The Buzz On Bee-utiful Kauai

Beekeeper Patrick Coller | Photo courtesy Yukimu Coller

Beekeeper Patrick Coller | Photo courtesy Yukimu Coller

Dog owners enjoy coming home after a hard day’s labor to the excitement of their pets, especially when their canines jump up and down and wag their tails when greeting their masters at the front door. But for Kauai resident Patrick Coller, his excitement doesn’t come from hearing his pets pant or salivate. He takes great joy in coming home to his exotic “honey girl pests” buzzing around and wagging their tails and antennas.

That’s because Coller is a self-taught beekeeper whose mission is to take care of the homeless — as in homeless bees.

“When they swarm, they are homeless,” says Coller, son of retired Kauai Community College professor Richard Coller. “I make it a point to take care of my gals, so I catch the swarms and give them a home.”

The process called swarming occurs around April, May and June in Hawaii, when a plump and healthy queen bee leaves her hive with her entourage of workers, and a new colony is formed.

“A swarm first came to our house when I was in seventh grade,” explains Coller. “Generations of bees in the same honeyline (as in blood-line) have lived in the hives situated on our west rooftop way before Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai.”

Now at age 45 and with approximately nine queen bees, and tens of thousands of guard and worker bees later, the Kapaa Heights resident convinces neighbors that as long as the hives are elevated, they can survive in residential areas.

“People tell me they belong on a farm and not in urban neighborhoods, but bees have an important role to play in our environment and backyard because they are partly responsible for pollinating flowers, nuts and fruit trees that provide our daily consumption,” says Coller, who credits his passion for his busy insects to his late mother Alicia. “She created a Garden of Eden that produced fruits and vegetables that are indescribable and delicious,” he touts. Neighbors and close friends are the beneficiaries of organic produce of the “sweetest man-goes, mouth-watering lychees, crispiest guavas and potent coconut milk.”

Coller’s intrigue and fascination with bees have bloomed over the decades. He learned from the matriarch and “queen bee” of his home natural beekeeping practices that involve handling “the gals with tender, loving care,” especially during the extraction of honey. Honeycomb harvest day is a rare treat, “so potent that it gives people a sugar rush … more energy than what you get from honeycomb cereal and milk.” A honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells built by honeybees in their nests to contain their larvae where honey and pollen are stored.

The Coller ohana does not sell its honey, but those who have been fortunate to taste the sweet stuff they jar will admit their hives produce the sweetest raw Kauai honey you’ll ever taste. Toast and honey, tea and coffee with a dab of the “sweet squirt, along with golden drips on steamy pancakes” are Coller’s typical favorite breakfasts. Darker honey is used to bake banana bread.

But wait, he believes that a spoonful of honey a day can keep the doctor away, and that the natural sweetener can serve as a healing agent. “Once I hurt my knuckles at a construction job site. I came home, took one of the gals to purposely sting the area that was in pain. Instantaneously, the pain dissipated,” says Coller.

“Remedies featuring honey have been used to treat ailments for generations. ranging from the common cold to constipation,” says Jose Bulatao, a retired instructor at KCC and founding member of the Kauai Bee Association. “My mother used to squeeze fresh calamansi juice and some honey in a glass of hot water to help soothe my sore throat when I was younger because of my asthmatic condition,” he said.

Taking bee pollen before hay fever season also is known to build the body’s natural immunity.

“Honey serves as a natural antibacterial if used on burns to prevent infection. The antihistamine in honeycomb can help calm a severe hay fever attack, providing you use local honey from where you live,” says Bulatao.

One of the most fascinating experiences is witnessing the black and yellow striped insects do their honey bee dancing. “It’s like you are at the airport and all the planes are landing at the same time. They do this waggle dance, and they perform for you like you’re on Broadway,” he chuckles. The dances are usually done by worker bees that have returned to the honeycomb with pollen or nectar, and the dances supposedly “tell” other workers where the food is. The dance recruits and directs other bees in gathering more pollen and nectar to feed the queen and her keiki.

It sure gives new meaning to the phrase, “Honey, I’m home,” and enhances the way of life as they promote healthier alternatives while satisfying their sweet tooth on BEE-utiful Kauai.