The Big Island Bees tour concludes with a sampling of organic honey. // © 2015 Jeremy Chien
Feature image (above): During a beekeeping demonstration, guests can see the queen and worker bees up close through a protective screen. // © 2015 Jeremy Chien
An impending visit to Big Island Bees had me in a quandary. On one hand, I’m a huge fan of its one-of-a-kind organic honey made from Hawaii Island blossoms. On the other, I’m allergic to bees.
Armed with my EpiPen and reassurances from company owner Whendi Grad that I would be fine, I stopped by the apiary. Its one-room museum/tasting room and outdoor beekeeping demonstration provided a delightful, delicious diversion during my day in rural Captain Cook, on the west side of Hawaii Island.
Home to more than 3,000 hives, Big Island Bees is Hawaii’s largest organic honey farm. It’s run by Grad and her husband, Garnett Puett, a fourth-generation beekeeper. Puett is also a successful artist whose creative beeswax sculptures are displayed in the museum.
My tour guide, Laryssa, was so enthusiastic that I immediately set aside any previous qualms. As our group gathered in the museum, which holds historic photos and memorabilia, she explained the basics of beekeeping.
Next, Laryssa led us outside to the hive area. We were mostly protected by two screens, but since the bees have to come and go, a few of them occasionally flew near us. Laryssa advised that by staying calm and relaxed, we would be safe — and indeed we were. Using smokers, she pulled out screens of bees and pointed out the queen and worker bees with aplomb during the mesmerizing presentation.
Back in the museum, we took part in a honey tasting. What makes these honeys so unique is the source of their sweetness: blossoms from local ohia lehua, macadamia nut and wilelaiki (Christmas berry) trees.
Grad told me that Hawaii beekeeping is unique because it’s a year-round operation.
“On the mainland, beekeepers have to travel vast miles to follow the bees to warmer climates,” she said.
Another plus for her operation is its proximity to popular visitor sites such as Kealakekua Bay, the Painted Church, Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, Greenwell Kona Coffee Farm and Amy B.H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden.
When I asked Grad what else makes her company special, she responded without hesitation.
“Everyone who works here loves bees,” she said.
By the end of my visit — and after several more tastes of honey — I felt the same way.