BY MORGAN LEGEL
Guam’s tropical environment provides a unique opportunity for local honeybee “farmers” and can offer an important income stream.
With no winter season and no major typhoons for the last several years, the bees can forage and make honey 365 days a year.
Beekeeper Dennis R. Larsen, founder of 671 Raw Honey, said he was fortunate to profit from his hobby when the pandemic hit him economically.
“During COVID, the bees were not affected at all and we actually leaned on that income to make up the shortages.
“Our dog-grooming and pet-boarding business [Cloud K9 Groom & Board] was pretty non-existent, so the honey business really made the difference and helped pay the bills the last six months.”
Paul E.R. Packbier, president of PCR Environmental Inc.; is also the founder of Island Honey Bee.
He said while the bees kept producing that gorgeous, gold honey, he had to work extra hard during the lockdown to keep his bees happy and healthy.
“Bees don’t care about COVID, but I considered myself to be essential,” he said. “I would go out and check on the bees — just me and the bees. The difference with COVID was that everyone I worked with wasn’t able to help; I was solo. Any kind of farming is back-breaking work, especially in Guam because it was so hot out, so I felt it.”
Even with the additional work, Packbier managed to squeeze a new skill out of the lockdown, one to give him a real “buzz.”
“I started doing what the Vikings did and made fermented-honey wine — for my consumption only, of course,” he said.
The first recorded honeybees came to Guam in 1907, and then Guam stopped importing them by the 70s, making all the current honey bees descendants full-fledged Guam honeybees, Packbier said.
The 671 Raw brand has about 21 hives on-island, and Island Honey Bee has more than 30, spanning more than six locations.
Packbier said once a keeper gets about four hives, that’s when a surplus of honey occurs and when the keeper can come up with a brand and start selling.
Larsen said each hive can produce about 100 pounds of honey a year, amounting to more than 2,000 pounds from 671 Raw in one year.
“About once a month, we do maintenance on the boxes and that’s when we pull out any honey that we want,” he said.
Additionally, Larsen said his monthly average sales are around $2,000, depending on the time of year and current nectar flow. Typically, whatever he makes in honey sales he immediately puts back into the business in the form of equipment and infrastructure.
Packbier said that he doesn’t tally profit; he said he does this because he loves to do it, and the honey is a by-product of caring for the bees. He is the co-founder of the Guam Beekeeper’s Association, which has about 50 members, including Larsen, who is a board member.
“Our whole goal with the beekeeper’s association is to teach that it’s about the bees and keeping them healthy, being aware of threats to bees,” Packbier said.
Both farmers offer different varieties, other than the natural honey, from Larsen’s pika and THC honey to Packbier’s creamed honey and beeswax bars.
Larsen started his beekeeping about three years ago, and Packbier has been on his learning journey for nearly seven.
“It really never gets old for me, this beekeeping,” Larsen said.
“It’s easier than having a dog, but harder than having a cat; you do have to monitor the hives and see if they’re healthy or getting attacked,” Packbier said.
Customers can purchase 671 Raw by contacting the business on Facebook or when Larsen sets up his stand on Route 16, outside of the Guam National Guard complex. He also does retail through “mom and pop” stores when they contact him.
As for Island Honey Bee, customers can come to PCR Environmental and purchase from the front desk. mbj