Interested in Beekeeping? Scott Nakaido offers some great advice for neophytes

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Editor’s Note: Rob Kay has been a bee keeper for the past four years and is active in Oahu Beekeepers, a grassroots organization dedicated to promoting beekeeping and assisting beekeepers. Rob was a recipient of the 2023 Bee Heroes Grant which strives to make a difference on Oahu and the Aloha State by promoting a healthy honey bee population, which is vital to our fragile, island ecosystem. Bees play a key role in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change through pollination. 

In short, we need our bees and we need to grow our cohort of bee keepers. This is the first in a series of interviews with scientists, beekeepers and other experts in the field.

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Beekeeping in Hawaii dates to 1857, when the first hives were introduced from California. One hundred sixty five years later beekeeping has become ‘cool’.

I was fortunate enough to attend a class from Scott Nakaido, beekeeper extraordinaire, several years ago. Scott’s classes were held on four consecutive Saturdays on campus at Manoa and at the UH agricultural station in Waimanalo. (Classes were discontinued during Covid but I’m told that they will be taught again in the near future. Stay tuned!)

Scott, who has worked as a scientist, educator and commercially as a bee expert, was kind enough to sit down recently to provide readers with some FAQs on keeping bees on Oahu.

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Q: If I’m interested in keeping bees, where can I take classes locally?

A:  Check with the University of Hawaii Honey Bee Project which historically has offered classes through their Outreach College. (As alluded to above, plans are to start classes up again soon).

Pam Hinsdale (l) and Karen Liliker of Oahu Beekeepers, crack open a hive in a Kaimuki backyard. (photo courtesy Rob Kay)

Q: How much work per week is involved if I want to keep bees?

A: Figure on budgeting at least 2-4 hours a week—or more to maintain your hives.

Q: What kind of investment in equipment will it take to get started?

A: It depends on the size of the apiary. For most new beekeepers, an investment of at least 2 colonies is required. This includes boxes, tools, and protective clothing.  This can cost between $500-1000. This does not include the bees which can cost an additional $250-500.

Q: Where do I get equipment?

Locally, you can go online to see what’s on Craigslist. If you can’t acquire gear locally, there’s Amazon and any number of mainland vendors. Minnesota-based Mann Lake, has excellent quality products and has been generous about donating items in the past to non profits such as Oahu Beekeepers. 

Q:  How do I obtain bees?

A:  Currently, the only way to obtain bees is to either catch a swarm of bees or purchase a hive from a beekeeper. I would recommend new beekeepers to purchase a beehive. (Note that it’s illegal to buy and ship bees into the state as well as ship between islands).

Pam and Karen examine a super in a second hive. Note the nearly full frame of brood. Looks like there’s a happy, prolific queen in the hive. (photo courtesy Rob Kay)

Q: How much honey does the average hive produce?

A:  Currently a healthy hive should produce on average around 100 lbs of honey each year. However, this will vary by location.

Q: I do not want more than one colony of bees, is that ok?

A:  Normally we suggest having at least two colonies. It’s good to have a backup colony.

Q: Can I keep bees in a residential neighborhood such as Kaimuki?

A:  Yes. The C&C ordinance allows up to eight beehives in residential areas. However, there are some restrictions such as keeping hives properly shaded from adjacent night lighting on adjoining properties, keeping the hives behind a solid fence or hedge at least six feet in height and other guidelines that you’ll need to be aware of.

Members of the Oahu Beekeepers get together on a regular basis to learn, socialize and offer gear to members of the org. This meeting was held in January of 2024 at Moanalua Park. (photo courtesy Rob Kay).

Getting Help for Beginners

Every beginner is going to need a mentor.

Newbies needing advice should contact the University of Hawaii Bee Project at 808-956-2445/uhbeeproject@gmail.com. Scott also suggests joining a beekeeping organization such as Oahu Beekeepers, Hawaiian Honeybee Coop, Hawaii Beekeepers Association or Bee Collective where they can get help and advice from more experienced beekeepers.

Full disclosure, I’m a member (as are Pam and Karen featured in the photos) of the Oahu Beekeepers, an informal group of enthusiasts who get together on a retgular basis on the island and work together to mentor newcomers to the hobby.

Chaired by Ken Harmeyer (oahubeekeepers@yahoo.com) it’s great way to learn about beekeeping and meet like-minded friends.

Members range from backyard beekeepers to commercial operators such as Tadd Rienstra, who has over 200 hives and has offered free classes to members. Meetings, ususally conducted at a local park, include lectures and often free gear is provided to novices.

Staying politically active and aware is important to local beekeepers. The City Council and the State Legislature are always, it seems, in the process of introducing new laws that may impact beekeepers so it’s incumbant upon community members to keep track of what’s going on and if necessary educate our council members or state legislators.

Rob Kay is a local beekeeper and columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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