There’s a spirited lightheartedness to, Tanya Hawkes, founder of organic honey skin care line, Therapi Honey Skincare, that feels refreshing and almost – bee like. The honey bee is obviously her spirit animal. When I inquired about her history bee keeping her playful response was, “Oh, Amy, it’s a dark art,” followed by passionate laughter and jubilee. By the end of our hour long interview (via Skype) Tanya shared with me bits about her life bee keeping, sustainability, launching her honey skin care line and the magic of bees. Read on for the interview.
“People talk about the soundscape of their childhood. Well, the smell-scape of my childhood is the smell of redwood forests and the California bay and all these very California smells. My father was an engineer and we moved to Silicon Valley where my father got a job in the laser business. I grew up there until I was ten. I had a massive love of forests, oceans, mountains, and I think that was primarily fueled by growing up in California. I came back to the UK when I was ten and then I went to university in Scotland. Afterwards, I went to work for the Scottish Wildlife Trust. It was an extraordinary rekindling of my love for the outdoors.
You know when you have those moments in your life where chance encounters happen and everything comes together. All these strange parts of your life that never made any sense before finally do and it just snowballs into this catalyst. Well, while in Chile in my early twenties I had a chance encounter with a bee keeper – that bee keeper was the catalyst for me. I went back to Scotland and I started keeping bees and that was the beginning of what I’ve been doing for most of my life.
Bee keeping is one of those old traditions; it’s handed down from generation to generation. You can’t learn it from a book. I went to agricultural college and I took a course on bee keeping, but I realized it was just a process of trial and error and I was never going to learn unless I had a master to teach me. So, I found a master or rather he found me. It was one of those extraordinary coincidences where I went for a walk on a hill one day and I met this bee keeper. He knew that I was also bee keeping because I wasn’t scared of the bees. I walked right up to meet him through the bees. He’s seventy five years old now, and is still one of my best friends.
Bees are opportunistic; they have to maximize daylight hours in the summer because in the winter time they can’t really function, so in the summertime the days are quite long for them. Bees will start flying at 4am in the morning to collect pollen and nectar from plants and flowers.
Bees can’t regulate their body temperature. They don’t actually hibernate, but when it gets cold they go into a torpid state. They make a group hug. It’s a bit like penguins. They keep circulating to keep warm. The ones on the inside go to the outside and it keeps circulating like that so they can keep above freezing. They also have to have honey for their metabolism during the winter to make heat, so they store honey in order to have that to eat when there is no nectar from the flowers.
From a bee keepers perspective, you have a season and in the UK the season is pretty short. It runs from roughly April to September and is determined by the temperature and the amount of daylight you have, but predominantly temperature. You are constantly watching small changes in temperatures and humidity because it will affect what the bees do, and you’re always watching the flowers. You can predict what we call a ‘honey flow.’ There are certain indicators of this flow and it’s usually based on how much rain there has been and what’s in flower at a particular time of year.
You have to make sure that the bees go into winter with enough honey and are warm and dry so they can get through the winter. I monitor their health and development through their activities. We are watching in the colony as it builds up in early spring and once the weather settles until the end of April we start opening up the colonies to see if they are strong and if they need things like more ventilation or more space to be healthy.
Bee keeping is a business. In the United States, it’s a huge business, but I’m a natural bee keeper. I subscribe to natural bee keeping practices, so we use the natural rhythms of nature and the natural inclinations of the bees to support our bee keeping. And we use wild swarming to bring in more colonies.
For bees to reproduce they swarm. It’s their natural way of making increase, so when they get large in strength and size the old queen flies away with something like forty to sixty percent of the colony, and she leaves behind a young virgin queen for the bees to create the new family.
Because we don’t do anything unnatural, our queens can live up to five years. They only have one mating season of their life, so they start as a virgin and then they go on several mating flights for a week in their entire life at the beginning of their life. They are only able to copulate and be fertile for a very small window of their life. It’s quite dramatic. The temperature has to be right and the air pressure has to be right because they mate on the wing. The drones, those are the males, his sexual parts when they engage with the queen and once he’s done, his abdomen is ripped out. So, for the male bees it’s this one extraordinary moment.
The queen does this with several males. From an evolution point of view it’s brilliant because she gets DNA from each drone and stores it in her abdomen. Then she goes back to the parent colony and becomes an egg layer for the rest of her life.
A lot of sustainable beekeeping is about animal welfare and sustaining the colony. It’s a challenge, but I do feel there is a point where human beings, animals and plants, – there is a perfect balance in that relationship and for me the bee is an important part of that crux.
It’s never been our intention to exploit a creature we are passionate about. We see bees as being one of the few sources of raw material that when it is created it actually creates more biodiversity.
When a bee pollenates, it goes from flower to flower and creates more biodiversity in that process. Having worked in a nature conservation bee keeping can be a sustainable practice and it can also support livelihoods in wildness without compromising the wild creature. You can create a win, win, win situation with bees, nature and human activity. It’s all about quantity in harvesting and management techniques, and also things like harvesting times and how you harvest.
We don’t harvest any pollen because it’s something that we feel bees can’t give up. It’s their protein source so we would never take pollen from the bees and give them a protein substitute like industrial practices would do; they give them soy and flour. And we never take so much honey that the bees are fed high fructose corn syrup in lieu of honey. Honey is a superfood and it’s a superfood that bees need, so for organic bee keeping standards all of those things are built into the standards.
Bee Population Declining
Unfortunately, our food system is supported by pesticides and herbicides, and bees are the canary in the coal mine. They are so sensitive and so tiny that they get this cocktail effect of chemicals. Sometimes bees are directly sprayed, but most of the time what happens is that the chemicals are systemic. The chemicals are taken up into all parts of the plant and the bees take the nectar and the pollen of the plant. The bees take back these residues and although they may be taking them in small amounts, the accumulative amount can be lethal. A lot of these chemicals were developed during the second world war as neurotoxins and that technology has been translated into pesticides, so you can knock out an insects nervous system.
The best way to contribute positively is to choose organic food and organic agriculture. It’s one of the ways you can avoid supporting a food culture that harms bees.
I’ve always had very sensitive skin, but when I developed eczema, honey became my go to ingredient when I had problematic skin. I was using simple honey based products for myself and we were selling our honey products at farmers’ markets and then I started selling my skincare products at the farmers’ markets. One thing led to another and we were selling them at retailers. We weren’t called Therapi then, we had a another name. We were called Apples & Pears Apiary; it was the name of the honey business.
But soon we started getting orders from retailers, like Urban Outfitters subsidiaries and prestigious stores in London, but we weren’t ready. I had small children then and we just weren’t ready, so we went underground and just laid low.
I kept working on products myself, but I didn’t have any technical expertise. Then I had one of those moments – I received a letter from a cosmetic chemist asking if she could come and make products with me. She was from Italy. It was extraordinary. I just replied and said, this is the situation – we are this tiny cottage industry. I have this dream, but I don’t know if this is going to work. We met and it was just the meeting of minds. She knew and I knew. We started in 2012 working exclusively on the Therapi range.
We have three lines. We identified specific botanical ingredients to help with specific skin issues. I have incredibly dry skin and I have always found that rose ingredients whether it be the oil or rose water to be very beneficial, so we created the rose line for dry skin. In it we actually use five different extractions of rose. With the flower you can’t just use the steam distillate. You are really looking to use the oil from the fruit, the rose water and we try to use all parts of the plant to get al the benefits from the rose. The rose range is for dry and mature skin and we use very nurturing moisturizers, such as rose oil, shea butter, coconut oil and jojoba oil.
The Orange Blossom range is the balancing range for normal skin types. Orange blossom also called, neroli, is in it and we also use things like sea buckthorn and calendula which are anti-inflammatory, as well as aloe and shea butter.
The Lemon Myrtle line is made with the Australian flower – Lemon Myrtle. It’s naturally antibacterial and has a lovely aroma. We have used oils compatible with combination skin types like hemp oil, which are much lighter. And we use witch hazel which is great for oily skin types.
For my own beauty routine, I am a great believer in simplicity. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, so in the mornings I literally cleanse, tone, moisturizer and I change that with the season. I use the gel cleanser with a konjac sponge. It’s like a mini facial and gentle exfoliation. I’ll use our Rose Otto toner. Rose is a natural humectant and it kind of quenches my skin’s thirst. Then, I either use the rose range in the winter or in the summer I use the orange blossom because in the summer my skin isn’t quite as dry.
We developed the propolis cream for me. My partner said nobody would ever buy it because it’s too rich and I said it’s the cream I’ve been wanting to buy all my life. And now, we can’t make it fast enough. It’s so thick and nourishing. It gives you a radiance that I have never found possible in a product. You love it or you hate it. It’s amazing.
But as for overall health, I know this sounds like a cop out, but I really think happiness, good sleep and good food contribute a lot to your health. I think stress is a killer. I do meditate and I have been doing yoga for almost as long as I’ve been keeping bees. Someone asked me to be a guinea pig in a class they were teaching and I was hooked. I really think meditation, happiness, fresh air, good food and a good partner, if you are lucky enough to find one, are the keys to good health.”
-as told to BOND EN AVANT; Image source: Therapi Honey Skincare