Our last class took place at Jenny Bach and Jio Rosenberg’s beautiful homestead in Lapahoehoe, Bee Love Hawaii. After three weeks of hearing about beekeeping from those with great experience, we were all eager to get started. Where should we acquire a hive? How is a swarm caught? Once in our swarm trap, how is the ball of bees transferred to the hive? Well, we could build our own hives, have them shipped from the mainland, or coax an established beekeeper on-island into passing on his used hives. As for catching a swarm, we were given a swarm trap resembling a large brown paper-mache flowerpot with a lid. A potent pheromone placed inside attracts bees looking for a new home. With one swift and vigorous shake, the swarm is transferred into the open hive or onto the ground directly in front of the hive entrance.
Later that morning, Jio and Jenny lovingly opened a top bar hive. The process seemed minimally invasive, as most of the top bars were allowed to remain in place and only the first five were removed and examined. With no pre-existing rectangular frame upon which to build, the bees created comb with graceful and delicate rounded edges. We all had the chance to hold a bar, and it was interesting to note everyone’s increased confidence and comfort level since first opening a hive only two weeks before!
The day came to a close with a mead-tasting. Also called honey wine, it is made by fermenting a solution of water and honey. Having read Arthurian Legends and Viking sagas as a child, and remembering bacchanalian feasts fueled by over-flowing goblets of golden mead, I was eager to sample this most ancient of drinks!
Some meads were clear, others a little cloudy, perhaps from the addition of lilikoi juice or other fruity additions. Some were sweet and reminiscent of white wine, while others tasted more yeasty and beer-like, with a champagne-like effervescence.
Enthused, I did a little research. It turns out the earliest archaeological evidence for the production of mead dates back to around 7000 BC. Historically, meads were fermented by wild yeasts and bacteria from the skins of the fruit used or from the honey itself. Human preoccupation with making and consuming alcoholic drinks led to endless experimentation, as evidenced by the hundreds of different meads to be found today, flavored with everything from blackcurrants to chili peppers – and in our class, passion fruit and cacao!
A big thank you to Richard Spiegel and Jenny Bach, and to the many experts and teachers who came together to share their time and expertise with us. We leave inspired and ready to start on our own beekeeping adventures!
Posted by Monika Hennig
This project was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program.