One of the foodstuffs that I always try and source locally is honey. Usually it is a side of the road or local market purchase from a small producer, sold in reused and mismatched bottles with hand written labels. Like wine honey has terroir. The relationship between the land the bees live on and the final product is obvious with the first taste. Over the years we’ve been lucky enough to find Mango Honey, Palm Flower Honey, Sugar Cane Honey, Bitter Orange Honey and Tropical Wildflower Honey. Each as unique as the countries we bought them in.
This season in the Solomon Islands I found honey on the island of Rendova. A local man had a couple of hives in his backyard that over looked the anchorage. His property was more or less just a well maintained garden brimming with budding trees, pineapple plants and tropical flowers nestled into rolling hillside covered in wild forest. His English wasn’t great but I gathered that his two hives yielded about 5 gallons of honey when he harvested every 3- 4 months. Without any sophisticated equipment available he and his wife simply bottled the honey on demand, straining it through a fine mesh kitchen strainer to separate out any propolis and wax that made into the bucket during harvesting. He usually sold it in 200ml bottles for $25 SBD ($2.20 USD) but was happy to fill my litre jar and charge me $80. It was such delicious honey I went back the next week and bought another litre!
While we were stationed at Liapari I had the opportunity to help out a local bee keeper who had recently moved a hive onto the island. Living on a neighbouring island he was not able to monitor the hive. My job was simply to keep an eye on the hive; make note of the activity of the bees, check on their fresh water supply and report back to Patrick, the bee keeper, when I went to Gizo on the weekly provisions run. Not only was I interested in watching the bees and their potential honey production but was happy to help out Patrick, who happens to be my wontok.
Wontok is a Solomon Island pidgin term that can be broadly translated as “your tribe.” It is used to refer to anyone in your family, close circle or even from your home island. In a nation where almost each island has its own traditional language it literally means “one talk”, or those who speak the same language as you. Patrick, a long-time resident of the Solomon Islands, is not only originally from Canada but from Nova Scotia. In fact I was given Patrick’s contact details by a mutual friend back home. We have both lost a bit of our Maritime twang but we definitely speak the same language.
Anyway, couple of weeks ago Patrick relocated another hive onto the island and invited me to don a bee suit and help him move the bees into their new home, as well as check on health of the first hive. I was thrilled! I would finally get a look inside the hive.
Patrick’s handmade hives are not the traditional square box design that you’re used to. In an attempt to lower the temperature inside the hive he has added a rounded top. Not only does it provide better ventilation, and indeed average temperatures are several degrees lower in his hives then a traditional one, it is also hinged for easy access. Moving the bees into their new home was as simple as carefully lifting a few frames and the new queen from the small transportation box into the larger hive.
Opening the other hive and inspecting the bees I had been watching for the last several weeks was pretty exciting. We were both happy to see that the bees had started to expand the hive, building new wax cells on three blank frames. There was evidence of queen cells so Patrick suspected the hive had recently gotten a new queen, although we were unable to find her. We did find a nursery frame with several female nurse bees tending newly laid larvae. We even discovered a large, and beautiful, beetle that had been encased in propolis, a defensive tactic by the bees not only to thwart an intruder but to prevent the decaying body to contaminate the hive. Overall the hive was thriving.
It will probably be a few more months before any honey can be harvested from Patrick’s bees on Liapari, so unfortunately we won’t be taking any with us. Which means we’ll just find a new flavour of honey in Papua New Guinea