Beekeeping in Hawaii at UH Hilo on the Big Island

As part of a week-long road trip touring farms on the Big Island of Hawaii, we made a stop in Pana'ewa to learn about beekeeping. The University of Hawaii College of Agriculture at Hilo maintains an 110-acre agricultural farm where students put theory into practice with hands-on learning. They conduct educational projects in an area dubbed the Farm Laboratory where they study vegetables, fruits, greenhouse learning, hydroponics, aquaculture, forestry, raising livestock, equine science, and beekeeping. Our particular interest was in their latter program.

UH Hilo Beekeeping Program

  • 110-acres at the University of Hawaii at Hilo for agricultural use.
  • 2011 is the year of the inaugural Adopt-a-Beehive with Alan Wong program.
  • $300 is the minimum cost to participate in the Adopt-a-Beehive program.
  • 40 beehives (about 500,000 bees) at UH Hilo.
  • 66 Pounds of pollen per year collected in one beehive.
beekeeping in Hawaii honey
beekeeping in Hawaii honey

UH Hilo is instrumental in bringing greater awareness to the plight of the honey bee on the Big Island. Recently, two major predators, the varroa mite and hive beetle, have been threatening the local bee population. As nature’s primary pollinators of plants and producers of one of the best natural sweeteners, honey bee protection is the main goal of the program. As a result, the Farm Laboratory is home to about 40 beehives making there around 500,000 bees in total. Students maintain the apiary as a way to apply what they learn in class.

Upon our arrival, we were greeted by student intern Leslie Sugawa who would be our guide for the day. Afer learning about some beekeeping safety basics, we donned bee suits and went to closely observe the active beehives on campus. We watched her carefully interact with the beehives with a natural sage herb smoking gun to calm the bees. This is important to do before cracking open a beehive. She even pulled out an oozing chunk of fresh honeycomb for us to sample.

beekeeping in Hawaii honey
beekeeping in Hawaii honey

What does Hawaii honey taste like?

Similar to wine, the flavor of honey is impacted by the tastes of the land surrounding it. At UH Hilo, honey bees collect nectar from flowers and plants nearby, and the resulting flavor tends to be floral. Some Hawaii honey like that of UH Hilo is kept pure and traditional. However, some farmers like those of Rare Hawaiian Honey infuse theirs with natural fruits for unique flavors.

Where to find Hawaii honey

The Adopt A Beehive program only distributes honey to its sponsors and doesn't sell it to the public. Other forms of Hawaii such as the above-mentioned Rare Hawaiian Honey can be bought online.

There are several ways to learn about beekeeping at UH Hilo. The first is an option mainly for college students who can earn a Beekeeping Certificate. Non-university students can get involved by enrolling in a Continuing Education course on the Benefits of Beekeeping.  Another way to get involved is via the Adopt A Beehive project, which is sponsored by local Hawaii chef Alan Wong. This program is important to increase local awareness of the beekeeping process, understand the huge role that honeybees play in the agricultural process, and encourage sales of local Hawaiian honey.

*This is a multi-part installment as part of the Hawaii Sustainable Agriculture Project. Learn more about the project and the 12 participants here

UH Hilo Beekeeping Photos