The honeybee is one of Hawai'i's favorite imported insects. Technically, you could certainly call them an invasive species, as honeybees have the ability to divide and spread despite humans' best efforts to control and contain them. But their invasion is a welcome one--one that many farmers and gardeners depend on.
To help support these sweet insects, Gov. Neil Abercrombie named the week of June 18-26 "Hawai'i Pollinator Week" and signed House Bill 2100 into law, giving the University of Hawai'i $30,000 for state-wide research.
"By marking 'Hawai'i Pollinator Week' in conjunction with 'National Pollinator Week,' our state is helping to create a positive 'buzz' around bees and promote bee health as a vital component to healthy food systems and natural ecosystems," announced the governor.
To raise awareness of a threat within Hawai‘i’s agricultural economy, Gov. Neil Abercrombie proclaimed June 18-24 as “Hawai‘i Pollinator Week” and signed into law a measure that will aid Hawai‘i’s fight to control pests and diseases that have been impacting the state’s bee populations. Despite the relatively friendly environment Hawai‘i offers honeybees and beekeepers, disease and pests are only an island or a region away.
Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor
According to the Hawai'i Beekeepers Association's "History of Honey Bees in the Hawaiian Islands" (www.hawaiibeekeepers.org), honeybees were successfully established in the state in the 1850s. Previous attempts to import them had failed due to the hardships of travel to the islands: The bees just couldn't weather the long trip.
Honeybees soon proved valuable for honey production and for pollination of kiawe blossoms. At that time, kiawe pods were used as high-protein feed for a growing Hawai'i cattle industry. In addition, kiawe blossoms are excellent sources of nectar, and their honey is highly regarded.
In 1894, honey from Hawai'i was first exported, and by 1897, 109,000 pounds were shipped. By 1919, the industry was worth $300,000.
In 1909, the Territory of Hawai'i recognized the need to protect against diseases and pests from elsewhere that could severely threaten bee colonies by banning the import of bees. Despite the ban that continues today, American Foulbrood, a disease that affects honeybee larvae, was accidentally introduced to Maui around 1930.
Not long ago, beekeeping was primarily practiced by a few keepers who had hundreds of hives strategically placed in areas where nectar and pollen were abundant.
Today, honeybee colonies can be found on all the major Hawaiian Islands.
Mark and Leah Damon own Maui Bees, a business in Kula that sells bees, honey and bee equipment. Because Kula is dry, they keep most of their 125 hives in Olinda, Makawao and Upper Kula, where flowers flourish from ample rainfall.
The Damons currently offer beekeeping classes to novice, but enthusiastic future beekeepers. They take students through the biology of the honeybee and the details of keeping a hive. Mark believes "the future of honeybees on Maui depends on many individuals keeping bees all over the island."
Dennis Morihiro, a long-time beekeeper and owner of Tropical Apiary Products of Maui, sells full hives of bees to backyard gardeners who want to try their hand at beekeeping. He plans to teach beekeeping and queen-rearing in the near future.
Gabriel Donihi of Ha'iku recently purchased a hive from Morihiro after attending the Damons' workshop.
"Besides living in a world humming with bees in every tomato and squash blossom, I successfully extracted enough honey to last for a year, last March," stated Donihi.
Because of Hawai'i's mild climate, beekeepers have a much easier time keeping their bees alive and thriving. Bees may not be as active during the winter months, due to lower flower production, but they don't have to endure freezing, snowy weather in which all they can do is hover in a mass to stay warm.
In Hawai'i, January arrives, the nectar begins to flow and the honeybees collect until November. Honey is typically harvested twice a year.
But not all is sweet in honeybee land. The University of Hawai'i (UH) Honeybee Project within the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources based in Manoa is looking out for the worst threats to Hawai'i's honeybees. According to its Website (www.uhbeeproject.com), the project's primary focus is containing and managing varroa mites that attach to bees and can transfer viruses believed to cause Deformed Wing and Colony Collapse Disorder.
The project is also teaching farmers how to create a "pollinator-friendly landscape." With an EPA grant, farmers who grow flowering vegetable crops such as squash, zucchini and melon are trained to forego frequent pesticide applications that can kill the much-needed honeybee pollinators. Instead, farmers are using highly reflective plastic mulch that deters crop pests.
Despite the relatively friendly environment Hawai'i offers honeybees and beekeepers, disease and pests are only an island or a region away.
"As backyard beekeeping grows," Mark warned, "every beekeeper must be vigilant about monitoring their hives. Today, we watch for small hive beetles, a new pest which has larvae that damages honeybee brood and the structure of the hive. We watch for all potential brood diseases. It is in all of our hands to protect Hawai'i's bees. Their contribution of honey, pollen, beeswax and most of all their pollinating of our fruits, vegetables and nuts should give every honeybee 'Queen Bee' status."