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by Rike Weiss

Tucked away in the foothills of the Ko`olau mountain range on the lush windward side of O`ahu, the apiary and honey house in Wai`ahole Valley were the destination for a Slow Food group of about 15. Not equipped with enough veil beekeeper suits, we did not visit the actual hives, but had the opportunity to observe bees at work in a single frame in the honey house.

Three years ago the Varroa mite that has spread, infested, and killed bee colonies around the world over the past century, arrived on O`ahu and devastated the Wai`ahole colonies. Bee keepers George Hudes and Charlie Reppun almost gave up in despair. We breathed a collective sigh of relief to learn that, thanks to the availability of organic mite control methods, not only are they back in production, but production throughout the state is flourishing. Our food supply, for now, is secured.

While tasting a variety of honeys in an astounding range of colors—from palest straw color to dark auburn—our group heard about the basics of bee keeping. The gestation cycle from egg to full-fledged female worker bee is 21 days, 24 days for males or drones, and 16 days for queens. Once hatched, worker bees fulfill multiple functions: from cleaning and comb building to feeding larvae and serving their queen. After four weeks in the hive, they’re ready to leave and start foraging, collecting pollen and nectar from the abundance of plants in the fertile valley.

As soon as the honey combs are filled, the frames are removed, uncapped (removal of the outer was layers), and placed in a centrifuge for extraction. From there, the honey is transferred to a settling tank, where impurities float to the top. After about 12 hours, the untreated, unfiltered honey is ready for bottling. It was impossible to determine clear favorites among the assortment of honeys for sale. Spring harvests tended to be lighter in color and taste. Many of us left with numerous jars from smoky-tasting ochre colored honey to the late-harvest fall variety.