Anna Smith, who lives and works in the Koue Bokkeveld near Ceres, started beekeeping in 2012, a step which ultimately saw her leave her job as a pre-school teacher to farm with bees full time.
“Working with bees, especially as a woman, means you really have to have the passion and commitment in your bones,” says Anna, who was named the best small-scale female entrepreneur of the year by the Western Cape Department of Agriculture in 2019.
“In the beginning I was a bit wary of working with bees but after I started working with a good friend and mentor, I enjoyed it so much that I eventually resigned my job as a pre-school teacher and went into beekeeping fulltime,” says Anna.
Anna started her beekeeping journey with just five hives which eventually grew to more than 180 hives.
“At the time I didn’t realise how important bees were for the ecosystem until I started to learn about the important role they play in our lives, especially when it comes to agriculture and that bees pollinate more than 80% of what we eat. If there were no bees we would be done for,” she says.
Over time, and with the knowledge she acquired, the pollination contracts started coming in for apples, pears and blueberries. She also learnt to harvest honey on the side.
“I thoroughly enjoy working with bees and if you put the passion and dedication in then it’s really worthwhile. Its hard work, especially when you have to prepare for pollination to make sure that your colonies are strong enough to do the job. And then comes the honey harvest in the hot summer sun and the sweat that runs down you as you take your supers off the hives,” she adds.
For Anna, the pollination season usually ends in October and the honey harvest runs from November to March. From April to June, the hives need to be checked for pests and diseases, and she brings in all those boxes where colonies have been lost to ants or honey badgers.
“Then we have to clean them, put in new wax and put them out again at the canola to make up for the colonies we’ve lost.”
Anna sells her honey locally and keeps the bees on farms where she has pollination contracts, moving them to places where there’s enough food for the “ladies” during the off season.
A highlight of her career was the award she received in 2019 (which recognises the role women play in agriculture, job creation, economic growth and food security). “It was worth all the hard work and it encouraged me to push through with my other projects.”
However, although Anna is a committed beekeeper, she is also very mindful of all the challenges.
If there were no bees, we would be done for.Anna Smith
“There’s vandalism when people destroy your hives, burn or steal them. Nowhere is safe anymore and the police don’t take action even when you report these things. Then there’s the loss of bee forage when trees are cut down. I am not sure how we are going to survive because everything is so expensive when it comes to beekeeping – not to mention the cost of sugar, because bees also need to be fed when the food is scarce.”
ANNA’s TOP 5 TIPS FOR ASPIRANT BEEKEEPERS
- Join a beekeeping association.
- Start small and grow the business.
- Find yourself a mentor to help guide you and so that you can learn as much as possible.
- Be passionate and hardworking. It’s hard work and not for sissies.
- Finally, inspect your hives regularly.