These seasoned beekeepers regularly offer two-day “Beekeeping Basics” workshops, providing essential information for the novice home beekeeper. During this unique, hands-on apiary experience, they instruct students in every aspect of home beekeeping, offering an abundance of information about everything from hives and honey to bee stings and colony collapse disorder, while preparing them to start keeping bees immediately.
Thoughtfully raised bees provide essential pollination for agricultural crops and, of course, delicious local honey.
I joined them the second day of one of their recent workshops as students lit up their bee smokers, pumping the hand-operated bellows to distract the hive before the novice beekeepers opened it for inspection. Instead of flying out in an angry swarm, the bees retreat inside the hive to load up on honey and protect their queen and young.
Mark Damon scrapes honey-laden comb off a frame fresh from the hive.
As one student put it, “They don’t want to sting you. They’re thinking, ‘There’s a forest fire. How do we deal with this?’”
Then, two students per hive lifted the beehive lids to inspect neat rows of wooden frames upon which the bees build their honeycomb.
Pulling out one frame, student Sarah Gray commented, “They’ve done a fair bit of work since yesterday—this is a lot heavier.” She pointed out honey-filled comb and comb filled with eggs, known as “brood.”
Only one student out of the group of ten got stung, prompting Mark’s clarification: “Bees are never aggressive, they are just different stages of defensive.”
The student calmly applied honey to the sting, which covers the pheromone scent left by the stinging bee that would alert the other bees that you’re the enemy.
Leo, another student very new to beekeeping, said, “Every bee experience I’d had before now had been running from, being afraid of, swatting at, etc. It’s amazing to be relaxed around them.”
The Damons described some of the honeybee’s remarkable skills. They build geometric, structurally strong, identical combs and can consistently recognize colors and shapes.
Bees are also extremely efficient, gathering nectar from whichever blooming flower species contains the most sugar. They will stick with that one type until it stops producing.
When a field bee discovers a new nectar source, it will gather a sample to bring back to the hive and share a taste with its fellow bees. The bee will then “dance” on the honeycomb, and with a series of circles and lines, indicate distance, direction and relation to the sun, telling the others the location of the source flower within a two-mile range.
Then Mark and Leah escorted us into their spotless honey-harvesting chamber and demonstrated how to harvest honey with nothing more than a spoon, or with a sophisticated, electric centrifugal extractor that leaves the wax honeycomb intact and ready to return to the hive. Tasting abounded.
According to the Damons, raising bees on Maui is easier than in most places. The weather is mild, there are few diseases compared to the Mainland, and varroa mites and colony collapse disorder haven’t arrived here.
But, the dreaded American Foulbrood, a dangerous bee blight, can wipe out an entire hive. The Damons regularly check for hives that are weak, low-producing and give off “the smell of rotting flesh,” said Mark. To get rid of the disease, all parts of the hive must be burned—except for the bees, which can digest the nectar and honey they’re carrying and process out the disease.
“To avoid this plague,” said Mark, “never feed bees store-bought honey. New hives frequently benefit from extra honey when they’re getting started, and this should only come from your own hives.”
“In the end, you get out what you put into it,” said Mark. “If you want to just visit your hives twice a year, you can do that, and they’d be fine, but you’d get less honey production. If you want to work with your hives every two weeks, you can get many pounds of honey from a single hive of bees.”
The students in this workshop were abuzz with excitement at the prospect of starting their own backyard hives and tending hives of industrious pollinators in the near future on Maui.
For information about the farm and upcoming classes, visit MauiBees.com.
The queen bee is the key to a hive’s existence. The mother of all the offspring in the hive, her life consists of mating with male bees known as “drones” and laying eggs.