If you haven’t heard the buzz about local honey, here‘s the scoop: Molokai has the best honey in Hawaii! That is according to the expert judges at the 2013 Hawaiian Natural Honey Challenge.
Conducted by the Big Island Beekeepers Association, this year’s annual contest attracted 132 entries from 41 beekeepers across four islands. The Molokai Gold apiary, operated by Micah Buchanan and Marshall Joy, won the blue ribbon award earlier this month for best solid honey.
“It was a big surprise,” said Buchanan. “This was our first time doing anything like this. We just wanted to see where we stand and now we see we stand pretty high.”
Judges left comments such as, “nice light color,” “tastes like lehua,” “Amazing, light, fruity,” and, “not much smell, melts in the mouth.”
Joy had done some casual beekeeping in the past but didn’t get serious about it until meeting Buchanan at the same University of Hawaii beginning farmers class. In July, Buchanan had expanded to nine hives and decided to try to take it to the next level.
“He (Micah) took the initiative to have guys come in from UH to test where the apiary is and to test the honey for GMO and everything, a complete analysis,” said Joy. “Then Micah went to Oahu to train with these guys and other advanced beekeepers and then brought this knowledge back.”
With the power of this knowledge, the two were able to produce a keawe varietal honey that scored a 42.75 on a scale of 1 to 50. It received high marks for appearance, aroma, texture and taste.
The average score, said Joy, is around 18-20 for most of the honey entries. “The highest score ever was 48 with someone who had been beekeeping for 25 years,” said Joy. “Ours is the closest ever to touching that mark, so we are really excited about this.”
Besides the quality of the local bees and flowering vegetation, what makes their honey special, Joy added, is their “attention to details.”
“We really care about our bees,” said Joy. “We never got into bees for the honey, it was for pollination because we’re both farmers, that’s really how everything started. We were getting bees for ourselves, for our farms and to help other farmers in Ho’olehua with their pollination; it was just a blessing that everything came together.”
In his first season of collecting bees, Buchanan said he found bees alongside the road where he had strawberries. “We had the biggest strawberries we’d ever seen, they looked like apples,” said Buchanan. “Next season, the bees didn’t have crop to land on and they didn’t stay like before and the strawberries got small. That’s why we got into bees.”
With this initial success, both Buchanan and Joy believe the business has plenty of room for growth. “We are constantly trying to expand and try to make this more into something that we can do full time.”
It’s pretty much a moonlighting thing right now,” said Joy, who teaches fitness and Hawaiian culture at Kualapu’u Elementary School. “Really where we want to go to is beekeeping.”
According to Joy, “Molokai has a long history of beekeeping. If you look into the history of beekeeping in Hawaii, pretty much without Molokai Hawaii wouldn’t have bees. Hawaii was the number-one honey producer in the world at one point, producing hundreds of tons. It’s the highest quality in the world, too. Now it’s coming full circle back to Hawaii farmers producing the best honey in the world as it was before.”
With large amounts of pristine, open land that bees can use for foraging plants like kiawe and Christmasberry, Buchanan believes there’s plenty of room for growth. “We got all kinds of different things we can do.”
They may even be able to hire additional people, but as Buchanan said, “to be interested in beekeeping it takes a certain kind of person to want to do it.”
“I can’t count the number of times me and Micah have been stung, even with the suits on,” said Joy. “It’s unavoidable,” Buchanan added, “you got to be willing to get stung.”
Another important environmental reason to pursue beekeeping is to keep the bee population strong as farmers, and others, destroy wild hives that have been infested with beetles. “These little beetles get into hives and eat honey and larvae and just decimates the whole hive,” said Joy. “So another part of it is just keeping the bees alive for Molokai, keep the pollination going. Without the bees everything would collapse.”
The key to protecting their own hives from infestation is to conduct proper maintenance. “You can’t just let them go,” said Buchanan. “You have to check the bees, how the queen is doing, her lay pattern, pollination pattern, even the honey pattern. You got to know what your hive is doing and keep up with your hive so you can hit the problem before it happens.”
Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) corn seed crops that dominate the Molokai agricultural landscape are also a concern.
“It’s a major concern, especially for the bees in their foraging area,” said Buchanan. If they (GMO fields) are approaching our main areas, we don’t know if the bees will go to that side of the crop or pick up some dirty water off of their fields and bring them in. that’s why we had the UH guys come in.”
Until they do expand their operation, Molokai Gold can only be found for sale right now at the Saturday farmer’s market in Kaunakakai. The two beekeepers also provide beehive removal and pollination services for anyone on Molokai.