Away from the resorts of Seven Mile Beach and the rapid development of George Town, there is a corner of Grand Cayman that remains wild.
Tucked away in Savannah’s logwood forest, Reagan’s Honey has found an ideal location for nurturing one of the islands’ oldest transplants: honey bees.
Likely brought to the islands generations ago from Europe, these bees now serve as a major pollinator for Cayman’s fruit trees and mangroves. They also play host to one of the islands’ most unique tours for visitors and locals alike.
Off the beaten track, head beekeeper Jamaal Solomon guides guests, suited up in full protective gear, below the forest canopy and beyond scattered ponds to his family apiary, named for his 4-year-old daughter, Reagan.
Eight hives buzz with life under the midday sun, as the colonies’ worker bees forage for pollen from the early spring blossoms.
“During the spring months, the bees are foraging a lot on logwood trees … They’ll also forage a lot on the spring flowers in the area, a lot of palm fronds,” Solomon says.
“In summer months, bees will forage a lot more on hardier plants like the mangrove. That tends to produce a darker honey. We’ve found spring honey is a little lighter in color and in flavor profile. In the summer, it can be a little darker.”
Solomon and his wife, Chandra, are preparing for the year’s first big honey flow, expected in March or April. Guests will not have to wait until harvest, however, to get a taste.
During the two-hour tour, Solomon walks visitors through the basics of beekeeping before diving into a hive inspection, opening one of the bee boxes to check on the health of the colony and the all-important queen bee. Once complete, visitors are invited to scrape honey straight from the comb into a sample jar.
Since Reagan’s Honey is not available in stores – unlike the honey produced by Solomon’s childhood neighbor, Otto Watler – the tour offers the surest way to sample this local product.
“Our honey is 100 percent local and 100 percent pure, untreated. No chemicals added. It’s the real, unadulterated honey product. It’s something we stand by and we don’t ever want to compromise the product. We practice sustainable beekeeping,” he says.
Since the beginning, Solomon has sought to keep his operation as natural as possible. Honey bees cannot be imported to the Cayman Islands, a cautionary measure to avoid the spread of disease. This meant he had to start his apiary the old-fashioned way – by capturing a swarm out in the wild.
“I was faced with the challenge of having a beekeeping passion with no bees. It wasn’t until I did research more and went to bee college and got the opportunity to meet with bee experts from around the world … that studied bee swarms and how bees choose nest sites,” he says.
“With that knowledge, I was able to return home and actually scientifically catch my own bee swarms from the local bee colonies that were in the wild.”
From there, Reagan’s Honey began to take shape. Now, the Solomons would like to encourage others to learn about pollinators and pick up beekeeping.
The tours, which began in December, are an important part of this educational goal. In recent months, the apiary has reached out to school groups and resorts to spread the good word about bees. Reagan’s Honey is also an annual participant in the Agriculture Show.
“We do look forward to working with people in the community in getting them started with beekeeping or even farmers that would like a beehive on their property for pollination purposes. Anything that we can do that’s a bit more safe for the bees, that’s our main focus,” Solomon says.
Along with expanding the apiary, his next goal will be finding a use for the beeswax he harvests. In an attempt to avoid a sibling rivalry, he plans to name this product after his other daughter, Vera, 2.
For more information about Reagan’s Honey or to set up a tour, visit www.reaganshoney.com.