“Most people I know call me a lover of bees…I smile when I hear them say that, because it’s true…I love them… I love them very much!”
By Leon Suseran
This week we feature a young and hardworking Guyanese apiarist (beekeeper) who simply loves his career pursuit.
He has practically built his life around the often feared insects, and has literally experienced the sweet taste of success from his tireless endeavours.
This enterprising youth has also ventured into making by-products from beeswax (a product made from the honeycomb of bees) and has even taken the initiative to use his passion about bees and beekeeping to drive his local cottage industry to new heights. The results are there to see: pure honey being bottled and sold on the local market as well as decorative candles made out of beeswax and beeswax hair creams.
Beekeeping goes back a very, very long time – some 3,000 years. It was reported in 2007 that 30 intact hives, dating back to around 900 B.C., were found by archaeologists in the ruins of Rehov, in northern Israel. And today, our ‘special Person’ Devon Gilead has carried on that longstanding tradition.
Devon is also a Volunteer Mangrove Ranger attached to the Mangrove Protection agency here and rears bees among the mangrove trees along the Ithaca Backdam, West Bank Berbice and Glasgow Village, East Bank Berbice. He currently has over forty hives.
He was born in New Amsterdam to Desiree Peters and Michael Gilead and grew up at Glasgow Village. He attended the Tutorial Academy Secondary School after which he was urged by his father to learn a trade in the form of refrigerator repairs and such like, but the lad remembers that he “never liked that kind of work”.
Devon then engaged in cash-crop farming at the tender age of 15. He related his hardships as a young farmer since he incurred a lot of losses due to inclement weather and “sometimes you have too much crops and the things were selling very cheaply at the markets.” He brainstormed for other money-making ideas and ventures since farming, too, was not something he was too keen about.
Young Devon then got to know an old beekeeper in the village named ‘Jobie’. The two eventually
developed a friendship, and he accompanied ‘Jobie’ on trips to rid people’s premises of bees. He became enticed about the whole thing, especially when he took one of his fingers and tasted the honey running down the wall of someone whose home was bee-infested.
A simple thought crossed his mind. If people keep killing bees, what will that do to nature?
“I thought to myself that if you continued to kill honeybees, sooner or later, you might be seriously messing with nature, you know.” “And we might not get honey,” he added with a thoughtful smile.
He then expressed his desire to ‘Jobie’ of wanting to rear bees. It was during that time when Gilead started to do little readings here and there about the beekeeping practices. His makeshift hives initially did the job, especially in the learning phase.
He could not afford to spend $100,000 on bee hives that were sold in those days. He started to rear his own bees, and encountered various hardships, since many of the bees flew away as a result of him not having the proper hives.
“I persevered and prayed to God,” he said. “Many of the bees left the hive because there was no Queen.
I had to acquire one a little later on, and since then, they stayed.”
But they did not produce honey and he became frustrated.
“I thought to myself that this thing ain’t paying, because I invested all of my money in beehives… so honestly it crossed my mind to destroy everything…burn them. Honestly, it was more than me. But things changed when I decided to take one last look into one of the larger hives before pouring gasoline and I could not believe my eyes—honey was flowing! There were over five gallons that day alone, which I brought home to sell.
He said that he felt encouraged and this was the boost that he needed to continue his career. He started to make a name for himself around the area and received numerous calls from persons to deal with bee problems at their homes. Devon became known as ‘the Bee-man.’
He was then approached by a pumpkin farmer named Reggie, for him (Devon) to let bees go into his farm so that the plants could be properly pollinated so that they can grow fruit. Five bee hives were placed on the farm at Sandvoort, and a few months later, Gilead was shocked to see several truckloads of pumpkins leaving the farm.
“I said, ‘Reggie, you get lots of pumpkins, and he said that the bees were of great help to him and that
they pollinated each and every flower.”
It was agreed upon that bees are ideal for pollination, thus resulting to the increased pumpkin yield by that farmer. Given that surprising success, Gilead started to form alliances with those who shared his love for bees and even attended a ‘Bee Congress’ back then.
“I was taught about the importance of bees. It was an experience that gave me much greater knowledge.”
Gilead then wanted to venture deeper into the business and was not satisfied with just honey. He knew there could be other by-products from beeswax and other elements of his trade. With this motivation, he has expanded, and has been ably assisted by his wife, Allison. They have since been engaged in making products such as honey-roasted nuts, Nature Gift Vaseline, decorative candles, and soaps too.
“The products are selling very fast…a lot of people love them, but unfortunately there are a lot of people in other parts of the country who do not know about it.”
He initially spent over $60,000 trying to make the soap and failed numerous times, due to incorrect amounts of various ingredients. “Everything was just boiling over, but I tried, tried, tried, until I got it right.”
“I collect lots of honey, every 21 days or so, like when the trees blossom— the bees have to visit approximately 2 million flowers to produce one pound of honey, and since the mangrove trees blossom a lot, the honey yields are greater for me, and it also helps with the landscaping”.
Located along the banks of the Berbice River, the mangrove trees protect the coastline from flooding and overtopping.
“There are hundreds of thousands of the plants, and it’s better for me and for everybody.” Gilead has also built a working relationship with officials attached to the Ministry of Agriculture like Linden Stewart and Mangrove specialist, Mrs. Annette Arjoon – featured as ‘special persons’ in September 2010 and August 2011 respectively.
He was thankful that Ms. Arjoon presented him with a honey extractor, worth some $100,000, and which made his work a lot easier.
“Those two people never showed me a bad face and they know I work hard. Today I can see the benefit
of the mangroves that have taken over the entire place—and it’s because of the presence of the bees—without the bees, we cannot get food and honey…and whoever else intends to rear bees, they should always put bees on the mangroves so they will get more honey…lovely, clear, transparent honey with a nice taste.”
When asked what challenges and difficulties he has faced over the past 18 years doing this kind of work, he related how he counted his losses a few years ago when there was overtopping of the Berbice River.
“I lost over 40 hives and this put a dent into my business. It really frustrated me, but my wife urged me to not give up, and I eventually stood back on my feet.”
Our ‘Special Person’ speaks quite fondly about his ‘relationship’ with bees.
“I have never been afraid of them. Bees are some of the most intelligent insects; they can sense fear in persons, and also if they know you want to kill them, or even try to kill or harm them, they always come back for vengeance. My simple advice to people is don’t kill the bees—see a specialist who can deal with them.”
“They get to know you, but sometimes you still have to be very cautious.”
He explained that while some of the bees may “know” him, it would not be for a long period, since every three weeks, a new generation emerges.
“The Queen lives for much, much longer, like about 3-5 years, “because she feeds on special food…royal jelly, they feed to her. The Queen’s sole purpose in the hive is to lay the eggs, and the worker bees control the hive and protect her. The Drones mate and then die. A Queen normally lays 2,000 eggs per day and a bee would lay over 1 million eggs during its lifespan.”
Gilead visits his hives once per week mainly to observe the bees’ progress and to check for honey.
“Honey season happens two periods in a year…between September and December when the trees are blossoming; and again February to March. September would be the heavy flow when thousands of trees blossom,” he added.
Other days are spent on-call, ridding homes and offices of particularly the dreaded
Africanized Bees, as well as marketing and selling his products.
His honey, bottled and labeled is in high demand by senior citizens and doctors, as well as other buyers. The candles, he added, are made from the wax. After the honey is extracted from the honeycomb, the remnants of the combs are put into a solar wax melter and the sun does the rest. The melted wax is then poured into the moulds and the candles are formed.
Additionally, a natural moisturizer was developed for both hair and skin.
“We did some research and we thought that instead of using the petroleum jelly used to make Vaseline, we will use the beeswax, because we found out it is a wonderful moisturizer.”
The beeswax is used in conjunction with coconut and crab-oil, bee pollen and propolis to make the all-natural product. “We came up with our wonderful ‘vaseline’ and we also add a little clove to give it a little freshness and lemon oil.”
It’s quite obvious that Gilead simply enjoys doing this kind of work and he pledged to continue for the foreseeable future.
“Most people I know call me a lover of bees…I smile when I hear them say that, because it’s true…I love them… I love them very much!” he said emphatically.
He is a strong advocate for developing the local industry, and is aware that the economy can use honey, as simple as it may appear, to do great things.
“You can use it as face masks, even for ‘red-eye’—honey is a natural anti-septic…it kills out the bacteria. And it never spoils—honey can be around for 6,000 years and it would not spoil—it’s all-natural,” he stated confidently.
Many persons have approached Gilead to be trained in beekeeping, but only his brother-in-law, Roy, has persevered.
“I guess it’s because when people get two or three stings, they change their minds. A lot of people say that once you get a lot of honey, you get money; honey is money, so when people see a lot of honey, they want to get involved in beekeeping, but they only do it for the money, and once you do something only because of money, it won’t work…you have to have a lot of patience and perseverance,” he said.
There is no giving up for Devon Gilead in the years to come. He has been through a lot and is now enjoying the fruits of his hard work. As was mentioned earlier, he will continue working with bees, the honey will certainly keep flowing, and his business will grow. His work and determination in the areas of beekeeping and cottage industry is certainly motivation to keep going even when things do not look too good at the other end.
Devon Gilead is a simple but ambitious youth who has made great strides in a profession that requires great sacrifice and courage. We believe he is deserving of a place among those who have been recognised in this column.
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