Although honey bees are not native to the Hawaiian Islands, these wonderful little creatures are efficient pollinators and significantly increase the production of coffee, avocados, citrus, and many of our other tropical agricultural crops.
Honey bees were introduced to the Islands in the 1850s. For the next 150+ years, geographic isolation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean provided protection to Hawaii from the bee diseases and pests that have spread on the mainland and elsewhere in the world. Largely because of this pest and disease-free environment, a thriving queen bee industry developed in Kona — with prized ‘Kona queen bees’ air-shipped throughout the world.
In the last 5 years, however, the sense of security enjoyed by Hawaii beekeepers has disappeared. In 2007 the parasitic varroa mite was first discovered on the Island of Oahu. Despite efforts of the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to prevent its spread, the varroa mite was detected in hives on the Big Island less than a year and a half later. Last year (2010) another destructive honey bee pest arrived —the small hive beetle — which produces wax-eating larvae.
Recognizing the importance of honey bees, the Hawaii Department of Agriculture has been developing techniques for keeping hives healthy and providing education on those techniques to beekeepers throughout the Islands. The new pests will not be eliminated, but the adverse effects can be limited.
On Rancho Aloha our small apiary — producer of Rancho Aloha’s ‘Coffee Flower Honey’ — has so far escaped the effects of both the varroa mite and the small hive beetle. We have our fingers crossed.