Hey Honey, You Won’t Bee-Lieve What’s Up at Hyatt Regency Waikiki
Did you know Hawaii produces about $2.4 million worth of honey per year?
Photos: Lorin Eleni Gill
Have you heard the buzz? Eighty-thousand new guests have checked in at Hyatt Regency Waikiki—80,000 bees, that is.
With just a large, glass windowpane separating them, diners at Japengo can watch the bees buzzing happily at the apiary on the terrace. The original colony of 20,000 bees was introduced last November, but it quickly grew with the help of beekeeper Michael Kliks, former president of Hawaii Beekeepers’ Association.
Results have been sweet—Hyatt Regency Executive Chef Sven Ullrich expects to harvest 50 gallons of “Hula Meli” honey in the eight weeks of August and September.
“The [Hyatt] company pushes chefs to think outside the box,” Ullrich says as he uses a butter knife to scrape glistening gold honey from a fresh honeycomb. “What better way than to have our own honey? We want to be sustainable.” The goal is to supply Hyatt restaurants, banquets and even spas with homegrown honey. (Honey face mask, anyone?) If supplies allow, Ullrich hopes to have extra bottles to sell at the semiweekly Hyatt farmers market starting in September.
Hula Meli is floral and slightly nutty, but what is most striking is how light it is. It’s clean-tasting, pure and practically floats on your tongue, not like the all-too-often dense, overly sugary and artificially enhanced honey you find in stores.
There was some worry, at first, about the hotel cultivating bees, which are normally seen as stinging pests.
Ullrich says the bees pay humans no attention. “These are worker bees and they’re not after your fruity drinks, they’re after the blossoms,” says Ullrich. “We’ve had zero guest complaints, zero issues, and that’s really cool with 80,000 bees, also because our pool bar is right over there,” Ullrich says with a chuckle as he gestures to the opposite side of the restaurant.
A single bee will produce a mere quarter-teaspoon of honey in its lifetime, Ullrich says, so the Hyatt is happy to play its part in saving bees and helping local agriculture. But the role of bees goes beyond honey. Downey estimates one third of our diet relies on pollination, meaning that every third bite we take is thanks to bees.
Disease and pests have brought Hawaii bee populations to drastic lows, sparking beekeeping efforts across the state.
The Islands are a prime location for beekeeping. “With year-round blooming plants, diverse agriculture and no winter, bees can forage and colonies grow all year,” Hawaii apiary specialist Danielle Downey says. “Compared to Mainland agriculture, there is also relatively low pesticide use in Hawaii, which, combined with diverse forage, makes [Hawaii] a bee paradise.”
These advantages have ranked Hawaii third in the nation for honey produced per colony (nearly 6 gallons). We produce about $2.4 million worth of honey per year, with an additional $212 million in bee-pollinated produce.
Lorna Tsutsumi, a professor of entomology at UH Hilo, calls Hawaii a microcosm, nationally and globally, for change and recognition of the importance of bees. She heads the College of Agriculture’s beekeeping program on the Big Island. “Twenty to 30 years ago [recognition] wasn’t there,” she says. “It used to be the sentiment, ‘Oh, we’ll grow something in our backyard, and bees will come,’ but the decline in feral bee population has made an impact on the farmers, where they’re more conscious about having to bring hives in,” she says.
There are now 200 beekeepers in the Hawaii Apiary Program’s voluntary registry, accounting for more than 15,000 hives, and Downey estimates that the actual number of Hawaii beekeepers is double that of the registry. Hawaii is also a top exporter of queen bees, which resurrect hives that have succumbed to disease or harsh weather on the Mainland and beyond.
“It’s not about whether or not you like honey,” Downey says. “If you like to eat, you need bees.”
Visit the Hyatt’s farmers market on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 8 p.m.
HOW YOU CAN HELP SUSTAIN HAWAII’S BEES
Hawaii’s honeybees need your help. Here are some tips for keeping our local bee population healthy.
Grow plants that bloom throughout the year. A Hawaii bee-friendly planting guide: http://pollinator.org/PDFs/HawaiianIsland.EcoRegGuide.ver12.lores.pdf
Do not spray pesticides on flowering plants.
If using chemicals in the garden, apply early in the morning or at night when bees aren’t flying.
Support local beekeepers by buying their honey and other products.
Allow a beekeeper to keep hives on your property.
Consider learning to raise bees yourself.
Source: Apiary Program, Hawaii Department of Agriculture
For more information, visit hawaiibee.com
Adopt-a-Beehive with Alan Wong, a partnership with the University of Hawaii at Hilo, supports the UH beekeeping program. Adopters receive reports and photos of their assigned bee colony from the student caring for the hive, as well as honey. To donate or adopt, contact Lisa Uyetake at (808) 933-1945 in Hilo.