Buzz in the air: Bees are back with the help of the Barnett's of Kapaau


KAPAAU – Thanks to the small operations of beekeepers like Dawn Barnett and her daughter Mariah, Hawaii is having a small bee revival. New ways of maintaining hives and fighting the pests plaguing Hawaii's bees have made it possible to maintain healthy hives using treatment free techniques.

In a land of beautiful flowers and important crops reliant on pollinators, the dramatic reduction in the bee population since 2007 has caused statewide concern. In the last 10 years we have lost nearly 70 percent of our bees in Hawaii.

In 2008, the Varroa mite arrived on the Big Island and rapidly invaded island hives. Two years later, small hive beetles arrived on some imported bee products and the nosema ceranea, a spore forming bacteria, followed. During the initial invasion of these pests, the Kohala area went without a measurable bee population for nearly five years.

Fighting back

Bees and beekeepers are adapting to these new threats, however. Resistant bees have been found and a dedicated group of beekeepers are learning ways to maintain healthy hives and bees while eschewing chemical treatments.

When Dawn and Mariah became aware of the loss of pollinators and the collapse of bee colonies across the United States, their interest in the plight of local bees grew. Their research led them to Jen Rasmussen from Paradise Nectar Apiary in Puna. Jen was teaching intuitive, treatment-free beekeeping classes and selling top bar hive boxes. Her methodology inspired the Barnetts to purchase their first two bee boxes. They started taking Jen's classes and began their journey as beekeepers.

Jen had found that by supporting her hives' natural immune systems rather than weakening them with miticides and other chemicals, the bees got stronger and could withstand pest attacks. From Jen, the Barnetts learned a hive stewardship method that was treatment and input free. Today they are able to maintain 30 hives in Kapaau and produce honey and other hive products free of chemical contaminants.

More than just the hike

Dawn is a person with many interests and skills. She told me about the workshops and guided meditations she has been leading in West Hawaii since 1994 at the New Thought Center of Hawaii and showed me some of the well-crafted drums she has made. She has a 36-year career in nursing and is now working part-time at the Family Birthing Unit at North Hawaii Community Hospital.

"Cutting back to part time nursing has given me more time with the bees," Dawn reported.

She has now expanded to a dozen hives housed a mile from her house in Kapaau and has six of Mariah's hives on her own property.

We checked them out during my visit and I found the bees active and healthy and not particularly interested in us. We approached without protective gear and the bees remained calm even when Mariah opened one of the hives to show me its structure. The top bar hives seem well suited to the Barnett's beekeeping style.

"As a petite, 60-year-old woman, I knew the heavy Langstroth supers would be too heavy and hard for me to handle," Dawn said of the hives. "The top bar hives are both bee and people friendly."

This type of hive allows easy access so that removing small hive beetles and checking the lower trays for dead beetles and mites can be done quickly. Filled with diatomaceous earth, the lower trays help capture and kill hive pests. The trays are covered with hardware cloth mesh that is large enough for mites and beetles to drop through but too small for bees to enter. These hives also allow bees to make their own wax combs and make it easy for beekeepers to harvest older combs to maintain hive health.

As we inspected the hive, Mariah was quickly moving among the bees to kill any small hive beetles she found.

"Mariah is a bee-whisperer," Dawn said. "She has the amazing ability to see and understand what is going on in a hive."

Meet Mariah

Mariah supports her bee habit as a part-time message therapist in Hawi, but is expanding into a variety of income producing areas around bees and beekeeping.

Producing and selling honey is a small part of her beekeeping income. Her intuitive skill with bees makes her very good at knowing when a hive is ready to divide. She can then manage to provide a new hive for the departing bees and sell those hives to starting beekeepers. Her bee sensitivity also enables her to corral wild swarms on request and direct them to more appropriate locations.

Dawn also has expanded her Bee Divine brand beyond honey to include beautifully molded beeswax candles as well as bee propolis, bee bread, healing salves, balms tinctures and body products all created by her from her hive harvests. She is also building top bar hives for sale and experimenting with mead recipes for her own consumption.

At this point, the Barnetts are truly living their vision by adding to the healthy pollinator population in Hawaii. Through their personal beekeeping experiences and as part of the beekeeping community, they have come to believe that honeybee preservation is one of the most magical practices on the planet. Seeing their enthusiasm and experiencing their connection with the bees, I tend to agree that their important work is truly magical.

If you are interested in becoming a local beekeeper, you can contact Bee Divine or check out the Hilo group at or the Kona group, West Hawaii Beekeeping Association, on Facebook. The more bees the better.

Jen's website has lots of information about her techniques. Go to for more information. In addition to her online sales, Dawn also has a booth at the Saturday morning Hawi Farmer's Market. Go to to view her products and learn more about the continually expanding mother-daughter operation.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant living in a dryland forest north of Kailua-Kona.

Gardening Events

Today: "3rd Sunday Workday at Maona Community Garden" from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the garden in Honaunau about a mile down the Puuhonua Road that goes to the City of Refuge at 84-5097 Keala O Keawe Road. All are welcome. Potluck lunch will be served. For more information email [email protected] or call Chantal at 937-9800.

Monday: Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers Monthly Meeting from 7-9 p.m. at West Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers office 81-6393 Mamalahoa Highway in Kealakekua. Ken Love will report on his trip to India and update members on the Grants in Aid projects and several other upcoming events. White wooden building on makai side across from the Department of Transportation yard. Park in front or on the north side. For more information contact Brian Lievens President West Hawaii Chapter at 895-8753 or [email protected]

Wednesday: Maona Community Garden Thanksgiving Imu "drop off at 4 p.m. to go in the imu overnight. Pick up on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, between 8 and 10 a.m. A $ 20 donation is a WHEA fundraiser to send middle school students on their annual trip to Washington. Free imu ulu from Hawaii Ulu Producers Coop to participants. Advance registration required. For more information or to register email [email protected] or call Chantal at 937-9800.

Saturday: "Work Day at Amy Greenwell Garden" from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Meet at the Garden Visitor Center across from the Manago Hotel in Captain Cook. Volunteers will be able to help with garden maintenance and are invited to bring a brown bag lunch. Water and snacks provided. Call Peter at 323-3318 for more information.

Next Saturday: "3rd Annual Going Nuts for the Holidays Festival" from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Hale Halawai in downtown Kailua-Kona. Celebrating macadamia nuts and coconuts with tastings and demonstrations, arts and crafts, food and information booths, live music and hula as well as the Hiccup Circus. Fun for the entire family. For more information contact [email protected] or visit

Farmer Direct Markets

Wednesday: "Hooulu Farmers Market" 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay

Saturday: "Keauhou Farmers Market" 8 a.m. to noon at Keauhou Shopping Center

"Kamuela Farmer's Market" from 7 a.m. to noon at Pukalani Stables

"Waimea Town Market" from 7:30 a.m. to noon at the Parker School in central Waimea

"Waimea Homestead Farmers Market" from 7 a.m. to noon at the Waimea Middle and Elementary School Playground

Sunday: "Pure Kona Green Market" 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Amy Greenwell Garden in Captain Cook

"Hamakua Harvest" 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Highway 19 and Mamane Street in Honokaa

Plant Advice Lines

Anytime: [email protected]

Tuesdays and Thursdays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH-CES in Kainaliu – 322-4893

Mondays and Fridays: 9 a.m. to noon at UH CES at Komohana in Hilo 981-5199

Source link