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Keeping Kaua‘i bees healthy

The beautiful foliage seen every day on the Garden Island is often the product of the smallest workers in the world. We can attribute most of the work to beloved honeybees.

Many people go about their lives taking for granted their hard work in keeping the ‘aina green, flowers blooming, crops growing, and our stores stocked with delicious golden honey.

The Kaua‘i Community College Apiary Project estimates that 60% of the food we eat is directly pollinated by honey bees. They pollinate crops including fruits, nuts, grains, citrus, vegetables and even specialty crops, such as coffee and avocados.

There are people who do take a special interest in the working lives of bees, whether it’s as a hobby or their sense of duty. The beekeepers of Kaua‘i come from numerous backgrounds. Some may pursue beekeeping as their sole career while others simply take enjoyment from it as a hobby and are happy to reap the benefits with the earth and with their neighbors.

John Jenks has been a beekeeper on Kaua‘i for nearly 10 years and has experience in keeping his bees safe, happy and healthy. He has done many extraction jobs that include moving wild hives to safer bee boxes, keeping locals happy and sting-free, and welcoming the bees into a new home.

“Our bees are in the best place they could possibly be, a natural botanical garden,” Jenks said, surrounded by fruit trees of many kinds and kept safe from harmful pesticides used elsewhere.

There are many reasons why beekeeping is so important for our local ecosystem, which is why it is so critical to keep our local bees safe from external threats such as disease, parasitic insects and mites, and destructive fungi.

Dr. Georganne Purvinis works as both the head of the electronic technology department and as the main head of the bee apiary on KCC’s campus.

“The biggest threat to the honeybees right now is a pest called the varroa mite, the varroa destructor mite. The varroa destructor mite is on almost the whole earth but it is not on Kaua‘i and it is not on Maui, so our bees are very special right now,” Purvinis said.

This is true, Kaua‘i is one of the very few places in the world where the asiatic varroa destructor mite does not exist.

The mite is the leading threat against honeybees worldwide at this point and time.

“When the mites came into the Big Island, it killed 60-70% of the hives there,” Purvinis said. “Our bees are really healthy on this island, we’d like to see it stay that way.”

How can we as a community help keep Kaua‘i bees safe from this destructive parasite?

“Never ever import bee products, used bee products, into this island. It could inadvertently bring that mite into this island,” Purvinis said.

Thankfully, used bee products do not include imported honey, but there are still many more benefits to buying honey locally.

“People on this island should buy honey from this island, it keeps our population safe and isolated from other beekeepers, from other islands,” Purvinis said.

There are many different types of honey available from local beekeepers, not only limited to the wildflower and clover honey you may see while browsing the supermarket.

Many people can also attest to the deeper and richer tastes that locally-sourced honey can carry as averse to standard brands we see every day.

All bees have the ability to make varying types of honey depending on the types of flowers they go out to pollinate, including orange blossom, acacia, clover, coffee plants, avocado, albizia and so many more.

The types of flower nectar can even affect the taste and color of the honey, from being strong and dark, to light and floral. Beekeepers can even serve honey to have varying consistencies, including comb-honey, crystallized honey, and plain raw liquid honey.

There are many beautiful varieties of honey available in Hawai‘i, so maybe it’s worth a visit to your local farmer’s market or beekeeper to try something new and bring home to the table.
Source: The Garden Island

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