Beekeeping Essentials

My 2022 plan is to have three total hives set-up: one hive is a Long Langstroth (following the plans below), then two traditional Langstroth hive set-ups from the Amazon May Bee store. II also purchased two additional boxed from Royal Alaskan Honey along with spring set-up items (frame feeders, supplements, etc). When the May Bee set-up arrived, it came with two boxes of “bonus” essentials items, along with some minimal protective clothing (photo above). The purpose of protecting clothing is to avoid bee stings, but the clothing does not guarantee not getting stung, however, it does decreases your chances of being stung.

Word of caution: although my family has been stung by many different insects, it was unknown if any of us were allergic to honey bee stings. To be on the safe side, we had blood tests done at our physician’s office to test for allergies. None of us are allergic, so I will not need to keep an EpiPen on hand. I wonder do how many beekeepers keep EpiPens on-hand though?

Honey Bee Stings 101

According to the USDA Arizona website: “when a honey bee stings, it loses its venom sac and stinger. This means the honey bee dies after it stings, but the stinger may continue to inject venom for up to a minute or until the stinger is removed. If you can see stingers on the animal, remove them by scraping them out with a credit card, knife or fingernail. Do not pull them out with tweezers or fingers because you will squeeze more venom into the animal.”

honey bee stinger is left after stinging

Protection from Honey Bee Stings: Full-Body Suit

I always think of beekeepers wearing white fluffy looking suits (above), which is what you will see me wearing. Since I am new at this, and until I am comfortable with the bees (or the stings), I will be in head-to-toe protective. I will wear an entire suit, including gloves, when inspecting the hives, which involves making sure the hive is healthy, looking for the queen, finding brood, larva, pollen, and honey stores.

Bee Smoker

bee smoker

I used to wonder why beekeepers used smokers, as it seems like such an odd idea but humans figured out that smoke calms bees during wildfires, and they ran with the idea when collecting honey. Moses Quinby created what we currently use: smokers / smoke pots with bellows. So what happens when you use a smoke? The smoke calms the bees by interrupting the pheromones (scent) that the bees exhibit when there is a threat to their hives. The small bit of smoke masks the pheromones so the hives stay calmer and the beekeeper can get in to inspect, treat, feed, collect, etc.

Hive Tool

Hive tool

Hive tools are used to pry open and scrape the boxes. Most have a tapered flat end for prying and removing frames, and a curved end for scraping. These are similar to tools found at a Big Box Store, but I have not compared to to see how, or if, they are much different. Every single video I have watched, the hive tool is the number one item every beekeeper uses, even if they use nothing else listed above (included protective gear).

Beekeeping brush

Using a bee brush

What is a bee brush? It is similar to a drafting brush, but instead of wiping away easer shavings, you use it to wipe the bees off the frame. It is used for hive inspections and anytime you need the bees off the comb. Bees have “sticky” feet, so sometimes they cling to things quite well and a bee bush is useful to remove them while avoiding stings. In all the hours of beekeeping I have watched, I cannot recall any beekeepers using bee brushes. Reviews on brush use are mixed, most indicating that bees will die when using the brush. It seems that there are a few specific techniques one must learn in order to avoid crushing the bees when on the comb, as well as not hurting the comb. What I have mostly observed: beekeepers use smoke and then blow on the part of the hive they are inspecting – which moves the bees away from the spot you want to get into.

Further Reading

There are a lot of additional tools that can be used but are not required. I found excellent beekeeping websites at Mann Lake and Dadant. These two location seemed to be the most useful for finding what I wanted, created a list, then purchasing from local sellers. Some of the Alaskan bee package sellers also sell beekeeping supplies, examples in South Central Alaska include: Royal Alaskan Honey, Alaska Wildflower Honey and a few others as well. I have also noticed set-ups and gear on Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. As always, I advocate supporting local all you can as it feels great to support the local beekeepers, plus you get to meet like-minded individuals and possibly create a bond and/or find a mentor!

My next post will be about putting your bees in your hives.

Choosing the Perfect Hive

Recap from previous post: I was given seven (7) shallow bee boxes, I have ordered my bees, I’ve taken an excellent class, I’ve joined two local bee clubs, I found a mentor (or two!), and I discovered there are a bunch of different hives types. Which leaves me with a big question: how many types of beehives are there, and which is the best option for me, and more importantly, beekeeping in Alaska?

Types of Hives

Langstroth hives in a field

When thinking back to my life before bees, I could only conjure up two types of hives: fields of tall grass, flowers, and rows upon row of Langstroth hives (image above); the second image was from Winnie the Pooh steeling from trees of honey. However, in the world of beekeeping, there are a lot of different hive options! Langstroth, Top Bar, Warre, and lots and lots of additional creations from individuals creating the perfect environment for the bees in their areas. Below is a list of the top three types of hives by popularity.

Langstroth Hives

Starting out with seven shallow Langstroth boxes is intimidating, especially when I have no training, no education and I was starting from scratch. I realized quickly, that my boxes did not have tops or bottoms – both being necessary. As I researched building tops and bottoms, I also discovered that there are a lot (!!) of beekeeping companies scattered throughout the USA. It was thrilling to go to these websites and educate myself on what was needed to complete my setups.

Since receiving the boxes, I have immersed myself in so many books, YouTubes, and websites that I cannot recall where I learned the L.L. Langstroth is considered the father of American beehives. He figured out how to keep bees, rather than kill and raid their hives. Langstroth gave his life to the study of bees. He discovered “bee space,” yes, this is a real term. Bee space is the optimal space that bees enjoy to maximize comb production, which is 3/8 of the inch. Langstroth used this dimension and built frames and boxes around it. Hence, Langstroth hives! Langstroth hives account for the majority of hives used today, especially among new beekeepers and even more so in the commercial beekeeping world.

Pros of the Langstroth Hive

  • Foundation helps keep comb straighter (see photo above)
  • Equipment is standardized for the most part, with 8 or 10 frames per box
  • All parts are easy to purchase nationally
  • Boxes are easily interchangeable
  • The frame appears to be the easiest for harvesting honey

Cons of the Langstroth Hives

  • The boxes can be very heavy when full of honey, some reports of 50-100 pounds per box!
  • For those with back problems, inspections will be hard not he back most work requires stooping, bending, twisting, etc. over the box
  • In cold weather, like Alaska, these boxes need to be lifted off the ground – so building a stand for them is essential.

Top Bar Hives

Top Bar Hive Example

Top bar hives are considered “natural” beekeeping. Most of the frames in these hives are foundation-less, letting the bees decide how to build their comb. When asking around in the five or six Alaskan Facebook beekeeping groups, there are very few people using these hives types in Alaska, as the majority stick with Langstroth hives.

Top Bar hive natural comb (foundation less)

Pros of Top Bar Hives:

  • For those with bad backs, there is essentially no bending over as the top bar is quite tall
  • No lifting heavy boxes to harvest honey because you’ll take one frame at a time out
  • The top swings up to open, mostly blocking entering the hive, so fewer bees around while inspecting

Cons of Top Bar Hives:

  • Very few individuals in Alaska are keeping bees in this type of hive, so you’ll be experimenting mostly alone
  • Because the frames are usually foundation-less, handling requires much more care upon inspection so that the comb is not damaged
  • Harvest means the whole comb is removed because there is no foundation, so uncapping is difficult.
  • Conversely, many people love comb in their honey and it can be quite hard to find
  • Overwintering might be more difficult for the bees, because as heat rises and bees cannot move up and the hive is horizontal
  • Anecdotal discussions indicate this type of hive works better in the Lower 48, especially warmer states.

Warre Hives

Warre (pronounced war-ray) hives, also known as “the people’s hive,” look nicer than Langstroth hives, they are smaller, easier to handle, and lighter. These boxes are a frameless set-up, allowing the bees to build their comb however they want. Being the opposite of Langstroth, the Warre process adds new boxes to the very bottom, rather than on top.

Warre’s system of adding new boxes to the bottom in a process is called nadiring. Although lifting a lot of boxes for inspections and harvesting honey might sound painful, the process of adding boxes is reportedly done about about once a year, in the springtime.

Abbe Warre and female assistant

The thought is that as the top box fills with honey, it is removed and the bees move down, similar to a natural hive in a tree cavity. Since the lower box is already empty, the queen can start adding brood to that empty lower box. It also believed to be healthier and cleaner because, as the beekeeper, you are removing the toxins and environmental contaminants from the top boxes more frequently, and the wax is not reused.

Warre hive comb

Pros of the Warre hive

  • Less inspection of the hive
  • Only adding boxes at the beginning of the spring, then pulling honey in the fall
  • Foundation-less frames, and cleaner comb, similar to top bar hive frames
  • Considered natural beekeeping

Cons of the Warre hive

  • Few people are using these boxes in Alaska, so you will be learning without an in-person mentor
  • Reportedly less honey production
  • Short season for honey in Alaska – pulling honey supers doesn’t seem to be conducive to overwintering

Overall, these three hive systems seems to be the standard, but know that there are many different renditions of these boxes with variations on these all of these, both vertically and horizontally. Once you begin researching hives, you’ll quickly realize that beekeepers are an amazing bunch of experimenters and those with differing ideas might start experimenting to make the perfect hive for their specific environment.

Innovations

One excellent example of innovation is Vino Farms “bee barn” super insulated, double deep, Langstroth hives. His northeast weather is similar to Anchorage’s, so my plan is to attempt to replicate his boxes before winter 2022, with high hopes for better overwintering odds. But, hey, there are so many options and opinions, my thoughts on this might be swayed when I head down the next hive-type rabbit hole – and there are a lot of rabbit holes in the world of beekeeping!

Through watching videos, visiting blogs and picking up on all the innovation going on, I have discovered the world of beekeeping is very opinionated and if you ask one question, you will get more opinions than you will know what to do with. Which is to say, beekeeping requires a lot of individual education, innovation, experimentation, and doing what is best for your bees, in your given area.

Next up: beekeeping gear

Beekeeping in Alaska

I applied for a micro-grant from the State of Alaska. Here’s what I wrote (it had to be less than 100 words).

I intend on overwintering bees, helping local clubs create new Alaskan-hardy queens and brood stock; I will share my knowledge with beekeeping organizations throughout Anchorage and the Mat-Su. 

The project involves building 3-4 “bee barns.” The building plans creatively rework the Langstroth hives with two-inch foam blue-board insulation, and two-inch spruce from Alaska; these boxes are superb for wintering bees, but costly. Vino Farms in Maine has successfully overwintered bees in these boxes and we will attempt to recreate similar boxes for Anchorage, Alaska after watching this video of bee barns.  

This micro-grant would offset our building costs. Additionally, and most importantly, this would help us overwinter bees, creating stronger winter hardy bee stocks for Alaska. 

Honey Bees in Anchorage, Alaska?

Honey Bees in Anchorage, Alaska? Why yes, that’s my plan for going into summer 2022! So when a friend gives you seven Langstroth bee boxes that have been in storage for over ten years, what would you do? If you’re like me, you accept them, clean them up, repair and repaint them, and start researching, reading and watching everything honey bees.

When thinking about beekeeping, some might ask why? In fact, every person I’ve told about the boxes and the bees asks why? Some recoil at the thought. Some are scared, and some downright hate bees (and honey!). I have learned that it can be a very confusing topic to those that know nothing about bees, and some people have rolled their eyes at me.

Old wax has my whole garage smelling lovely
Old hive details – this will be added back to my boxes
Ready to repaint
Repaired and repainted Langstroth boxes, ready for tops and bottoms, then bees

So why in the world would I want to keep bees in Anchorage, Alaska?

I keep a greenhouse every year, along with five raised beds, and loads of perennials in my yard. My yard has over 75 birch trees, six lilacs, six honeyberry (Haskap) bushes, and three Evans cherry trees. With all the plants that need pollinating, why not keep my own hives? Bees are expert pollinators and being able to keep them in my yard gives me hopes that I will have better fruit and vegetable yields this summer.

I want the bees to thrive and in order to do that, I needed to educate myself as much as possible before beekeeping season. So, after getting the boxes in mid-January 2022, I became completely obsessed with beekeeping and all things bees … I started quickly educating myself by doing the following:

  • Finding cold weather cooperative extension pamphlets – UAF has the best for Alaska
  • Searched and read Alaska-specific blogs about beekeeping
  • Read books about Alaskan / cold-weather beekeeping
  • Read love stories about beekeeping
  • Listened to books about beekeeping while driving
  • Watched hours of YouTube and TikTok videos – and discovered there are more than one type of box!

Yes, yes, it is. However, there are rules and regulations at both the State and Municipality level.

Since I knew nothing about honey bees, the first thing I did was pull State regulations to review those. I then found the Muni of Anchorage ordinances surrounding beekeeping within city limits so I would not get myself into trouble.

Because the State statutes and regulations are so long, I have linked both below.

Alaska Statues: 03.47.030: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/statutes.asp#03.47.030

State of Alaska Regulations: 11 AAC 35.010: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/aac.asp#11.35

The Muni of Anchorage Ordinance around bee keeping is cut and pasted from Title 21, and I’ve attached both links I found to the document below.

Yay! I can keep bees – now what kind should I get?

It’s January, and all the websites in Alaska said I needed to order bees ASAP, because they sell out quickly and I would have been left with empty boxes. I ordered bees from Royal Alaskan Honey because the site was the most user friendly and had the most informative Alaskan-bee-specific information.

Ordering bees takes a lot of thought, too — who do you pick to order your bees from? Which type of bees do you choose? I researched bees and decided to go with Carniolans because I learned that they are gentle, cold tolerant and will leave the hives on cold, rainy days, unlike other bees. These three qualities are important to me as a new beekeeper, especially the gentleness. The cold tolerance will be important here in Anchorage, too, as spring and fall can be harsh. Also, summers can be cool and rainy in south central Alaska, almost as bad as Seattle in terms of raining, so I believe the Carniolans will thrive and produce more than other types of honey bees.

Be prepared: it was a bit sticker-shocked when ordering bees, as my total was $780 for three queens and two four-pound packages. Why three queens and two packages you might ask? Because, in total, I have three hives. I was given the Langstroth hives, but along the last few weeks of my bee education, I’ve learned about top bar hives and decided I want to try this way of beekeeping instead (easier on the back). I now have construction plans for a top bar hive that I will build before the end of April.

How do I become a beekeeper?

I found the Georgia Cooperative Extension (bulletin 1045), which is written by a professor of etymology, to be very informative, with wonderful details and easy reading / understanding of how to become a beekeeper. Obviously, Georgia is nothing like Alaska when it comes to cold weather beekeeping, however, the resource was well written and simple to understand explaining all stages of bees and then goes into beekeeping. For an Alaskan hive, the UAF Cooperative Extension beekeeping PDF, is superb! I found it somewhat tricky to get to on my iPhone, but it worked perfectly one my laptop — if you use this link, search for keywords “beekeeping” and the PDF will download and open.

Next up: understanding the different bee boxes and the different hive styles, and finding classes here in south central Alaska.

Alpenglow

14°

No snow

Climate change

Weather warnings

Description

…WIDESPREAD LIGHT SNOW EXPECTED FROM WEDNESDAY EVENING THROUGH THURSDAY MORNING… 1 to 3 inches of snow are likely across Anchorage, Eagle River, and the Hillside from Wednesday evening through Thursday morning. The snow is expected to be a powdery consistency, which will allow it to be easily lofted by vehicular traffic. Thus, localized reductions in visibility both on the highways and where snowfall rates are heavier are likely. There remains some uncertainty as to how much downslope drying will reduce snowfall totals. Total snowfall amounts may be higher than currently forecast.

Gardening Season 2021

Gardening Season 2021

2020 gardening season is past.

2021 gardening season is past.

2021 Master gardening class has been undertaken, but not complete – another month and a half to go, then I have to volunteer for 40 hours.

I never posted any photos on here from either my 2020 or 2021 gardening.

I feel like this blog is dead, but I like coming back to it to relive some things. I almost wish I could use this like a bullet journal.

Maybe I’ll attempt that this year.

Grandma Q died last week. I’m the only family member not attending the funeral – too expensive to fly down there for it. And the drama has already started. I’m not sad I’m missing it. I’ll remember her from our Zoom calls throughout COVID.

In the meantime, prior to gardening season, 2021 brought me a new sister named Jill!

Gardening Season

Now that 90% of the inside of house is complete, we’ve started working outside — hoop houses, hoop beds and a potato patch. Now I’m waiting for soil — Steven’s (neighbor’s) dump truck is being worked on but should be here soon.

Cotoneasters were transplanted from Jason & Sally’s house – put between our house and Kenny’s. They are super beautiful.

Photos will be added once everything has greened up.