Following a goal I had set in my early 20’s, my latest beekeeping experience led me to the diverse ecosystems and friendly people in Jamaica. My goal was to have children early in life so that my responsibilities could shift solely to work and travel while child-less, healthy, and young enough. Living a very blessed life allowed this to happen.
For 15 days in December, I found myself being driven around the Caribbean’s largest natural harbor, mangrove forests, and lush mountains with waterfalls, on my way to the countryside where I held practical workshops in apiaries located in both dry and wet forests.
As a volunteer with US AID’s Farmer-to-Farmer program, I had the pleasure of exchanging information on hive management and queen rearing and value-added products with members of my host organization, the St. Catherine’s Bee Farmer Association. We also had a surprise swarm call as we began our last workshop. Only one of the five participants had ever collected a swarm, so everyone had a grand time as we strategized the quickest and best way to remove the swarm from the tree (climbing up with a feed bag and pruning shears), transport it to a quarantine site (tie up the bag and drive on gravel to an isolated wet limestone forest), selected a site and orient the hive optimally (in a sunny clearing with midday shade, we set up a deep brood box with foundationless frames. Being prone to flooding, we set the hive entrance to face southeasterly on top of an old bed frame), and how to know if the bees would stay (festooning is one good sign, and yes, they stayed). Carrying a bag of bees into the forest left everyone left feeling exhilarated.
My time on assignment was fulfilling and reinforced my belief that people are our greatest resource. I witnessed people teaching and learning from each other (discussing what to have in our ‘swarm kits’), getting new ideas organically through side conversations (your wax melter is cool, I think I could do that, too), and building strong relationships to fuel future projects (sharing a table of value-added products at a fair). I was grateful to have plenty of time on my own to immerse myself in the local culture and climate. Jamaica is a big contrast to Iowa – Jamaica’s documented history predates Iowa’s by quite a bit due to the harbor, and I enjoy historic sites. Also, it is much closer to the equator than Iowa is, so leaving for the tropics in December was easy!