I formally joined last May, but spent 2009 reading - and trying to learn - as we have a task rather more formidable than most newbees face ahead of us.
We live high in the Alaska Range, on one of Alaska's most legendary wilderness routes. After a dozen years here, we've decided to augment our malamutes and four dozen or so laying hens with a few thousand bees.
Two colonies to start. As per advice of our Interior Alaskan bee guru, Stephen Peterson from Fairbanks, shortly we will receive two three-pound boxes of a Russian/Carniolan cross. I think the source is Hygienic, out of Vermont, but someone may correct me on that.
Our climate here, judged on a year-round basis, is close to as brutal as any in Alaska until just south of the Arctic Ocean. We are at latitude 63ºN, and at about 3,000 feet. Not high by, say, Colorado standards but we are right below treeline and effectively no one lives permanently higher than this in the state.
As of today, April 6, we have between one and two feet of snow cover remaining. Daytime highs now in the mid-20s to 30s, and nighttime lows have been in the high singles to teens. Our first budding will be the ubiquitous willows - here no more than shrubs and down to ground-hugging flowers. High nectar time is late July. Alaska's alpine tundra has as beautiful and varied a wildflower display as almost anywhere at that time.
Our primo flower is fireweed - both dwarf (Epilobium latifolium) and tall (E. angustifolium) - with its deep purple pollen. Its late blossoming allows collecting of a relatively pure honey, and as appears from our research to be the case with other Alaskan beeks, this is the grail we, too, seek.
Yes, we have bears, and a lot of them, here. Just a few black bears but lots of grizzlies. We live along the banks of one of the state's most prolific sockeye salmon streams, and the brownies all come around when the fish are spawning. In anticipation of that, as well as of our brutal winters, I have created a highly insulated, temperature-controlled room in which weplan to have our hives permanently placed. From what we've read, +38-40ºF for overwintering and about 70ºF in summer is what we should strive for - with good amount of air circulation. The bees will enter through separate tubes through the wall, one surrounded with a bright blue painted flower and one a yellow one, and a third tube will be an escape hatch for bees that leave the hive during inspections. I have the room illuminated with red lights, but I am leery of trying to identify eggs under that light!!!
The building will thwart all critters from voles to bears - I have absolutely mouse-proofed the room and, my electrons willing, will circumvent temperature problems. The nearest honeybees are about 100 miles away - to our north, in Delta Jct, and to our south, around Kenny Lake and possible Glennallen. Mark C who introduced himself a few posts back is a little over 200 miles to the SW in Palmer. I know enough about this area to be able to say these will be the very first honeybees here in history; there also NEVER has been any agriculture, silviculture, or even spraying of road rights-of-way in just about as many miles. This land, then, from bees' perspective, is about as pure as any land remaining on the planet.
Jeez, with all that going for them and us, what could possibly go wrong?