Budding beekeepers get hands-on training in Big Island program

Budding beekeepers get hands-on training in Big Island program
A student in the University of Hawaii at Hilo's Beekeeping program check their hives. (Image: Chloe Martins-Keli'iho'omalu)
A student in the University of Hawaii at Hilo's Beekeeping program check their hives. (Image: Chloe Martins-Keli'iho'omalu)

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - On lab day, the students in UH-Hilo Professor Lorna Tsutsumi's class aren't buttoning up their white coats and sliding on their goggles.

Instead, they're dressing in bee suits and face masks. The day's task: Taking care of the university hives.

University of Hawaii at Hilo offers a beekeeping certificate, which grew out of a class first offered 30 years ago.

"They learn how to properly manage hives, take care of them and solve problems," Tsutsumi said.

Chloe Martin-Keli'iho'omalu is going through the program right now. Her summer job is to look after the university's 60 or so hives.

She loves it, despite one thing that many might think could hold her back in her pursuit of bee knowledge.

She's allergic to them.

Martin-Keli'iho'omalu has been stung multiple times. As of Tuesday, she said she's been dealing with a swollen face.

"My cheek is swelling pretty bad from a sting," she said.

But she got into the program out of curiosity, and stayed because she just felt like it was the right thing to do.

"The dependency on managed colonies is more and more important," she said, referring to the nation's overall bee population decline.

Luckily, Hawaii doesn't suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder, according to Tsutsumi. The disorder was once thought to pose a major long-term threat to bees, according to the EPA.

Tsutsumi said that Hawaii's struggle is with the comoa mite and the small-hive beetle.

"The amount of time spent checking hives is a lot more than it used to be," she said.

Monthly checkups for hives had been enough to ensure their health, she said, but weekly visits with the hives are what's now required to make sure insects aren't damaging the colonies.

For Tsutsumi's students, checking up on their hives often isn't an issue. Most consider lab day their favorite part of the class.

"We need the hives," Martin-Keli'iho'omalu said.

Martin-Keli'iho'omalu is still going through the program, but she now has her own hive in her backyard.

She has a vision of one day opening her own pollination company, where she would care for her hives on different farms.

"It's hard work," she said. "But it feels right, like this is what I should be doing."

Tsutsumi's favorite part of teaching classes in the program is watching students like Martin-Keli'iho'omalu go from nervous first-timers in white suits and facemasks to seasoned beekeepers.

"The first day, I'm telling them don't swat, don't swat!" she said. "It's nice to see them transform."

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