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KEKAHA, Hawaii - Pollinators play a vital role in life on Earth. Seventy-five percent of the world’s flowering plants and approximately 35% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce. One of the world’s top eight pollinators is bees.
Fossils of honey bees have been found dating back 150 millions years ago, however, the earliest depiction of humans collecting honey only goes back about 10,000 years ago. In addition to honey’s sweet taste, it has a variety of medicinal uses and benefits. Honey possesses antibacterial properties, meaning it can be used to fight infections. It can also be used to treat burns, fight cold symptoms, reduce stress, and aid in many other illnesses and ailments.
In the continued effort to keep a positive working relationship with the environment, Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), Barking Sands, has a program to help preserve these essential pollinators. The installation’s bee program is fully maintained and operated by volunteers.
“I always try to let people know they are not my bees, I don’t own them, they're the base’s bees,” said Kenny Thompson, a control tower operator and lead for the bee program. “Honestly, I think as a community we should be maintaining the bees the best we can.”
PMRF may not have many flowers, however, the plants that are found on the installation are all pollinated by these bees. The majority of the honey from the base’s hives comes from the pollination of kiawe. Although volunteers may be able to take home some of the fresh honey from the hives, the intention of this program is not profit, it’s preservation.
“We’re maintaining our footprint here on Kaua`i,” said Thompson. “We want to maintain a good relationship with our environment and I think having the bees on base, we’re doing that.”
There are currently four regular volunteers who go to check on the hives every two to four weeks. The first thing the beekeepers are looking for is any sort of infestation. The primary pests that pose a threat to the hives on PMRF are hive beetles and wax moths. Once any pests are taken care of, the beekeepers can focus on retrieving honey and ensuring the hives are clean and healthy for the bees.
“We’re looking for fully combed honey, but we don’t want to take all of it because that’s also the food for the bees,” said Thompson. “So there's usually a give and take of what you want to take and what you want to leave in the hives. The process is really simple. The bees do all the work, I just come to collect the honey and clean out the hive.”
Not harvesting the honey poses no real health-threat to the hives, however it is important that the honey is harvested. If all of the honey is left in the hives, the colonies will simply outgrow the hive. When this happens, the queen will have no room to lay her eggs leading to her and around sixty-five percent of the colony leaving to find a new home.
“Last time we got four gallons of honey and it was just the three of us,” said Thompson. “That’s quite a lot of honey for just three individuals, so we jar it up and try to give it away to as many people as possible.”
The honey is jarred and given away to friends, family, coworkers, or other people in the community. Thompson’s wife works at the National Tropical Botanical Garden and will often take the honey to give away there as well. None of the honey given away is for profit.
“The biggest thing is the fact that we do have them,” said Thompson. “People need to understand that just because you don’t like bees doesn’t mean we should exterminate them, maybe we slow down a little bit and see about maybe maintaining those honey bees.”
One of the main concerns when people are considering bee keeping is getting stung. Of course when tending to the hives, the bee keepers are always wearing proper clothing to reduce the risk of getting stung, however Thompson admitted that he is occasionally stung, even through his bee suit, but that is few and far between. The likelihood of the bees stinging anyone is fairly low. As long as the bee keeper moves methodically but quickly, it is fairly unlikely that a bee will sting.
For more information about PMRF’s bee program or to become a volunteer, contact Kenny Thompson at (360) 929-0297 or email him at Kenneth.email@example.com.
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