Hippie principles guide
a sweet bee partnership
A bee by nature is a well-behaved creature, unlikely to sting unless threatened. No pre-emptive strikes in bee-dom.
Richard Spiegel related this as he reached into a humming hive and removed a frame crawling with bees. He was entirely un-armored. No net, no protective suit.
"You have to move really slowly," he said softly. "They don't like it if you move fast, so it forces me, as an A-type personality, to slow down."
As if to prove the point, Spiegel accidentally dropped the frame. The bees buzzed upward in an unfriendly cloud.
"Probably," he said casually to a visiting photographer, "it would be best to leave now."
Spiegel owns Volcano Island Honey Co., producer of a white honey that has found a national niche on such upscale shelves as those of Neiman Marcus.
Spiegel's interest in bees goes back more than 20 years. "I'm a retired hippie, and I dropped out of being a lawyer in the '70s," he said. "I've come back to see if it's possible to run a business with the principles of that hippie era."
These principles include building massages into his employees' four-day workweek and allowing ocean swimming as part of each workday.
Spiegel employs seven to 10 people, depending on season, but his real workers are the bees. He maintains just more than 100 hives in the lava fields of Puako on the Kohala Coast, where the bees collect nectar from a grove of kiawe trees. Conditions are sunshiny and desertlike, but the trees are naturally irrigated by an underground source of brackish water.
Each colony consists of a queen, raised by a breeder in Kona, and 50,000 workers. They live in white boxes that Spiegel's crew fits with frames set with beeswax. The bees, in the natural course of things, fill the beeswax cells with honey. They also raise more bees in another part of the hive, which perpetuates the project.
Bee trivia, Part 1, how bees make honey: "They flap their wings in the hive," Spiegel said. This dehydrates the kiawe nectar so that only 15 percent water is left. This, plus an enzyme that the bee adds to the nectar, produces honey.
Each frame in each hive is checked weekly so that it is removed when the honey is just right. Too soon, it will ferment; too late, it will crystallize in the honeycomb.
Processing happens at the honey house on Spiegel's homestead, miles away in cool, green Ahualoa, near Honokaa. Here the honey is removed and jarred.
Bee trivia Part 2, cleanup: The bees do it. Compulsive workers that they are, they collect any honey left in the beeswax after processing and carry it to new hives to make new honey.
The company's Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey (the kiawe blossoms produce a thick, naturally white product) comes plain or flavored with ginger or lilikoi. Spiegel also produces a winter honey made in the off-season (November to March) of wildflowers in the Ahualoa area.
Spiegel sees his operation as co-op of man and bee. "We always allow them to have enough honey for their own needs. We just go into their savings account, like Robin Hood."
Rare Hawaiian Organic White Honey sells for $11 to $12