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The specialist international beekeeping organisation

Grenada's beekeepers and their golden honey

  • Diana Yohannan
  • 2004
  • Article
  • The Visitor Magazine


A copy of this document is in the Bees for development library. Please contact us for access.


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‘’I came into beekeeping because I wanted to be self-sufficient and I’m doing it for fun. Every family should  have one or two hives at the back of their home because it boosts nutrition.’’

Patricia Mark Grenadian Magistrate and a prize winner at the London Honey Show 2002 with her first ever bottle of honey.

 

Six beekeepers achieved international recognition for Grenada when they were awarded the first six prizes in the international section of the prestigious 2002 London Honey Show. For a tiny island no bigger than a pinhead on the world map this is a remarkable accomplishment. But how did the story of Grenada’s honey begin?

The honeybee has been around for millions of years.    It is a veritable flying storehouse of nutritional therapeutic and medicinal products that have been used for centuries by man for his health and well being. We know of this ancient relationship from drawings wall and rock paintings dating from about  6000BC depicting bee hunters or honey gatherers the precursors of the beekeeper collecting honey from wild nests.      

Honeybee products include of course honey beeswax royal jelly pollen   propolis a gum collected by the bees from plants and trees to protect the hive from infection and bee venom that nasty sting familiar to all of us and even the bees themselves in their juvenile and adult stages.

But what has all this to do with Grenada? Bees in the Caribbean? It is not an insect  most people would associate with a tropical climate. But they have been happily humming around the island since the late seventeenth century arriving with  European settlers to the New World. The bees they brought with them the highly adaptable Apis mellifera mellifera or German ‘black bee ’  forage over a wide area  to collect nectar from the flowers.  In 1940 they were joined by a prolific colony and honey producer the Apis mellifera ligustica or Italian ‘yellow bee’ imported from the USA and now feisty hybrids exist together with  other imported hybrids  introduced in the late 1980s to improve the quality of the hive stock.   To set your mind at rest there are no Africanized ‘killer’ bees on  the island.

            Grenada enjoys a year round temperature of around eighty-three degrees with two seasons – the ‘dry season’ from December to May - and the ‘rainy season’ from June to November. This climate coupled with an abundance of blossoming flowers throughout the year produces two ‘honey flows’ or nectar gathering by the bees. The main honey flow starts with the mid-December flowering of a bee favourite the pink blooming  Gliricidia sepium or ‘Glory Cedar’ followed by among others   Citrus Avocado Mango Logwood and  the Silk Cotton Tree from February to May.  The lesser honey flow  takes place in the minor dry spell from late  August to October. The bees also collect nectar from Palms year round and vegetables such as the Sweet Potato and Pigeon Pea that you will find in many Grenadian dishes.  Even the Clove Tree is visited -  one of the many spices you will find on the island. Several  medicinally used bushes and small ‘’weeds’’ such as White Broom Borreria laevis Water Grass Commelina diffusa Wild Sage Lantana camara and Coolie Pawpaw Momordica charantia  also provide the bees with an abundant supply of year round nectar and pollen.

 Beekeepers apiarists collect honey around ten times a year and a hive apiary may produce around ten - twenty gallons of honey during that time   depending on the weather. There are yet no official statistics but it is estimated that there are around one thousand hives owned by some fifty hobby and commercial  beekeepers nestling on the shady lower slopes of Grenada.   Collectively they produce around ten to twelve thousand gallons a year.

But many of their hives  were nearly decimated in the mid-nineties with the arrival of the Varroa   jacobsoni a virus carrying parasitic mite that had a debilitating effect on  both the bees and their larvae; closely followed by the Hibiscus or Pink  Mealybug   Maconellicoccus hirsutus that attacked vegetables fruit and ornamental plants. Together these pests reduced honey to a trickle. Today the bees and plants have somewhat recovered and this trickle has returned to a healthy flow so that the rural entrepreneur can once again consider beekeeping as a career.

Before beekeeping developed in Grenada there were honey hunters who still make a living today by selling honey from nests in the wild or by removing unwanted nests and swarms from private property.  They now also sell them for hive stock to beekeepers.

            People still remember the ‘ honeyman.’  His slow nasal cry of ‘ Hunn-e-man again!’ could be heard along the local roads where he sold his honey for US ten cents a pint from a bucket or deep biscuit tin.

             Ask about the most knowledgeable beekeeper on the island and the same name crops up – Roy Francis.  Seventy-nine year old Roy became a beekeeper in 1943 at the age of nineteen after a swarm caught his attention in the garden. He boxed it in two old kerosene boxes that produced his first three gallons of honey. He transferred the bees from boxes to hives a few years later after learning that a local priest hived his honey more profitably.        But he wanted to learn more and sent off to Foyle’s Bookshop in London for ‘The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture’ by A. I. Root first published in the USA in 1877. From his 1950 edition he learned about other preparations from bee products and subsequently sold beeswax to pharmacies for hair preparations and wax floor polish to institutions. Roy retired from beekeeping a few years ago and handed on his hives to his daughter Louise and grandson Ron who manage some forty hives around the south of the island. Louise still refers to  ‘The ABC and XYZ of Bee Culture’ and proudly relates that her father can accurately estimate how much honey they have in the hives through his intimate knowledge of the flowering cycles and weather patterns.

            There are a few women who have attended training courses and subsequently taken up beekeeping. Pass through Gouyave on the West Coast on your trip around the island and you will probably see  Hillary Taylor who runs a cane juice stand on the main street.  Hillary took up beekeeping after her husband became despondent when most of his hives were stolen or destroyed. She attended a training course she heard about on the radio four years ago and with a small loan from the National Development Fund   set about re-establishing the hives. Today there are fifteen hives and Hillary extracts and bottles the honey herself in rum bottles bought from the locals. Her bees collect nectar from the flowers of oranges limes lemons mangoes and coconut producing a lovely  golden amber coloured honey.

 Hillary sells the wax to the local shoemaker to wax thread for stitching his shoes and hopes to learn how to make wax ornaments  from the internet.

            Thirty-four year old Jude Findley is one of the largest and most successful beekeepers on the island and is the first and so far only beekeeper to win  the Farmers Achievement Day Award in September 1998 as the most outstanding beekeeper in Grenada.  In a few years he has built up a staggering 200 hives complete with five large storage tanks yielding some 300-500 cases of honey per year. All this is housed  in the  ground floor bottling room  of a new home he is building in his village that is totally financed with proceeds from his beekeeping activity.

            In  the early nineties he started out as a honey hunter with his brother Raymond and soon had 100 boxes of bees taken from the wild. Around 1994 in an encounter with an Irish priest   he exchanged some of his bees and honey for five of the priest’s hives equipment and a  book on beekeeping.  It was from this book that he learned how to make his own hives and raise queen bees which he now supplies to other beekeepers.

            1995 saw him  attended a training programme organised by the Agency for Rural Transformation ART.  He was one of the first beneficiaries under their Micro Project Loan Fund which enabled him to double the capacity of his hives. In 1998 he was  one of Grenada’s representatives at the First Caribbean Beekeeping Congress in Tobago.

            Jude supplies scented  hair wax to the local pharmacies and propolis and pollen to an island apitherapist for health products.  He also lends hives to farmers to pollinate their crops.

Jude’s future goals include the export market and learning to artificially inseminate queen bees himself to control the quality of the bee stock instead of relying on drones to do the work. 

Apitherapy or the medicinal and therapeutic use of honeybee products has been practiced for thousands of  years. In Grenada it is still an infant industry. Tropical apiculture expert and apitherapist Jorge Murillo Yepes arrived in Grenada from Colombia twenty seven years ago and conducted some of the first beekeeping courses here.  Later he developed an interest in apitherapy and now sells his own soaps and creams made from wax pollen propolis and honey to the local retailers under the name of Sweet Maria Apiary. He also believes in practicing what he preaches and in his daily life uses these products which are supplied by local beekeepers.  He sprinkles dried pollen liberally over his food as a health supplement;  washes his teeth with a solution which contains propolis and uses bee stings for the treatment of arthritis and other maladies. He is currently completing an apitherapy diploma course on the internet  conducted by  Romanian doctor   Dr. Stefan Stangaciu; one of the leading world exponents of apitherapy.

            The beekeeper today can draw on a variety of non-governmental organisations and institutions for help.  Since 1995 The Agency for Rural Transformation ART has played a major role in developing beekeeping as a rural occupation.  It has helped  several beekeepers with start-up and expansion loans   training and technical assistance    and obtaining duty free concessions. Three of its beneficiaries Haylin Houston Rudan Fortune and Dexter Felix  won prizes in the 2001 and 2002 National Honey Show in London and Jude Findley one of their first beneficiaries is now one of the largest and most successful commercial beekeepers on the island.

Since 1998 The Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on AgricultureIICA has been involved with the development of rural beekeeping in Grenada  when it organised a landmark workshop attended by fourteen unemployed people. Those participants subsequently approached IICA for assistance in setting up the Grenada Association of Beekeepers GAB in October 1998. Future plans include a course on the ‘Production of Secondary Bee Products’ and  ‘Artificial Insemination of Bees’ which indicates the beekeeper’s level of technical knowledge.

The latest  rural credit scheme under which beekeepers are eligible was signed between the European Union and the Grenada Government  in March 2003. Worth US$4.25 million it will be grant aided by the European Union and matched with loans from participating Grenada Financial Institutions.

Beekeeping is also on the curriculum of the Agricultural and Food Science Department at the T.A. Marryshow  Community College. Classes are taught by beekeeper Robert Belton who has around one hundred hives of his own sells pollen to the health food stores and delicious ‘honey sticks’ in St. George’s market. 

            Francis Pierre the Ministry of Agriculture’s beekeeper representative hopes to raise the awareness of the farmer to the importance of crop pollination by bees through training courses for their Extension Officers at the government hive in the north of the island. Few farmers realise that as the most effective insect pollinator bees can increase crop production by some thirty per cent.                

The new beekeeper can also join the  Grenada Association of Beekeepers with some thirty members. Founding Past President Windel Sylvan an experienced and knowledgeable beekeeper in the industry with 90 hives   explains  that their current  priorities include introducing legislation to regulate the industry setting up a co-operative identifying export markets and establishing their own apiary.

So …  the next time you stroll under a coconut tree listen very carefully; you may hear the hum of the honeybee collecting nectar for the next pot of award winning honey. Better still take some home.

            Me?  I’m off to see Louise about a hive for my  garden.

Here are a couple of honey flavoured recipes for you to try. You can substitute honey for sugar in your recipes using  half the quantity of honey ie. one cup of sugar equals half a cup of honey.

WALNUT HONEY BREAD

Makes a 2lb loaf.

1 cup whole milk

1 cup of honey

¼ cup sugar

¼ cup melted unsalted butter

2 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

½ cup roughly chopped walnuts.

Preheat oven to 325F

 

Butter and flour a 9X5 inch loaf pan. Heat milk in large saucepan. Add the honey and sugar stirring until the sugar has melted.  Cool. Mix in the melted butter and eggs separately. Sift together flour salt and baking soda. Add dry ingredients to the honey mixture and mix thoroughly. Stir in the walnuts. Pour into the saucepan and let stand 20 minutes. Put in oven for about one h our until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove and transfer to a rack to cool. Wrap well and store.

NB. It tastes better the second day.

 

REFRESHING FRUIT SMOOTHIE

Use any combination of fruits to make this nutritious drink. Add a couple of ice cubes if not using frozen fruit.

Makes two cups.

2 tblsp . honey or more to taste

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

½ cup sliced banana

½ cup plain low fat yogurt

¾ cup fresh or frozen mixed fruits strawberries raspberries blueberries

or mangoes papaya pineapple or other tropical fruits if available locally.

Place all ingredients in blender and whiz until smooth.  Pour into tall glass garnish with slice of fruit and serve.

Above two recipes from  Honey A Connoisseur’s Guide With Recipes by Gene Opton 

 

COCONUT CHICKEN WITH GARLIC AND GINGER SAUCE

Ginger is one of the many island spices  found in Grenadian dishes and garlic is used extensively to flavour and marinate meat fish and poultry dishes.

2 tblsp . unsalted butter

1 tblsp<span cl

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