Somethings a'buzz in our backyard Honeybees in Alaska

A long time ago, when we lived in Maryland actually, in military housing, I badly wanted honeybees. I felt like it would be the perfect addition to my backyard garden.  And of course, that was a no go since military housing said "No you may not have domesticated honey bees in your backyard".  So I shelved that idea until we had a house with some land.  Land that we could spread out on some, do what we want with and so on.
Well now we do have land.  1.7 acres of it.  We have a garden that is bigger than any I've ever had the pleasure to work in, we raise meat rabbits and now, it looks like we might be finally getting the honeybees I longed for so long ago.
You know that saying "be careful what you wish for because you might just get it?" Well that applies here.
Out of all my experiences with gardening and with rabbits, never once did I feel truly overwhelmed by my own lack of knowledge.  Not until now.
Since Christmas morning when I opened up my first ever brood box I have been constantly in a state of amazement of how wonderfully scientific, methodical, precise, fastidious and amazing honeybees are.
Never did I know that honeybees had a hierarchy in their hive.  I never knew that the entire colony consisted of females except for those lonely little drones who only have one purpose in life.  I never knew that honeybees were so amazingly hygenic.
Each time I learn a new fact I'm struck by the realization of how much more I have to learn.
Thankfully I have both my husband and son at my side as we all wade through all the facts, details and lessons that a new beekeeper is bombarded with.


Last year our garden performed below par.  The soil was horrible, very low in organic material, low in nitrogen, in phosphorous, and in potash.  The spreading moss was indicative of the high acidity in the soil.  No good for growing kale or spinach.
Since we had just moved in last March there was not much to do about it, other than potentially use store bought fertilizer which I detest doing.  Yes, I have done it before but I tend to prefer the slower method of improving my soil which means composting and adding liberal amounts of manure.  I've said it before and I'll say it again now, you don't grow healthy plants.  You produce healthy soil and the soil will do all the work for you. Now it seems we'll have one other helper; honeybees.
Not only did I notice the extreme lack of some of the most important macro-nutrients in our soil but I also noticed that we had a distinct lack of pollinating insects.  Whether this is because we have neighbors that spray incessantly to remove the "state bird" aka mosquito from their yards or simply because there are no beekeepers nearby; I do not know.  All I know was we only had a couple of butterflies and sporadic shows of European bumble bees.  Wasps we had plenty of, unfortunately.  As any gardener knows, without the pollinating insects you might as well throw in the towel unless you plan to take the most tedious route; pollinating by hand.


Almost as soon as I got over the shock on Christmas morning about my new hive, I joined several beekeeping groups.  One thing led to another and I found myself with invitations to beekeeping groups here in Alaska and in the interior of Alaska as well.  This then alerted me to all the upcoming classes, important dates and what not.  Several weeks ago we attended our first class, which was free at the UAF Fairbanks co-op extension office.  The class was taught by a local farmer and owner out here, it was four hours and best of all, it was free.
This gave my husband, my son and I a very basic idea about beekeeping, but it was no where near enough as it made us realize how little we truly knew about beekeeping in general.
So next we signed up for another class.  This one was two days long, several hours each day and much more intensive but this one also cost where the other was free.  We came away from it with our knowledge increased even more and an even deeper grasp of the supplies needed for this Spring, Summer and Autumn as well as knowledge about beekeeping in general.  Dawn Cogan runs this workshop each year here in the interior and it is well worth the money spent!
So far we have purchased three deep brood boxes, and three medium supers. We hope to increase this a bit more in the coming months, but these are not cheap so we have to buy a little at a time.
Deep Brood box

Medium Super
We also have approximately 70 hive foundations, those are mixed between deep and medium sized and unfortunately some of those are also unwaxed. Not great since we want to give our ladies any extra gain we can.  Unwaxed means the ladies have to work that much harder to get the ball rolling on developing the hive and even further, producing their sweet treat, HONEY.

We have also purchased frame grips, frame holders, a beekeeping brush, numerous hive tools, three hats with veils and three pairs of beekeeping goatskin gloves. Our plan is to purchase actual suits later on but due to all the other expenses of setting up this year we decided to go with cheaper tyvek suits.  Our new bee colonies, once we purchase them, will be $185 for each one.
All told we've spent approximately $1000 to set up.  No, unlike our bunnies, this is not a cheap hobby.

We have very, very short summers here and honeybees do NOT overwinter well here simply because honeybees will not typically defecate in their own hive and due to cold temperatures they will often not venture out for a cleansing flight so instead they "hold it" until it becomes a serious problem.  This either can cause an unsanitary condition in the hive which leads to diseases like Nosema, or come spring they can develop dysentery which is a tad bit different for them than it is for humans.  Due to the fact that they have been eating all winter, come spring they load up on all the fresh water only to die due to the fact that now they are over bloated and are not able to void their bowels.
This is a rather simplistic explanation.  Keep in mind, I am a novice beekeeper (I haven't even gotten my bees yet).

Our bees arrive in mid April, and as they arrive I hope they bring temperatures above 50 degrees with them.  We will need to hive them within the next several days after in order to ensure they don't get overly stressed.
Now of course, we want the honey.  Who wouldn't after all?  However, our main goal at this point is to increase the population of the pollinators in our garden which then will of course increase production in said garden.

We shall see.  I hope to report back within a few months with tales of positive news.

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