Upcoming season has peninsula beekeepers all abuzz

Posted: Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Kenai Peninsula beekeepers are a diverse bunch, but currently they all have something in common they're all buzzing with activity as they prepare for the upcoming beekeeping season.

"We're in the process of ordering bees, getting equipment ready, and new people are getting hives built," said Soldotna resident Rosy Thompson, a beekeeping veteran for more than 20 years.

Although for many people just the thought of a single stinging insect is enough to make their skin crawl, for a select few, bees are gentle creatures, and nothing makes these insect enthusiasts' hearts swell with excitement like seeing their bees building the white combs that allow their colony to flourish.

Some keep the insects out of a love of nature, others have a fascination with social insects and their cooperative systems, and for others it's the beauty of the individual insects as exhibited in queen, drone and worker that draws them into the hobby.

"It's really rewarding," Thomp-son said, adding she is looking forward to the upcoming year of beekeeping.

She recently has been trying to determine exactly what this year's demand for the black and gold insects will be.

"A lot of people are ordering bees this year. We'll place the order by the end of the month, then the bees will come in from California around mid-April," she said.

The bees come in a four-pound package, which averages out to roughly 1,000 to 1,500 bees per pound.

Thompson said ordering bees annually is not necessarily a common practice for beekeepers in the Lower 48, but in Alaska it's pretty much the norm.

"The winters here are just too long and cold for them to survive," she said.

Consequently, most beekeepers opt to order new bees every spring to ensure a strong and healthy hive for the upcoming year.

This may seem like an inconvenience, but Thompson pointed out how there are actually several perks to ordering a new colony every spring.

"We don't have the diseases or pesticide problems like almost everywhere in the states. There's no DDT or anything else in the honey. It's cleaner, more pure and better for you," she said.

This is a real benefit to Alaska beekeepers, since Thompson said many people keep bees for all the immunity and health benefits yielded from bee products like honey, beeswax, royal jelly, pollen and even venom.

Of those products, honey is by far the big draw for many newcomers to the hobby, and once again Thompson said Alaska has a leg up.

"We can get a wide variety of honey flavors due to all the wildflowers here," she said.

Fireweed, clover and Queen Ann's lace are common honey flavors here. Thompson said she knows a man in Seldovia who is working on getting blueberry honey, and another man in Anchorage who is trying to get willow honey.

"Getting flavors like that takes a lot of thinking, planning and doing," she said.

She already has taught one beekeeping course this year through the Soldotna Community Schools and will present another course at Soldotna Middle School from 7 to 9 p.m. March 31. Anyone interested in attending the course may call 262-9796. Those just interested in ordering bees should call 262-6084.

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