An Industry That Has Made Rapid Strides.
It would be a difficult thing to fix the date of the beginning of the bee industry in the Hawaiian Islands. As far back as the “oldest inhabitant” can run his thoughts, honey has been gathered in the mountains. Back in the ’60s one of the characters of the city was Dwight Holcomb, known to the small boys and natives as “Old Oakum.” He was an eccentric individual and was the “bogie man” to the young boys of that time.
Holcomb had no business and lived mainly through assistance from his friends and lived in a small shack at the head of Fort street. His attire was picturesque, if rags and tatters may be so-called outside of art circles. Often he would patrol Fort street carrying a double-barrel shot-gun and with a game bag hanging from his shoulders.
On such occasions it was noticed that he would leave the town and make a trip to the mountains. Tantalus being a favorite spot. He mingled much with the natives, and in his conversations with them he would caution them against going over the mountains by way of Tantalus, telling them that there was a bear up there that would eat them up. This caution was so frequent and given so earnestly that the natives began to suspect, and when o his return one day he was found with a stock of honey in his possession, they told him his bear was the meli (bee) and they were not afraid.
The object of Holcomb’s trips to the mountains becoming known, boys of 15 or 16 would frequently beg permission for their parents to accompany him on his jaunts; sometimes the boys would follow after him or run across him in their search for land shells. In relating his experience when a lad with “Old Oakum,” a prominent Government official said the other day:
“While my father was always intensely religious, and a man devoted to the church, he was at once a rather hard taskmaster. I remember very well, when as a boy we had a two-week’s holiday, instead of being allowed to spend the vacation, as we wished, my brother and I had to pull weeks. On the last day, having finished our task, I tried to persuade my brother to ask permission of my father to go up in the mountain and find “Old Oakum.”
“Knowing well my father’s sternness, he declined. Then I mustered up the necessary courage, but when I reached the door of the house I became very humble, and in that condition asked and received permission to go to the mountains and find the man who had so often frightened us. Climbing over the crest of Tantalus and descending a hundred feet or more, we found “Old Oakum” chopping away at a fallen tree. He made no objections to our being there, but cautioned us to look out for the bees. When he had chopped sufficiently he reached in with his hands and extracted the honey. He told us then that he would sell the combs for $2.50 or $5.00, according to the size. One thing about Holcomb I could not understand; he would handle the bees without protection to his hands or face, and was seldom stung. Occasionally he would get a nip, but he did not seem to mind it. That was thirty years ago, and as far as my information goes, Dwight Holcomb was the first man to gather wild honey for the Honolulu market.”
Twenty years ago John Farnsworth came here from Virginia City, Nevada. A year later a colony of bees swarmed on his place. A day or two after hiving them a man came along and claimed the bees, but settled for a small sum, and from this colony Mr. Farnsworth got a start from which resulted most of the colonies in Honolulu.
After conducting the business alone for a number of years, Mr. Farnsworth took in as partners U. Thompson of Kamehameha School, a practical apiarist, and E. W. Jordan, and nearly all of their hives are kept in the neighborhood of Kamehameha, the conditions there being excellent for the purpose. A few hives, however, are kept on the Waikiki road in the vicinity of the groves of Algeroba trees, the blossoms of which furnish an excellent quality of honey.
In 1885 Thomas Rewcastle decided to embark in the business, and purchased a stand of bees from Mr. Farnsworth. He has today about 300 hives, 200 of which he keeps in Pawaa and 100 hives on Kinau street. During the past few years he has found a fairly profitable market for his honey in Liverpool and London, shipping his product through Theo. H. Davies & Co.
Mr. Rewcastle states that in 1896 he averaged between 45 and 50 pounds of honey per hive, but in good years the average will reach 60 pounds. His colonies are located in places convenient to algeroba trees, and his honey is consequently of a beautiful white variety. Sometimes his bees go off among the lantana, and the result is honey of a darker shade and less sweet.
Mr. Rewcastle considers that the radius of the flight of bees is about a mile and a half, and he believes that rival bee men make a mistake when they put their hives at a shorter distance than that from their neighbors. The bees in Honolulu produce honey only during May, June, July and August, and as the feeding grounds are limited the business of growing honey in the Hawaiian Islands is already overdone. The foreign market is blockaded with a duty of 3 cents a pound in England and 10 cents a gallon for honey going to the United States. In Honolulu the market is limited, the sales not amounting to $20 per month.
From another extensive dealer in bees the following information is obtained:
“During the past five years the care and culture of the honey bee has been given the utmost care and attention by experienced and capable veterans in bee culture. Blacks, Hybrids and Italians have all been imported at great expense. These are forwarded through the mail in small cells especially constructed for them; but as the time they are necessarily imprisoned is long, many die before they reach their destination, and as the queens cost upwards of $6 each, the loss is considerable.
“Regarding the honey producing plants here, every one, including the celebrated White Mountain sage, that which has made California honey famous the world over, has been tried here, and so has the basswood tree from Ohio, but without success. Hawaiian honey has been on the market for twenty years. It is a fair color, with a good taste. Recent shipments to the English market have brought 2 1-2 to 3 1-2 cents a pound. The small area on which bees can be cultivated is a great drawback to the extension of the business. The lantana too, which covers so much of our waste lands, produces honey much too dark for consumption.
“Our bees gather the honey from the eucalyptus trees and the different flowers which decorate so many of Honolulu’s beautiful gardens.
“The center of all interest in a hive is the ‘queen.’ She does little or no outdoor work and usually lives to a good old age, despite her arduous oveparous duties. Some queens die, seemingly of old age, the second season, but they sometimes even live through the fourth. She usually takes her wedding flight from between two to ten days after leaving the cell. There is no prettier or more interesting sight to the apiarist than the first flight of a queen as she ventures out cautiously on the alighting board, with her wings slightly raised, her tapering body elongated and amazingly increased in size. He looks in wonder, scarcely believing she can be the same insect he had seen a few hours before. She runs this way and that, much excited at the prospect of soaring aloft in the balmy air. Finally she tremblingly spreads her long, silky wings and with a graceful movement unequalled anywhere in the entire scope of animated nature, she swings from her feet, while her body sways pendulously as she hovers about the entrance of the hive.”
[It is interesting that there is no mention of William Hillebrand.]
(Hawaiian Gazette, 3/12/1897, p. 11)