Susan Collins is as busy as a bee these days. Clients looking for a unique Hawaii activity will enjoy her new Introduction to Beekeeping tour for visitors to Hawaii, which sheds light on the tiny, winged insects that play a big part in pollination worldwide.
“About one-third of food crops in the world depend on pollinators such as bees to grow; bees are essential to our survival,” said Collins, owner of Bird and Bee Hawaii. “Honeybees alone pollinate about 90 different crops in the United States, including apples, coffee, citrus, almonds and other things many of us eat every day. That represents more than $15 billion in annual economic value to our country’s agricultural industry.”
Collins’ background makes her the ideal person to lead the tour, which she describes as a two-hour introduction to bees and beekeeping at her apiary. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and masters’ degrees in Education and Library and Information Science. In addition, she completed two Peace Corps assignments — two-and-a-half years in Nicaragua, and six months in Panama — and is Hawaii’s delegate to the American Beekeepers Federation.
Her interest in honeybees was sparked seven years ago when she and her husband, Andy, found a swarm at their rural home, three-and-a-half miles from Honokaa town on the northern coast of Hawaii Island.
About one-third of food crops in the world depend on pollinators such as bees to grow; bees are essential to our survival.
“I told Andy, ‘Great; let’s catch them,’” Collins said. “He thought I was crazy, but I dashed down the road to see our neighbor, Richard Spiegel, who ran a successful kiawe honey operation for many years. He let me borrow an old beekeeper suit and bee box to hold my first colony, and my excitement grew from there.”
She then read books, attended beekeeping workshops and conferences, and learned firsthand from several mentors on the island, including Spiegel.
Today, she offers swarm and colony removal; colony maintenance; beginning beekeeping classes; sales of honey and beekeeping equipment; and the tour, which includes a hands-on hive experience and a presentation in the “bee barn” that she built in 2020.
Fascinating Facts About Bees
- There are up to 60,000 honeybees in a colony.
- Queen bees live for two to four years. There is usually only one queen in a hive, and her sole job is to lay eggs (as many as 2,000 per day).
- All worker bees are female, and they typically live just four to six weeks. They do all the work in the hive, including cleaning, caring for the queen, building wax comb, collecting nectar and making honey.
- Drones are male bees. Their duty is to mate with a queen from another hive (not their hive, or it would be akin to incest). When that happens, they die.
- Honey won’t spoil because it’s high in sugar, has a low water content and contains an enzyme called invertase, which is produced in bees’ salivary glands. Bees add invertase to the nectar they gather, which results in a chemical reaction that’s the first step in the honey-making process.
- Hawaiian honey can cost up to $40 per pound.
Beekeeping Tour at Bird and Bee Hawaii
I was captivated as Collins took me into the fascinating world of bees, honey and beekeeping via photos, charts and videos, but the highlight for me was putting on a protective beekeeper suit — complete with a veil and gloves — and heading to the hives with her.
Collins opened the top box of a wooden Langstroth hive where 10 frames were kept. She removed one, so I could inspect the comb on it.
Dozens of bees flitted about the mosaic of honey-filled, wax-capped cells, paying no attention to us, and I immediately said “Yes” when she asked if I wanted to hold the frame. One thing that struck me was the color of the honey: It ranged from light gold to dark brown.
My hope is that Hawaiian honey will be another product that puts our islands on the map — as famous, coveted and highly regarded as Hawaiian coffee.
“Honey’s color and flavor depend on the nectar that bees collect,” Collins said. “Common flavors in Hawaii include kiawe, ohia lehua, Christmasberry and macadamia nut blossom. Bees from my hives are producing honey flavored by plants and trees, including ginger, eucalyptus and citrus on our 5-acre property and in the neighborhood surrounding it.”
I found it to be a treat to taste raw honey right from the comb.
"It hasn’t been processed; there are no additives, and it’s full of nutrients, including pollen, propolis and enzymes,” Collins said. “It’s a complete, natural food source with full-bodied flavor.”
Beekeeping is a burgeoning industry in Hawaii, and Collins has taken an active role in shaping its future.
"There are dozens of beekeepers throughout the state,” she said. “We need to organize, develop marketing strategies and set standards to ensure consistent quality. My hope is that Hawaiian honey will be another product that puts our islands on the map — as famous, coveted and highly regarded as Hawaiian coffee.”
Bird and Bee Hawaii