International Bee Conference Coming to the Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaii’s “idyllic days” as a beekeeper’s paradise are over, according to Danielle Downey, state apiculture specialist,  leading to a “crash mobilization of Hawaiian beekeepers and supporters of the industry who are fighting for the survival of their bees.” In line with that mobilization, the international Western Apicultural Society is holding its annual conference Sept. 12-Sept. 15 at Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in South Kohala.

Big Island Bee Conference

Puna beekeeper Jenn Rasmussen checks a hive for the invasive small hive beetle. Apiary recovery following assaults by Varroa mite and small hive beetles will be a focus of the Sept. 12-15 Western Apicultural Society's annual conference at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. The public is invited.

Downey is one of several nationally known apiary specialists speaking at the four-day conference that will focus on new research and bee colony recovery; the state of Hawaii beekeeping, its problems and successes; and alternatives to conventional beekeeping, according to Jenny Bach, WAS first vice president and one of the conference organizers.

“Beekeepers are scrambling to save their operations in the face of massive and sudden losses,” Downey said, adding there is “no easy fix” for honey farmers, queen breeders, or agricultural interests who are wondering what happens if they lose their crops’ pollinators.

Big Island Bee Conference

Larry Connor, PhD., will speak at the Western Apicultural Society's annual conference to be held Sept. 12-15 at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. The beekeeping columnist and Wicwas Press publisher will also present a day-long masters' workshop in Hawi on Sept. 16 on rebuilding the apiary after losses.

Bee specialists coming from the Mainland to give conference presentations include Jim Bach, president of Apiary Inspectors of America and for 25 years, the Washington State Apiculture specialist; Dewey Caron, PhD., University of Delaware Emeritus Professor of Entomology & Wildlife Ecology and affiliate faculty with Oregon State University, Corvallis’s Horticulture Dept. and a continuing researcher into Africanized bees in the Americas; Christi Heintz, pollination research manager for Project Apis m. (PAm) and the Almond Board of California; and Larry Connor, PhD., Wicwas Press publisher and columnist for both the American Bee Journal and Bee Culture Magazine. Other mainland speakers will be Randy Oliver, beekeeper and researcher who maintains the website; Serge Labesque, natural beekeeper in Sonoma County, CA.,  who teaches beekeeping at Santa Rosa Junior College and 2006 recipient of the WAS Thurber Award for Inventiveness; Sam Comfort, owner of Anarchy Apiaries who practices treatment-free beekeeping; and David Barnes. an expert on Varroa mite and small hive beetle control from Florida. Eric Mussen, PhD., University of California-Davis extension apiculturalist and five-time WAS president, will give welcoming remarks the evening of Sept. 12.

In addition to Downey, Hawaii-based speakers will be Patricia Couvillon, PhD., University of Hawaii-Manoa associate professor in the Pacific Biosciences Research Center and the Department of Psychology, a 30-year researcher into the learning and cognition across species; Ethel Villalobos, PhD., University of Hawaii Honeybee Project researcher on sustainable methods for Varroa mite and small hive beetle management; Michael Kliks, PhD., owner of Manoa Honey Company, former consultant to the World Health Organization and president of the Hawaii Beekeepers Association; Jenny Bach, owner of Bee Love Apiaries in Pepe’ekeo and founder and director of the Honeybee Education Program and Honeybees for Farmers Project; Cary Dizon, Glenwood beekeeper and president of the Big Island Beekeepers Association; Ron Hanson, owner of Puna’s Best Big Island Bees and trainer of beginning beekeepers; and Scott Nikaido of the UH Bee Lab.

Big Island Bee Conference

Volcano encaustic artist John Matsushita will demonstrate painting with bees' wax Sept. 14 at the Western Apicultural Soceity conference at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel. The public is invited to take part in the 2nd annual Hawaiian Natural Honey Challenge that evening at the hotel.

Conference field trips on Sept. 14 will offer a choice of excursions to a Kona queen bee farm in Captain Cook or Volcano Island Honey Company on the Hamakua Coast. Exhibits and a silent auction will be featured throughout the four days.

BIBA’s 2nd annual Hawaiian Natural Honey Challenge will be held in conjunction with the conference, with the public tasting and awards announcement at the hotel scheduled for 7-9 p.m. Sept. 14.

The public is invited to the WAS conference. Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel is offering a special conference and room rate of $159 a day; daily registration is $45 and includes lunch and refreshments. Registration forms are available at or by calling conference organizer Cary Dizon at 966-7421.

“It is indeed a very interesting time for apiculture in Hawaii,” Downey said, “so we hope you will join us for the WAS meeting to witness Hawaii’s unique beekeeping situation as it is coming through this crisis.”

The public may register for daily attendance at: http://www.bibahawaiibees.or/News/WASRegistrationform.pdf or for the entire conference at:

Two beekeeping workshops are scheduled on the Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16 and 17, following the WAS conference.

Author and publisher  Larry Connor will offer a day-long class, “Master Class: Rebuilding the Apiary After Losses,” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16. This post-conference workshop will take place at Ka Hana No’eau farm near Hawi. The workshop fee is $50 and includes a copy of Connor’s book, Increase Essentials. For more information or to register, see

A two-day workshop of hands-on training with top-bar hives and in-class lectures by Sam Comfort  of Anarchy Apiaries, focusing on natural beekeeping practices will take place at Pu’u Wa’aWa’a Ranch in North Kona. There is an $85 fee for that workshop (some scholarships available); contact or call 640-0278 to register.

WAS is a non-profit organization designed to meet the educational needs of all beekeepers in western North American, including the western U.S. states; the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, the Yukon; and the states of northern Mexico.

The Swarm is Gone! Mahalo to “Best Big Island Bees”

A few months ago I blogged about the swarm of bees in my backyard and posted this video of them swarming:


Well today, thanks to “Best Big Island Bees” and an “intern”, the bees were finally removed.

They had gotten in between two walls on an outside shed making them very hard to access.

More than three 5 gallon buckets of honeycomb were taken away!

The amount of bees estimated that he was able to capture and move was estimated at over 40,000.  The actual number of the nest itself was probably at least double that!

I’d like to thank Best Big Island Bees for removing this hive!

Plan “Bee”: Hawaii Government Stings Honey Bees

The following letter was sent to me by Sydney Ross Singer

In case you haven’t heard the buzz, the honey bee in Hawaii is gravely threatened by a newly introduced parasite, the varroa mite, which can wipe out our bee population within a few years, and is spreading across the state.

Bees with varroa mite

The question is, should we save the honey bees, or is the mite doing us a favor?

If you ask residents, farmers, and beekeepers, the honey bee is a blessing in Hawaii. They provide delicious honey, they help pollinate all sorts of fruit trees and crops, and they are interesting creatures to raise as a hobby. For most people, our islands would surely be less sweet without honey bees.

On the other hand, if you ask some conservationists who only value “native” species and wish to eradicate introduced ones, the honey bee is an invasive species curse in Hawaii. They compete with native pollinators, and they pollinate alien plant species that are encroaching on native forests. For these people, conservation would best be served by the eradication of the honey bee.

Unfortunately, the Hawaii government holds both of these opinions. And this spells doom for the honey bee.

According to Lyle Wong of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (DOA), who is leading efforts on the Big Island to stem the spread of the varroa mite, the Hawaii government is not sure whether to regard the honey bee as a friend or foe (personal communication).

The DOA acknowledges the importance of the honey bee in agriculture, and that most farmers rely on feral, or wild, honey bees to pollinate their crops. On the other hand, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), which works closely with the DOA, considers the honey bee as an invasive species, and thinks Hawaii would be better off without them.

This ambivalence towards the honey bee is also reflected in the fact that the DOA lists the honey bee as an agricultural pest for control or eradication.

Add to this the fact that the varroa mite is considered a form of biocontrol against wild honey bees.

This is from a wikipedia entry: As an invasive species, feral honey bees have become a significant environmental problem in places where they are not native. Imported bees may compete with and displace native bees and birds, and may also promote the reproduction of invasive plants that native pollinators do not visit.

The loss of the honey bee will accomplish what the DOA and DLNR, along with the US Forest Service, had in mind for strawberry guava biocontrol. They proposed releasing an alien scale insect to attack the strawberry guava to reduce its fruit production in order to slow its spread in the forests. That proposal has been made moot by the introduction of the varroa mite. The loss of honey bees mean less strawberry guava fruit. No need for the scale now that the mite is here.

The announcement of the invasion of the varroa mite on the Big Island came two weeks after the Hawaii County Council chastised the federal and state governments for their biocontrol plan for strawberry guava. Some people believe the varroa mite could have been secretly released by zealous biocontrol proponents who wish to see the demise of the honey bee in order to reduce the spread of guava, strawberry guava, and other “weed” trees. Since the scale insect release plan was being attacked, could the deliberate release of the varroa mite on the Big Island have been “Plan Bee”?

Whether it happened by design or through incompetence, the varroa mite was not stopped in Hilo, where it was first discovered. Now, the mite is expected to infest the entire Big Island, as it has Oahu.

Meanwhile, the DOA is killing healthy honey bees in swarm traps around the Big Island, certainly not a sign of friendship or support for the bees. According to Lyle Wong, the bees are killed to see if they had mites. However, there are effective nonlethal methods to tell this, as beekeepers will attest. Nevertheless, over 350 healthy bee hives have been killed around Hilo, and healthy bees are still being killed in swarm traps on the Kona side.

Why have swarm traps? It helps to see if the mite has arrived in that area by inspecting the bees in the trap. Of course, there is nothing that this information tells you beyond the fact that the mite has arrived.

So why kill the bees in the traps if they are healthy? It’s because it is just easier for the government workers to bag the swarm traps and kill all the bees instead of moving the bees to a hive and letting them live.

This disregard for the honey bees should not be a surprise given the way the state regards the bee. But it has stirred the anger of some local bee lovers who want to save the bees, and move healthy bee swarms from the traps into hives that can be given to residents and farmers who want bees. However, the DOA is resisting these efforts to save the healthy bees, insisting on killing them.

It is also important to have as many healthy bee hives as possible to allow the bees to evolve and adapt to the mite.

In fact, natural selection could ultimately create a resistant honey bee that could survive this mite attack. But until that happens, we will see our food supply reduced. Beekeepers will have to manage their hives for mites and sell pollination services to large farm operations, as is now required on the Mainland as a result of varroa mite destruction of wild bee populations. Meanwhile, our wildlife will suffer from lack of fruit, causing some wildlife, such as pigs and birds, to encroach on backyards and farms to find food. Hunters and gatherers from the wild will find less game and fruit. Our wild food resources, as well as our gardens and orchards, will suffer.

Less honey. Less fruit. Less abundance. Life will not be as sweet in the islands.

But not everyone will lament. The DLNR will celebrate, along with all the invasive species committees and councils, with their state, federal and private alliances, all dedicated to eliminating non-native species from Hawaii. They will call the elimination of the honey bee “sweet”.

But it is all the rest of us who will get stung.

Sydney Ross Singer
Director, Good Shepherd Foundation, Inc.
P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hi 96778