Spring is in the air. Finally. In Alaska, Spring usually takes it’s own sweet time, usually emerging in all its glory around about the time most people in the Northern Hemisphere are well into summer. This has been an unusually warm winter, and so almost all of the snow is already melted. Bemoan global warming all you want; no one up here is complaining.
April is always a busy month for us. There’s Pascha (Orthodox Christian Easter), and the end of the school year is just around the corner. Seeds for the garden must be started indoors, because the growing season in Alaska is short and intense. We’ll transplant the small plants we’ve grown usually around the first week of June, by which time we hope it no longer freezes overnight. We need to get new baby chicks in as well, as our older girls are no longer laying. Sometimes we also raise a few baby pigs for slaughter later in the fall to supplement our supply of salmon and moose, but we’ve still got some pork in the deep freezer, so we’ll skip it this year.
And then there’s bees. We’ve kept bees for a few years now; last summer was the first time we really brought in a honey harvest (about 70 pounds from two hives), and let me tell you it was worth the wait. I decided to become a beekeeper because I’ve always had a phobia of bees, and I thought what better way to get over that fear than to own it? (You can read a piece I did for our local paper about my initial bee drama here). It worked. Sort of. I fell in love with bees – just not at harvest time. In the Spring, they’re adorable. When you try to harvest their honey in the fall, they’ll try to kill you. With bees, it’s all or nothing.
We have to order our bees every year from a local bee dealer. It is unbelievably difficult – almost impossible – to keep bees year-round in Alaska, because of the cold and total lack of pollen and nectar. We have two hives right now, and we just ordered a four-pound packages of Italian bees for each. In the past we’ve kept new World Carniolans, but both of our hives swarmed last summer, and the Italians are supposedly less likely to do that. Our bees will be “grown” in Northern California and barged up to Alaska, in huge, buzzing pallets. I always wonder what the freight handlers think when they unload them.
Each 4-pound package will hold anywhere from 16,000 to 18,000 bees. That’s a lot of bees, especially for a woman who still has a latent tendency to run screaming at the sound of just one. Fortunately, initially the bees are very laid-back – even when I shake the package into the hive. Of course, I always wear a full beekeeping suit (my “astronaut” suit, as the kids call it) because I have so many allergies it’s likely I’ve developed one to bee stings as well. I’d rather not find out.
For now, it’s just a matter of cleaning up the frames a bit and setting up the hives. I’ll be stopping by Costco to pick up a few 25-pound bags of sugar, as they’ll live off the sugar water we give them until the pollen and nectar begin flowing. I’ll post more when they arrive, but for now here are a few photos from last year: