by Francisco G. Gómez
Heading south on highway #2, you just pass the border of Aguadilla and you’ re in Aguada. You best be looking at the kilometer markers to your right as you quickly go along or you’ll miss marker km137, the entrance that takes you to Taínasoy Apiario. As you make the right turn off #2, you immediately go up a hill and you’re instantly in the mountains of Barrio Naranjo in Aguada; not even 5 mins in, to your left you’ll arrive at Taínasoy.
As I pulled into the driveway, I was met by Noemi Chaparro, bee keeper and owner of the Apiary, along with her husband Carlos and their two children, daughter Pheonix and son Ory. I must say, it was not what I expected; the landscape was totally under construction, I’ll get into that in my follow up to this article, and I saw only 3 bee boxes that were devoid of bees. Asking about the bees, I learned that initially there were 53 bee boxes, that was before hurricane María hit the island on September 20th, 2017. After the storm there were only 15 left. Approximately 2/3 of Noemi’s hives were destroyed, she sadly told me, but a smile quickly replaced the sadness, as she informed me that the remaining hives were up and running slowly, but for sure. She said that before the storm she had wanted to have 100 bee boxes; a determined look on her face and an assurance in her voice made me believe she’ll succeed in reaching that number soon.
Continuing our conversation, I also learned that the bees she keeps are a hybrid of the imported Italian bee (Apis mellifera ligustica) and African killer bee (sub species of Apis Mellifera). The mixture of these two types of bees has produced a more docile killer bee, and interesting to say the least, is the fact that they don’t suffer from Verroa Destructor Mite infestation, something that is still a great threat to the Apis Melifera (Honey Bee) on the mainland. I asked Noemi what she attributed the ability of the island bee to fight off the affects of the Verroa and she believes that it has something to do with the genetics of the hybrid. She also feels that the abundance of the island’s natural flora increases the bee’s immune system, helping the little critters fight off infestation. However, island bees have to deal with the dreaded Wax Worm, but according to Noemi, the way to do that is by keeping the hives elevated and never on the ground.
Production of honey last year for Taínasoy was somewhere between 5 to 10 gallons. Noemi bottles and sells her honey at various places and in the process teaches the public about the importance of the honey bee. She says that there’s still a lot of ignorance and misunderstanding about bees on the island. She says she will start a school on her land to teach the rudiments of bee keeping, and thereby help to dispel the misinformation and fear of bees that so many people have.
It’s interesting to note that there are no regulations imposed on beekeepers in Puerto Rico. This is probably a good thing given the neurotic over regulation and control that we beekeepers experience here in New Jersey. Well before two legged talkers walked the earth, bees had been around for 100 million years. I dare say that this over regulation and environmental interference on Mother Earth by humans has created climate change that’s out of control, not just for the bees, but for all living things in Pachamama. Noemi says that the bees are free and belong to all of us, that’s why she doesn’t mess too much with her hives, like most bee keepers. She let’s them do their thing without much intervention, especially opening up the bee boxes too often.
I was curious as to where and how she acquired her bee boxes and hives. Noemi told me that some of the boxes were made by her and her crew, some were bought and some were given to Taínasoy by the Department of Agriculture of Puerto Rico. Interestingly enough the DAPR has a program for bee keepers who do bee removal. Once the bees are removed, the municipality verifies and signs off on the removal. The DAPR then donates bee boxes made by prison inmates on the island. Pretty good program, wouldn’t you say?
Noemi says she sees the bees coming back after four months since hurricane María. She does, however, have concerns about what the future will bring as weather patterns have drastically changed across the globe, and more so for Puerto Rico. She says that the struggle to help the bees must continue at any cost, because without the bees, there will be no humans to care for them. Truly a contradiction in terms…