Finding Your Honey

Who doesn’t want to find his honey? I found mine with Lisa, my wife, but this is not about us. It’s about bees and beans, coffee beans that is.

When you live on a coffee farm, you pay attention to details you simply never noticed before. We not only have 300 coffee trees, we have three bee hives. When the coffee trees burst into bloom, the air is filled with the fragrant aroma of tiny gardenia (coffee) flowers and 27459473_10212742740138201_5095573786419470879_nthe buzz of thousands of bees wandering from flower to flower. They take pollen and collect nectar, coincidentally pollinating flowers and helping to start the production of bright red coffee cherry in six to eight months.

Bees really do not produce much honey in months where their favorite flowers are not in bloom in profusion. Honey comes in bursts called nectar flows, when one or two kinds of flowers that produce lots of nectar are blooming in profusion. When I had bees in Colorado, it was the summer alfalfa fields in bloom creating light, tasty clover honey. In the fall it was rabbitbrush’s dense yellow flowers providing a very dark, sorghum-like honey.

In Hawaii, mid-January brings the occasional rain in the dry season and our coffee trees bloom along with the many macadamia nut trees in our area. Our neighbors have large orchards of macnuts in dense groves of the dark green, spiny-leafed trees. The rain and winter season brings them into bloom with long racemes of tiny white flowers producing amazing nectar that bees love. This  lasts for two to three months.

I went out to our Langstroth hive at end of January, thinking that there might be some new honey. I quickly pulled five honey-laden frames from one hive and then looked into one of the African top bar hives and found four new leaves of comb honey. In only two weeks our happy bees had put away more than five quarts of coffee/macnut honey. I see beekeepers advertising coffee honey in our area. I don’t know how they know that. These two trees are next to each all over Kona district and the bees simply work both at the same time. I think the honey is from both flowers. Coffee blooms for only two days and the flowers dry up. The macnut trees bloom continuously for months, so macnut nectar is the bulk of the flow. The honey color is a deep amber and the flavor is simply amazing, maybe the best honey I’ve ever tasted. It defies a description except to say it is as distinctively tasty as maple syrup is in its own way.

28056562_10212836109992389_3850532939932096107_nLisa processes the honey, putting it through two strainers to filter out such things as chunks of wax or occasional bee parts. She tastes each side of each frame to make sure the flavor is consistent. Each frame in this last batch was simply perfect. We soon had enough set aside for our home use for the next year and perhaps two more months remain of great flows of macnut and coffee honey. We will harvest again in late March and bottle the honey to sell.

Bees are great partners on a coffee farm. They help insure that you have lots of cherries by pollinating every flower. They produce delicious honey as an added crop. And they pollinate all sorts of other flowers for us and the neighbors, especially macnuts. On the mainland you must leave the bees 50 to 100 pounds of honey to make it through the winter. Here we are producing honey in the dead (live) of winter.

My favorite bakery on the Big Island is Punaluʻu Bakery in Naʻalehu near South Point. They make a sweetbread that I like to slice into a buttered skillet to make fried toast. Then I drizzle the coffee/macnut honey on top and try to stop eating after one slice. A cup of Kona coffee from our farm is the right followup to the honeyed toast.

When you shop for honey be aware that all nectars taste different and some make spectacular honey, better than any you have ever tasted. And to some degree it is all up to you. Select your personal preference by testing a variety for a great flavor from nature that you prefer. Macnut/coffee has become my new favorite flavor. Who doesn’t want to find their honey?

Tim Merriman


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Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

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