From Hosting Bees to Having Bees

My Adventure from Host to Beekeeper (April 27, 2020)

I grew up on the windward side of Oahu, where I lived a carefree, outdoorsy life, playing kickball in the front yard, swimming at Kailua Beach, and mud sliding in the Pali rainforests. It was truly idyllic. Except, I was the kid who always got stung if there was a bee, wasp, or any kind of stinging bug around! Not surprising, I developed a terrible fear of bees (aka apiphobia).

Adding Hawaiian Style to the Beehives

As an adult, whenever a bee flew near me, I lapsed into a panic, paralyzed with fear, screeching unintelligible cries for help. Perhaps through some kind of divine intervention, I ended up living for some time in New Hampshire right next door to a beekeeper! I was an avid gardener at that time. So, it took quite a bit of coaxing and coaching from my beekeeping neighbor before I could calmly work in my flower garden alongside his foraging bees.

The honeybees seemed oblivious to my presence. I was not to theirs. I remained attentive to their flights around me, always apprehensive of that fateful sting, which actually never came. Slowly, I learned to trust these docile little characters and to appreciate, rather than fear, their visits to my property. These little fuzzy creatures were as much the keepers of my ever-abundant flower garden as was I.

In 2018, I moved to the Big Island from my ancestral home of Oahu. A mutual friend (and now beekeeper) introduced me to Scott Nelson with the idea that my husband and I might consider hosting some beehives on our land. I live on 3 1/2 acres in the off-grid community of Wa’a Wa’a, along the Lower Puna coast. Sandwiched between the Nanawale Forest Reserve and Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate Conservation Lands, the rainforests around Wa’a Wa’a offer ample year-round foraging for honeybees.

Having My Own Bees

In the spring of 2019, we decided to host Hawaiian Honey bee on our land in exchange for jars of pure Hawaiian raw honey. The day Scott pull up our winding driveway in his pickup truck loaded with 18 beehives, I was both excited and apprehensive. I had never seen or been around so many bees--over a million in fact!

The sound and energy they emitted was astonishing. My childhood fears began to re-awaken. I was sure I would get stung, or worse yet, attacked by a whole hive. To my relief, it took almost a year before I got my first sting. My husband was not so lucky. He got his first sting shortly after the bees arrived.

Over the next few days, I wandered up the hill to the hives and stood nearby in the dappled sunlight under a rainbow eucalyptus tree to watch the newcomers. I was mesmerized by the bees' movements as they circled, initially low and close to their hives then increasingly higher, wider, and further away. Within a few days, I noticed an abundance of bees around the house, flitting from the flowers to the blossoming trees and back to the hives.

The bees soon became my morning alarm clock as they darted in and out of the flowerbeds just under our bedroom window. With eyes closed, I would listen to the intensity of their hum, signaling whether it was sunny or overcast outside. Should I get up to start the day or sleep just “five more minutes”? The bees cajoled me through their song, convincing me that the day had begun.

Now We're Ready

The bees also became my gardening companions as we worked together to intensify the palette of blossoms around the house. Although most of the bees foraged well beyond our property, in the rainforests that surrounds us, I quickly set about planting some of their favorite flowers: heather, portulaca, hibiscus, naupaka, gardenia. I hoped to entice the lazier bees to stick around the house, so I could watch them from my lanai. Who knew that my phobia could be swept away by these fascinating little creatures?

Over the subsequent year of hosting hives, we had some issues with the loss of a few queens, small hive beetles, and competition from other neighborhood beehives. Eventually only 8 hives survived but that seemed to be the magical number as the remaining hives were able to stabilize, despite a very rainy winter and soggy spring. This smaller number of hives got me thinking: why not try my own hand at this? Keep it small and simple. These little beauties had produced so much honey and had brought me so much joy that I was ready now to take on the challenge of keeping my own bees.

Scott picked up our host hives a few weeks ago. I was deeply saddened by the departure of these buzzing amazons, who had survived what others could not. Every day since, I have missed their bee song under my bedroom window and their daily flights through my garden. Even the flowers, now fully open in the springtime sun, seem to call out for the bees to return. My heart breaks a little each day for the bees that are gone now. I have to remind myself that my new adventure will begin soon when Scott delivers 3 new hives: my hives, my bees, my girls!

Like an expectant mother, I have been busy preparing for the arrival of my bees: clearing a nice sunny spot next to our fruit trees, ordering hive supplies, reading about beekeeping, deciding on a brand name, and designing a logo. With the help of my hubby and the grand kids, we pressed kapa-like patterns onto the hive wood ware, evoking the ancient Hawaiian cultural practice in coastal villages that once dotted the eastern coastline of the island.

We are now ready to receive our “girls.” Our new adventure as beekeepers is about to begin.