The Final Week

July 13th. The day consisted mostly of fevergrass harvesting and distilling. In the morning, Danny, Kyra, Sarah, and I walked around the yard and down the road searching for patches to cut down. We came back with 31 pounds of grass, enough for two batches. The distillations carried on throughout the day and meanwhile I went swimming and read. In the afternoon the bees began to swarm the distillery because of the fevergrass smell, so Danny and I had to load the second batch while being bombarded by bees. All told fevergrass produced around 60 mls of oil, enough for each of us to take some home.

Danny, Joshua, Kyra, Agape, and Sarah picking out the dead, dried grass from the oil-filled green ones.
The fever grass oil pumped out quickly. You could see the bubble exuding from the funnel into the building up in the new, bigger separator.

July 14th. First activity of the day was visiting the bees in Robin’s Bay with Kwao, Sarah, and Kyra. Most of the hive inspections went smoothly, except for one where the bees built comb in all different directions. Kwao had to surgically cut out the honey filled comb without disturbing the bees too much. Afterwards, we moved some hives down to the newest apiary.

Sarah and I smoke out the bees in two Langstroth hives while they fly around our heads. Dark clouds loom behind us.
Those black dots are the heads of drone (male) bees trying to squeeze through the queen separator to access the honey. These stupid guys are unfortunately dead.
Cross combing. As you can see they did not build comb on the top bar, but instead attached it to the sides and at all different angles.

Later that night, we stayed up cutting pineapple skins to test if they had any oil. After an hour of cutting and then the two hour wait for oil, it yielded no results. Although it sucks to not get any oil, experimentation must come with some failure and that’s ok because we learned something. If nothing else, we got a lot of pineapple to eat. Around 11, Kwao was ready to drive Sarah, Kyra, Danny, Emmanuel and I to a party in Robin’s Bay with loud music. However, due to the rain earlier in the day, the speakers were broken and the music did not start until 1 am! It was a late night but eventually we headed home.

July 15th. Tukula, the yoga teacher and friend of Agape, invited Kyra, Sarah, Danny, and I to her humble abode down the road. She is a really talented artist and makes collages, fabric, and necklaces, which are all spread out across her one room house. Every surface was covered in materials or shells or cloth (“junk” Tukula called it, but I know it is much more than that) for future projects. I really appreciate Tukula for showing us her beautiful artwork and allowing us to see into her life.

Tukula’s house and one of her art pieces she is working on, which incorporates nature, african culture, and female power as major themes. 
She also makes beautiful jewelry. Be sure to introduce yourself to Tukula if you find yourself in Strawberry Field.

The rest of the day we made sugar feed for the bees by mixing sugar and water. Meanwhile a “wood” co-distillation—Cedarwood and Sweetwood—produced a 7 mls of oil. In the evening I sat around the dinner table with Joshua, Enoch, and Kofi getting their favorite song recommendations.

A bag full of sugar water in front of the distillery window. We place one or two of these bags into the hives to ensure they stay alive through the dearth season.

July 16th. Pancakes for breakfast! Then all the interns stripped pimento leaves off of a felled branch. I was beginning to have a stomach ache/bug, so I laid down in my hammock for the rest of the morning. Later in the day we distilled pimento, getting 70mls of oil, and inspected the beehive in the distillery. After dinner, Sarah, Kyra, and I walked with Danny to a fish restaurant two miles down the road. It was a dark walk underneath the stars, and by the end we were sufficiently tuckered out.

I am reaching into the 4 foot hive while Kyra, Kwao, and Sarah look on. The hive expanded nicely after we gave it more space.

July 17th. Rose at 6 am for bees, feeding and inspecting the new apiary. After quick work in the cool morning, we placed the remaining two hive stands into the ground. We also performed another pimento leaf distillation that yielded 70mls. Kwao had to go to Annotto Bay, so I squeezed in the van with the boys and Danny. We ended up getting some materials for hive building, so we will do that before I leave on Wednesday. In the heat of the sun, Kyra, Sarah, Danny, and I picked mary goules flower while trying to keep the dogs away from the goats. Unfortunately, we ran out of daylight to pick all the flowers we needed for a distillation, so we returned home for a quiet evening.

Stripping Pimento leaves on the 16th, which we distilled a day later.
Stuffing the retort full of leaves takes a lot of patience, but it is worth the oily reward.

July 18th. While Kwao was off getting supplies from Annotto Bay, I raked the yard and appreciated the tropical weather for one final time. Danny then took Sarah, Kyra, and I out snorkeling along the reef near the beach. It was rough weather and a sea urchin stung me, but there were lots of cool fish. That afternoon we made hives out of cello board(?), a cheaper alternative to wood that still insulates the hive properly. We finished the day with feeding and inspecting the Robin’s Bay bees. One final day with them was fun, and afterwards we lit piles of chopped down grass on fire to clear the apiary. No bees were harmed. Once back at the farm, I packed and got ready for the day of travel that ended my trip.

Unlike the hives I made previous, the sides are made up of ceelo board–a cheaper alternative to wood. Danny and I nailed all the parts together.
One last bee inspection. I love bees and will miss working with them everyday.
A BEEautiful sunset closes out my trip. Peace and Love Jamaica.

July 19th. I departed Yerba Buena Farms at 8:15 am and drove 2 hours to Kingston International Airport. Entrance back in civilization and reality was weird. The obsession with technology and manicured presentation of everyone and everything in the Miami airport was such a culture shock. But by the time I got home I had woken up to my surroundings.

Overall, I had an amazing experience in Jamaica and I could not thank Kwao and Agape enough for letting me stay with them. I now have a wealth of knowledge about beekeeping, essential oils, and making value added products that I can utilize at home and teach others. Thank you to everyone who made my trip an amazing experience, including the interns, Jessica, Lion, and Wesleyan University’s College of the Environment for making this all happen. Peace and Love!




Day 41 and 42

July 11th. Every summer the Robin’s Bay Primary School, the local elementary school, has a summer camp and for the past four years Agape has gone to present on a farm topic, like bees or soap. This year the topic was essential oils, so we gave the kids aromatic plants and the oils to smell while explaining the process. Tukula also came with us to the school; she led a brief yoga session and a nature-in-art lesson, which I enjoyed as much as the kids did.

Tukula leading a group of about 60 kids in Sun Salutation.
Students gathered around their desks with their artwork displayed in the foreground. They shaded the texture of leaves, which were under the paper.

Back in the yard, the four interns (myself included) drilled the wood tops of the hive stands. We loaded 20 into the back of the van, drove to the newest apiary, and carried the stands up the hill. Because of our quick work, we returned with enough time to distill Cedarwood for four hours. I am now proficient in the process and so the bulk of the work is waiting, which is filled with writing, reading, talking, and eating. By 9 pm, the oil totaled 6ml so we shut everything off for the night.

Cedarwood shavings.
A big bunch of plantains that somebody cut from the yard.

July 12th. 6 am rise and shine with the bees. Kwao surprised us with some fried plantain and coffee to fuel us for a morning full of clearing apiaries. We drove 20 minutes to Robin’s Bay and started chopping down the grasses and weeds surrounding the hives, which towered about 8-10 feet tall and made the apiary a maze. It was hot and wet even in the early morning and I got stung 6 times, which puts me over 50 stings total. I am not immune to swelling, but at least now it’s isolated to the point of the sting. By the end of our work, you could clearly see the farthest hive, which was huge progress.

Sarah and I practiced yoga with Tukula at Doggy’s Bar while the others prepared the distill. At peak heat, we walked down the road to pick Chicangee, a bush with white flowers, because Agape thought it had oil. Upon checking her sources, apparently the leaf contains no oil, just the flower, so the four of us turned around. Instead we picked a couple bags of sea rosemary by the point. The sun beat down on our hatted heads until we reached a consensus to stop.

The small leaves of sea rosemary, which vary in color from greens, oranges, and yellows.
Agape and Danny picking leaves across the meadow. Sea rosemary grows abundantly in this area.
Danny and I fill the distill with sea rosemary and pack it tightly to maximize the total weight.

Later, when sea rosemary was steaming and the day was cooler, Kwao, Kyra, Sarah, Danny, and I made another trip to Robin’s Bay, this time to place the hive stands. A couple hours of digging holes with a pickaxe and pitchfork under the fading light was sweaty and tiring. Kwao told stories and dropped knowledge on life as we finished up the evening with cold beers then we jammed to reggae CDs all the way home. For dessert, Kyra and I bought rum raisin ice cream up the road to reward our hard work.

At the ‘Golden Hour’, Kwao, Danny, and Sarah dig deep for cement block placement. Each hole takes about 5-10 minutes for us to perfect.

Day 39 and 40

July 9th. Started the day by cleaning the distillery. The day moved slowly, so I read a lot until the distill was ready for a sweetwood distillation. Throughout the morning the newer interns were getting a presentation so I worked on my blog.

After lunch, our plans to make lotion were delayed so I took an adventurous run/walk down the road. Sporting a headband and my Onitsuka Tiger’s, I got a few funny looks from the cars and people going by. About a mile in, I followed a creek bed up into the forest. It was still and quiet—the perfect break from the yard.

A view of Robin’s Bay on my run. I took a short detour to climb rocks and get this picture.
Lotion ingredients (from left to right): coconut oil, fevergrass hyrdosol, vetiver hydrosol. Beeswax and calendula not pictured.  

After dinner we made lotion from beeswax, coconut oil, calendula leaves, and vetiver and fevergrass hydrosol. Blending them all together produced a creamy and hydrating ointment that is especially good for healing skin and removing scars.

All the ingredients formed a creamy substance after a couple minutes in the blender.

Later that night, Erin and I joined Jessica and her friends at a party in Robin’s Bay. We got there around 11pm and stood on the street listening to the music. It seemed pretty uneventful until 1am, when the dancehall music came on, and people began dancing. Erin and I enjoyed watching and attempting to dance until 2:30, when we all caught a ride home.

July 10th. This morning we said goodbye to the lovely Leticia, a guest who brought fun energy to the extended vistor family. After our final breakfast together, Kwao took Sarah, Kyra, Danny and I up into the bees for more inspections. Together we opened up the remaining 9 hives and collected a bucket full of honeycomb. Most of bees on this location have lots of resources–pollen, nectar, and honey–probably due to the wealth of flowers and blooming plants around them. Each hive was busting with bees, some were even strong enough to split late in the season.

With the apiary cleared, hive inspections and getting around was easy. 
Sarah holding a full comb of bees with grace.
Kwao picks up a Langstroth comb stuffed with capped brood and some honey. The square boxes give the bees more space to build comb.

In the afternoon, I finished Les Crowder’s book Top Bar Beekeeping, which is a nice reference for any beginner beekeeper. Then I raked the grass around our house and near the garden. Another delicious dinner previewed card games with Joshua, Enoch, Kofi, Erin, and Kyra. “You cheat!” and “thief” cried the players of BS, a game where the goal is to lie and catch others in the act. After wishing Erin, who had been around my entire stay, a final farewell, I took a late night swim to cool off before bed.

Day 37 and 38

July 7th. This morning I woke up before dawn to watch the sun rise with Kyra and Sarah. We walked out to the point, which gave us an amazing view of the sun light increasing behind big clouds. The world was peaceful and cool at this time. When we got back I napped in my hammock until Kwao summoned us for more bees stuff.

“Good Day Sunshine” -The Beatles.

We returned to the same apiary that we cleared, but this time to inspect hives. First we moved 3 colonies from 2-foot hives into 4-foot hives because they were doing so well. Transferring the bees into a bigger hive allows them to expand, making more bees and honey. Then Kwao and I inspected 10 hives or so, checking their resources (nectar and pollen) to see if they needed feeding before the dearth period. The longer I am here, the more Kwao trusts me with inspections so I feel like I can do it on my own now.

The remains of comb after wax moth had infested a dying out colony. We cleaned out the hive to be used for a split.
Cross-combing. The bees built two combs on one top bar in a cool pattern.
After transferring the bees into a new hive, they gathered on the front of the hive in a clump called a beard.

After a post-bees swim, I spent some time digging out weeds that have taken over the garden. We started a Sweetwood sawdust distillation, but stopped it later on because we were having the bonfire. Danny, Sarah, Erin, and I walked down to the street to the local bars collecting empty rum bottles for hydrosol.

Sweet wood logs before being plained into sawdust.

After dinner when it was dark, we went to the big beach to the bonfire. Agape had some friends from San Francisco visiting and the boys put on a show lighting their huge pile of wood. It was hot and illuminated half the beach. For an hour or so we all sat around it. While Kwao and Agape drove their friends home, Erin, Sarah, and I cleaned the kitchen.

July 8th. Today was a quiet day. Erin and I ran two distillations of sweetwood through the morning and afternoon. While it was pushing oil, I read, blogged, and napped.

At dusk, I went into the garden to expel some energy. While tearing up the soil, the cheesy full moon rose above the horizon like the Great Pumpkin.

Jessica looks on and Agape pours her delicious, natural mixed drinks.

Under the moon, Agape made some mixed drinks with sorrel (a species of Hibiscus) and ginger and it was delicious. Jessica and Dajanea then came over to give everybody a dance lesson. Erin and I needed a refresher and for Danny, Sarah, Kyra, and Leticia it was their first time “breaking their backs” to Dancehall music. “Breadfruit” and “Tom Cruise” were some of my favorite songs. Locals flocked to sound of good music and join us dancing—all in good fun. There are some cringy and provocative videos of us dancing, but I’ll spare myself the embarrassment.

While the moon was high in the sky, Erin, Sarah, Danny, and I sat and chatted on the porch. We talked about what we wanted to balance this moon cycle. Personally, I want to balance rocks. It’s a meditative and un-rewarding exercise that clears my head. After a late night swim, I sunk into bed.

At midnight, the beach was peaceful and full of flat rocks perfect for balancing.

Day 35 and 36

July 5th. Today everybody, family, interns, and guests, went to Dunn’s River Falls except for Erin and I because we had already been. With no one around, we were allowed to do whatever we wanted—distilling-wise.

We decided we each wanted the strong mango peel scent to remind us of our time in Jamaica. Mango season peaked during my first five weeks, and as it came to an end there were plenty of mangos on the ground around the farm. After collecting the mangoes, we peeled them and squeezed the seed to get mango juice while listening to “Love is My Religion” by Ziggy Marley—the type of reggae I thought we would hear here. Halfway through we took a break to make ourselves a mango and honey smoothie. We finished peeling and put the peels into the distill.

The haul of mangos, a bucket of peels, and our juice. Erin and I sat on the side of the concrete discarding the squeezed fruit into the compost.

I tried to dig a couple of holes for hive stands in the apiary, but was subsequently bombarded by bees, so I postponed that activity. I relaxed for the rest of the afternoon by swimming, doing some yoga, and face-timing my family (love y’all).

I harvested the .75 ml of mango peel oil and 3 water bottles of hydrosol, which Erin and I split. Then I dug more holes like Shia LaBeouf just as Kwao, Agape, et all came home. I ate dinner early and hung out with the boys in the kitchen before calling it a night.

July 6th. At 3:40 am, Danny and I woke up and got in the car with Kwao, Agape, and Emmanuel to go to the Kingston market. The drive took an hour and half over the bumpy and windy road, which made it impossible to fall asleep. We got to Coronation market, Jamaica’s largest farmers market, and followed Kwao around with plastic bags. He went to a lot of different vendors looking for the best prices and getting all sorts of fruits and veggies like callaloo, tomatoes, avocados, ginger, carrots, and more. It was a crazy scene with tons of people, but really interesting to witness business unfold. Eventually we got all the food we needed and made the trek back to Robin’s Bay. Although it was a hotter and slower drive, the views through the mountains made it worth it.

At the entrance of the Coronation Market, vendors begin selling at dawn. Peppers, watermelon, lettuce and potatoes are some of the foods to choose from.
A partial view of the market. Underneath the overhang people are setting up their stations. 
Giant watermelons!

Once we got back home, we ate and got ready for bees. Sarah, Kyra, Danny, and I helped Kwao clear the apiary on the farm. Using cutlasses, weed-whackers, and hoes, we chopped down tall Guinea grass and other shrubs that covered the hives. It was the heat of the day and hard work, so we took a couple of breaks to drink water and eat pineapple, coconuts, apples, and watermelon surrounding us. Near the end, the bees got pissed and stung each of us 5-15 times. We bolted for the car and got the f*!% out of there.

Danny chop chop chops the grass with his cutlass. 
Tired and sweaty, we drank water and ate fruit in the shade.
One section of the apiary, after being cleared. Kwao with the weed-whacker while the rest of us look on, but don’t worry we were working.

As a present, Kwao bought each of us a beer and drove around the sights of Robin’s Bay with views of the ocean and Blue Mountains. When we got back to the yard, I immediately jumped into the water then ate lunch. I read about bees until dinner. I went to bed relatively early but not before chilling in the kitchen with the rest of the family.

View of Robin’s Bay with coral reefs and the empty Robin’s Bay Hotel on the shore.

Day 33 and 34

July 3rd. Once everybody woke up, I helped Agape give the in-hive orientation to Danny, Kyra, and Sarah. I taught them how to light a smoker, hold the comb, and look for signs of healthy bees through demonstration and then giving them a turn. After 2.5 hours of checking out the bees in the yard, we all went swimming to wash away the sweat and feeling of stings.

Me and the newbies. From left to right: Danny, Kyra, myself, and Sarah.
Pollen packed into the comb. Pollen can come in many different colors based on what plant the bees gather it from.

Later, the four of us and Erin went to the big beach down the road where Joshua, Kofi, and Enoch were collecting wood for a bonfire. I helped carry huge pieces of driftwood from up and down the beach and added them to the growing pile. In the next few days we’ll set it ablaze. On our walk back, we stopped at a rope swing that hung over the creek.

From afar, the wood piled in a pyramid shape. Along the beach was a ton of driftwood perfect for a fire.


Kofi and Enoch climb the pile while Joshua jumps off of it. The pile stood about 10 feet tall.
The river was low, but still a nice secluded spot with a rope swing and places to relax.

When we got back, I immediately climbed the mango tree outside of the kitchen to strip its leaves for a distillation. Meanwhile, Erin and the boys were grabbing mangos that had fallen on the ground for a mango peel distillation. A couple of hours later we had enough mango peels and leaves for two separate distillations, so we loaded the still full of the squishy peels. The peels only produced 1 ml of oil, but it smelled just like the sweetest mangos.

That night we ate an early dinner, and later Erin, Sarah, Danny, and I stayed up talking.

July 4th. The most un-American forth of July. I started the day by cutting mango leaves with Erin. Then I assisted in part 2 of the hive orientation for the other interns. We had only two hives left and it was a breeze. I’ve gotten so comfortable in the bees that I wore shorts with my veil and felt bees and flies crawling all over my legs.

The long orange butt of the queen walks along the top of the comb.
Honey comb that we harvested from several hives. Yummo!

Afterwards, I went back to helping Erin until it could all fit in the retort. While we waited for Kwao to get more gas for the burner, Erin, Sarah, and I collected more fallen mangoes with the younger boys, Shantel and Amanda (two female family friends). The more we collected, the more rotten mangoes were the only thing left to pick up, and they were gross. Once two bags were full, we all ran down to the beach to clean off.

Kofi climbing a soursop tree to get the big spikes fruit.

In the afternoon, we made hive stands. First we had to saw rebar, a task that was hard at first but got easier with practice, and then we mixed cement to load into the blocks. We got dirty, but made enough stands for 11 more hives which will go to the new apiary.

Cutting rebar is a three person job. We all needed a lesson on hand-eye coordination and sawing.

The mango leaf distillation was going on throughout the afternoon and yielded 2 mls of equally sweet oil. That night, we distilled mango peel for a second time and barely got 1 ml, all of which Agape took.

Day 31 and 32

July 1st. Conner left at 4 am, and as of today I have been here for a month. 30 days down, only 19 to go. After cleaning the room, I washed out the retort of the still and started cutting sweetwood leaves with Erin. It took a while to snip all the leaves, but eventually we started the fire for the distillation and waited. And waited. And blogged. And listened to Erykah Badu’s most recent mixtape, But You Caint Use My Phone, which is a fantastic listen. And waited some more before Agape relieved us of our watch-job.

Later that afternoon, Erin and I led Kyra and Danny through the forest and along a creek to this swimming hole. Underneath the sunlit canopy, we quietly hopped, skipped, and dipped across rocks and into the water. The pool was just big enough for us all to sit down in, but boredom encouraged us to keep exploring up the river further. The leaning bamboo on the shore created a tunnel of shelter as we scaled up rocks. Once the water barely reached our ankles, we moseyed back home. And just in time too.

The dogs follow us wherever we go. This time on the way down to the river.
Kyra, Erin, and Danny navigate the rocks of the stream before me underneath tall trees.
The tops of bamboo shoots, growing as tall as 30 feet. Peep the moon if you can spot it.

The sweetwood leaf distillation produced 55 mls, a sweet reward for our patient cutting.

The sweet wood oil separated based on it’s chemistry compounds. The first oil to come out is lighter and clear (93-100ml), then it is foggy (52-93ml), and the last oil is heaviest and more yellow (46-52ml)
A soursop fruit with the green spikes and a couple mangoes.

When it was dark around 7:30 pm, we prepared to move bee hives from the apiary outside the kitchen to the new Robin’s Bay apiary. You have to move bees at night to guarantee that all the bees are inside the hive and don’t return to the old location. We covered 4 2-foot hives with bed sheets and stacked them into the trunk of the van. For 20 minutes, Danny and I sat backwards and held in place so they didn’t bounce around.

Danny and I in the back of the van hoping the bees don’t crawl out.

We got to the apiary and rushed the bees to their hive stands. Then I carried over another hive from the apiary close by that’s a short walk in the day, but navigating the bush at night with a box full of frustrated bees felt like an hour. But without any stings I made it and safely placed the bees in their new home. We drove back, drank some relaxing pepper-elder tea, and went to bed.

Kwao taking placing a hive down as the others watch on. All the sheets had to be quickly taken off then we evacuated the scene.

June 2nd. Another new intern, Sarah from Pitzer College, came today! Hurray for new faces. After a tasty breakfast of plantain pancakes with honey, we started a sweetwood sawdust distillation. As soon as it was pushing oil Kwao was ready to attempt driving to the 4th apiary. With another pancake in my belly, we made the half-hour drive up the mountain, across the landslide, to the most beautiful place in Jamaica.

The view looking down on Robin’s Bay and Annotto Bay.

On a property on top of the hill in a meadow of 6-foot tall grass, Kwao had set up an apiary with a view overlooking the entire north coast, the Blue Mountains, and surrounding area. It is a spectacular place to be a bee as well because of the wealth of fruity and flowering trees. We inspected the 4 top-bar hives (which Kwao finally trusted me to do) and 3 Langstroth boxes and taxed their honey supplies like good landlords.

Bees sharing food via their tongues.
The sign of a healthy queen, a solid pattern of egg laying.

Together, Kwao and I gathered a whole bunch of mangoes to take home and ate a few sitting underneath a coconut tree with the breeze blowing in our faces. That was one of the sweetest moments of the trip so far.

The four Top Bar hives, Land Rover in the background, and a mango tree to the right.

Back at the farm, I went swimming and was joined by all the interns and some of the kids. We all splashed around and got to know one another in the warm afternoon sun. There was not much else to do that afternoon, so I asked Kwao for any productive labor I could help out with. He sent me into the garden to help clear the area for planting, something I’ve been wanted to do while here. He taught me how to wield a hoe, another handy skill that I’ve learned while here, and I worked until dark. That night dinner was extra delicious—freshly made bread, lentils, and cabbage-tomato-onion salad.

Day 29 and 30

June 29th. While Kwao and Agape were off at the Kingston market, Conner and I woke up early (8 am) to cut more fevergrass around the yard. Conner was really determined to get as much oil as possible, so we spent most of out morning gathering the plant and dicing it into miniscule pieces. It’s not my favorite job, but the long task is meditative so I focused on my breath and got it done.

Halfway through the slicing, the interns, Melchizedek, Emmanuel, and I all ventured down the steep path to the sea cave. Today the water was a lot rougher than our first time, and big waves knocked us over in the small space. Then we all climbed the surrounding rocks, which were a little sketchy but thrilling. As rain began to fall we ran back to the yard where we completed loading the next distillation.

The rock, which the sea cave is under and we climbed, poking through the trees.
The path down to the sea cave.

Once the fire was going and Kwao had eaten lunch, we made attempt number 2 to go to the 4th apiary in the 17 year old, 4-wheel drive Land Rover. One part of the road we take was really muddy from multiple days of rain, and when we tried to drive through the wheels slid and got stuck. Quickly, Conner and I jumped out the car to push, but the wheels just spun in place. A man who was walking down the road saw us, and helped us lug rocks from a nearby stream to place under the wheels and form a pseudo-road. Back and forth we hauled big rocks, and meanwhile more and more people came out of the bush and started to help us. An hour and many rocks later, we had 7 people get behind the truck to push. Against the odds, the car rolled forward and Kwao accelerated out of the mud patch. Teamwork makes life go round. Tired from the unexpected work, we turned around and went home.

Stuck in the mud in the middle of the forest.

At the farm, the fevergrass had pushed 45 mLs of oil, enough for Conner and I to take home 10 mLs each. We cleaned up and following dinner Erin, Conner, Danny, and I star-gazed with the amazing view from our roof.

June 30th. Another new beekeeping intern, Kyra, arrived early early in the morning so I got to meet her at breakfast. She is an Urban Environmental Sustainability major from Brooklyn. While we all were eating breakfast, Kwao took the chainsaw and started cutting trees surrounding the driveway. Despite 4 boys pulling it with a rope, one tree fell the wrong way into the apiary and knocked over a hive! Confused bees were flying all around, so I grabbed a smoker and a veil and helped Agape clear the area. Once the tree was out of the way, we were able turn it upright and save the broken combs by tying them to the top-bars.

The felled tree in the driveway.
The knocked over 2-foot hive. Some combs were broken, but salvageable.


Me putting back the combs. After putting the hive back onto its stand, we used wire to reattach the combs to the bars.

Determined, Kwao cut down a few more trees including a Moringa tree, whose leaves are a healthy super-food. I grabbed a bag full of them for dinner.

Because it is Conner’s final day, Agape gave us a brief overview on value-added products made from beeswax and propolis that we harvested from our bees. I am not going to reveal any recipes, but we made a salve and hair lotion using only cleaned beeswax, propolis, coconut oil, rosemary hydrosol and a plant called love bush.

The ingredients.
Propolis, before and after cleaning. Bees make propolis from tree resin and use it to seal the hive.
Melting down the beeswax.

While a Sweetwood sawdust distillation was going on, I flipped off rocks and into the water. When the distillation finished, all the interns and Agape stripped Sweetwood leaves from branches Kwao cut. We snipped them into smaller pieces and loaded the still at 10 pm. I was unable to stay awake all 4.5 hours of the steaming, but it yielded 45.5 mLs.

Late night stripping of leaves. Excuse the poor photo quality.
Erin with our oil featuring Danny in his pajamas. 

Day 27 and 28

June 27th. This morning Kwao, Conner, and I made an early morning attempt at going up to the bees at a new (for us) apiary. We woke up at 7:30, had some coffee, and got on the road before the clouds got too dark. About a quarter mile from the property there was a mud slide, and, with the rain beginning to fall, it was too treacherous to pass so we drove back down the hill. On the way down though we saw two wild hives living in trees that we may collect in the future.

A “smooth” patch of the “road” from the rainy windshield of the 21 year old jeep.

The rest of the morning I took responsibility of the cedar wood sawdust distillation. It took 3 hours to give us 38 mls, a satisfying high yield, and meanwhile I read Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, a novel about backpacking in the Sierra Nevada’s, living during the Beat Generation in San Francisco, and hitchhiking across the US and Mexico.

In the afternoon, I cleaned out the retort and patiently stuffed with as much sawdust as it could take. We started the fire underneath the still and waited for it to get hot while visitors came by to say hi and learn about essential oils. After an hour we were trying to figure out why it was taking so long to heat up and Agape asked if there was water in it. In my rush to get the distill packed with wood, I forgot to put the 4 inches of water necessary to steam the oil out of the plant. We turned of the burner and filled it with water, but the damage was already done. A gush of blood red hydrosol spat out after a half hour, which is evidence that the batch had burned. I accepted the responsibility and atoned by doing all the dishes after dinner for the 5th day in a row.

Cedar wood oil in the separator floating on top of the hydrosol. We drain the oil out of the bottom and the excess hydrosol spills into the mason jar.

June 28th. I began the day with a yoga class taught by Bay Area native Tacula. Upon our return, Conner, Leticia, and I cut the fevergrass that Erin collected into tiny pieces. We then loaded the distill with 18 pounds of fevergrass—making sure to add water this time—and began the 5 hour distillation. Conner and I really want to take home as much fevergrass oil because it smells like the queen’s pheromones so it will be helpful in future beekeeping.

Bug bites on bug bites. They haven’t stopped since I got here.
Conner and Erin cutting fever grass. We spent a couple of hours in this position.

Post-lunch, Conner and I changing into our beekeeping outfits and checked 5 more hives with Agape outside the kitchen. A couple swollen hands made for slow work, but I’ve noticed when I get stung multiple days in a row the swelling lessens. So that’s one bright side to stings I guess.

Inspecting some bees.
Some capped honey (darker cells closest to the bar) and capped brood (bronze filled-in cells).

Afterwards, I swam at the beach with Danny, a new intern for beekeeping from LA. After Conner leaves he’ll be my new roommate.

While waiting for the distillation to finish after dinner, Conner, Leticia, and I visited the local bar and spent time with some friends Lion and Jamir. Around 8 pm we harvested the 50 mLs of fevergrass, a record high, and called it night.


Day 25 and 26

June 25th. Today was a treat. I, along with the other interns, Conner and Erin, and two guests, Rhonda and Leticia, went to Black Sands Beach. Lion, a friend of Kwao and Agape and a local tour guide, led us on a trail that followed the Jamaican coastline.

Family of goats on the side of the trail! baaa
One section of the coastline on the way.

3 miles of cliff-side views, tunnels through dense trees, and muddy creek-beds brought us to an expansive beach with soft, black sand. The beach surrounded a little bay with waves big enough to body surf, which Conner and I did as we cooled off from the walk. Also at the beach was a group of backpackers, whom I envied because it must have been one of the best campsites.

Black Sands Beach from a cliff that I climbed and got stuck on.

Lion cooked us a delicious lunch of roast breadfruit, plantain, and callaloo while the rest of us chatted with the other Jamaicans there. After our bellies were full, we followed Lion along another path that took us a half-mile inland to the waterfall. Hidden amongst the greenest trees I will ever see was the mesmerizing oasis of Kwamae Falls. Immediately I jumped into the cool, fresh water and stuck my head under the power falling water that pushed me under the surface.

Peaking through the trees…
Kwamae Falls with a deep swimming hole beneath it.

For an hour we jumped off rocks and waded in this fountain of youth before Lion told us it was time to go. We walked back to the beach just as Lion’s brother pulled up to the shore in his boat. Quickly we scrambled into the fishing boat. The ride was rocky, but it was lots of fun. The waves picked up the bow so it would smack down and splash me and Erin in the face. From the ocean, the island looked lush with life—a spectacular picture where blue meets green. But I didn’t get a picture of it because it was too wet We got back just in time for dinner and fell asleep quickly after our long day.

June 26th. Following a bowl of porridge, Agape took Conner and I into the apiary outside of the kitchen. Trading of turns, we inspected 12 hives by lunchtime. Because honey season is wrapping up, we have to make sure each hive is health and collecting enough resources. All the hives we saw were in great condition, and one had a booming population so we split the colony in two. We put 9 combs of bees and food into a separate 2-foot hive so that they could raise a new queen and form their own colony.

Bees feeding their babies.

The rest of the afternoon I swam and read. Erin and Leticia finished up the cedar wood distillation, which they started while we were in the hives. The rest of the evening was quiet and relaxing and ended with nice night of sleep.

Sunset from the yard while we ate dinner.