From busy bees to octopus, and growing vanilla to the intricacies of coffee farming, Hawai‘i Island offers many opportunities to have fun while learning about its homegrown industries.
Learn what all the buzz is about at Big Island Bees. Started by Garnett and Whendi Puett in 2004 after Garnett’s stepfather initially brought the family bee business to Hawai‘i in approximately 1971, the couple has continued the family tradition as fourth-generation beekeepers.
Did you know that true honey is good for your health? “Certain honeys contain more antibiotic properties than others,” says Whendi, “but most important is that the honey be unheated and unfiltered and (remains) a true honey so that it retains all the enzymes, pollens and propolis, which are very healthy.”
Big Island Bees products are available onsite and online and include an array of honeys. “We sell varietals of pure honey from single blossoms—Organic Ohia Lehua Blossom, Organic Wilelaiki Blossom and Macadamia Blossom honeys. We also sell some honey that we blend with spices such as Organic Cinnamon and Lehua, Chili Pepper honey and Lehua with Vanilla Bean,” says Whendi.
What’s her personal favorite? “I like all the honeys and use them depending on what I’m preparing,” she shares. “I like the Macadamia Blossom honey drizzled on my fruit and yogurt in the morning. I love the Lehua honey spread on a piece of toast or a biscuit. I use the Wilelaiki to make salad dressing and marinades. I guess I find myself using the Wilelaiki honey the most as it is so versatile; it works very well in both sweet and savory dishes.”
A beekeeper always has to be on his/her toes. “The biggest concern is the health of the bees,” says Whendi. “With the weather changes, we’ve had to alter our schedule and check the bees more frequently, which requires much more labor. Also, beekeeping as we know it changed a lot when the Varroa mite came to this island. It had already spread to most places in the world, but took a quarter of a century for it to reach Hawai‘i. The mite spreads diseases, so the bees must be vigilantly monitored. It now takes twice as many people to take care of even less hives than we had before the mite arrived.”
Big Island Bees is open Monday through Saturday where you can stop by and experience the honey farm on a basic tour, visit the museum and enjoy free honey tasting. Advance reservations are required for the in-depth Beekeeping Tour.
When a recipe calls for vanilla extract, all you need is a drop or two that’s easily available at the local grocery store. At The Vanillerie, a vanilla farm located in Kailua-Kona, you’ll learn that obtaining the valuable vanilla is a time-consuming process. Just ask owners Guy and Jeannie Cellier, who have been growing vanilla for 15 years and opened The Vanillerie just two years ago.
“Vanilla is a unique and high-value tropical spice,” says Jeannie, “and Hawai‘i is an ideal location to grow it. Vanilla only grows in tropic and sub-tropic regions or in a temperature-controlled greenhouse. It’s a very labor-intensive crop, which is why it demands such a high price.”
The Vanillerie is currently the largest vanilla farm in the islands, and works with a few local farmers, buying and processing their green beans, as well as the Cellier’s own crop.
“Vanilla is an orchid plant, and each flower it produces is only open for a few hours once a year,” says Jeannie.
This is just one of many interesting facts they share on farm tours conducted three times a day every Tuesday through Friday. Enter the arched shade house filled with walls of hanging green vines—it’s your opportunity to see, smell, taste and feel the real vanilla deal!
“We share the history, growing techniques and processing of the green beans to the final product, which we showcase in our gift shop,” adds Jeannie.
Another fascinating fact? “After the vanilla flowers in the spring, each flower is then hand-pollinated,” she says. “It then grows all summer and the beans will be ready to pick at the end of the year and into the beginning of the following year.”
After the tour, you’ll want to take home this locally grown specialty product. “We offer vanilla extract; salt, pepper and sugar grinders; and various body products such as lip balm, creams, body wash and body scrubs,” says Jeannie. “A very popular gift is our vanilla kit, which is a hands-on way to make your own vanilla extract. We’re also working with Big Island Bees to offer vanilla honey as well.”
Award-winning Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation is in the business of making 100% Kona coffee including organic, private reserve, premium and espresso. In addition, their selection of Hawaiian teas, body products, coffee accessories and apparel make for great gifts. Next time you take a sip of your 100% Kona coffee, you’ll appreciate everything it took to make that cup taste just perfect.
Visit the world’s first octopus farm in Kailua-Kona! Amidst threats of pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction, Kanaloa Octopus Farm is dedicated to offering a sustainable source of live cephalopods. Its advanced aquaculture facility utilizes fresh seawater to provide octopus with excellent growing conditions.
Learn about octopuses and see them up close on facility tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. available on a first-come, first-serve basis (30 people max). Sign up for a one-hour tour on their website.
[A version of this article appears in print in the pages of This Week Big Island]