“There is no prettier or more interesting sight to the apiarist than the first flight of a queen as she ventures out … tremblingly spreads her long, silky wings and with a graceful movement unequalled anywhere in the entire scope of animated nature, she swings from her feet, while her body sways pendulously as she hovers about the entrance of the hive.”
This was the image a writer at The Hawaiian Gazette left in readers’ minds at the end of “Bee Culture: An Industry That Has Made Rapid Strides,” printed on March 12, 1897, 40 years after the first honeybee colonies were successfully established in the Hawaiian Islands. By ending with this flowery portrait of the debutante queen, the author—whose main concern was the growing value of the local honey—hinted at even sweeter profits in the offing. As the apiarist, or beekeeper knows, a young queen leaving her mother’s hive means pursuing a swarm of tens of thousands of devotees, a new colony, and another source of income.
arly swarms spelled big profits for enterprising foreigners, from the near-mythic tramp Dwight Holcomb, who peddled honeycomb that he pillaged from wild hives on Mount Tanatalus in the 1860s; to Oswald St. John Gilbert, the “Honey King,” who founded the Sandwich Island Honey Company after a swarm landed in his yard in 1893, and later established 10,000 hives in the kiawe forests of west O‘ahu in the early 1900s.
Today, even while seen as pests, rogue swarms of bees—like the one that took up residence at ‘Iolani Palace in May 2016—are still sought-after bounties. When bees land in urban areas, beekeepers like Yuki Uzuhashi, who owns Manoa Honey Company, hope to get the call. On such a swarm-catching mission, it’s essential to catch the alluring and well-defended queen—no easy task if she decides to take up temporary residence inside a dense bush. Brazen apiarists like Uzuhashi and his lead beekeeper Kunie Kinoshita will plunge their bare hands into the fray, methodically smoking the area and scraping the bees off each branch and into a wooden box until the queen has been relocated and the buzzing hoard has followed her into this new home.
Having rounded up a colony, Uzuhashi will house it in one of his 10 apiaries on O‘ahu, from which he collects beeswax, pollen, and honey that he sells at local stores and farmers markets. “The relation between humans, bees, and the flora [is] a golden triangle,” he says. “We know what we have to do: Take care of the bees and nature and the environment. Whatever amount the bees can provide us, we take, and try to keep them as healthy as possible. That’s a basic, universal language wherever you keep the bees in the world.”
Uzuhashi learned this universal “bee language,” as he calls it, while apprenticing in his home country of Japan, where it’s traditional to follow the bees and flowers from the warmer southern islands to the thawing north each spring. After he moved to Hawai‘i to take over Manoa Honey Company, Uzuhashi learned that while local bees enjoy year-round warmth, they face pests of their own: vampire-like varroa mites, and small hive beetles, whose larvae tunnel through honeycomb, leaving behind a frothy, fermented mess smelling of rotten oranges.
Island beekeepers like Uzuhashi contend with these tiny predators by keeping a manageable number of hives, cleaning them often, and trimming away pest-harboring weeds and grasses. For these dedicated apiarists, it is especially sweet to see a healthy, virgin queen leading her royal procession out to the kiawe wilds for the first time. Then, they just have to find her.
Manoa Honey is available in Hawai‘i at Whole Foods, ABC Stores, Dole Plantation, Down to Earth, Paiko, and more. For additional information, visit manoahoney.com.
For Manoa Honey Company apiarist Yuki Uzuhashi, shown on previous page, the relationship between humans, bees, and the environment is a golden triangle, with each taking care of the other.
The first honeybee colonies were established in Hawai‘i in the 1850s, and the industry is experiencing a resurgence today.
With 10 apiaries on O‘ahu, Manoa Honey Company produces beeswax, pollen, and honey, which are sold at local stores and farmers markets.