u unspoiled by pesticides and fertilizers, her bees feed each season on just one type of flower. They make aromatic honey from sea-misted Ka Lae glysine (tropical clover) in winter; brilliant white lehua honey from ‘ohi‘a trees in spring and summer; and golden Christmas berry honey from lowland scrub forest in the fall. Yahna hand-harvests the raw honey; she never processes, heats or filters it, which preserves its flavor and its healing properties: People have used raw honey since antiquity as an antiseptic, digestive tonic and cough suppressant.
But for true lovers of honey and bees, Yahna offers five- to eight-day workshops at the sanctuary, where aspiring apiarists learn hive building, honey harvesting and, most important, how to keep bees healthy. To Yahna, sharing her knowledge of small-scale holistic beekeeping is her kuleana (responsibility); it’s her way of combating the problem of colony collapse threatening bees worldwide.
Yahna’s honey is available at the Na‘alehu open market and through her web site. “It takes the nectar from 3 to 5 million flowers to make a cup of honey,” she says. “It’s really special.
I treat it as a sacred food.” HH
Artemis Smiles Honey Co. and Bee Sanctuary